12th Century Castle Wins RIBA top honour

by Tania Wannenburg

The RIBA Stirling Prize – considered the UK’s most prestigious architecture award – is presented annually to the “building that has made the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture in the past year”. 

 It is the highest honour of the Royal Institute of British Architects and this year (2013) was awarded to Astley Castle, a 12th-century moated manor house that was recently transformed into a modern vacation residence.

According to the RIBA, “The Stirling Prize is judged on a range of criteria including design vision, innovation and originality, capacity to stimulate, engage and delight occupants and visitors, accessibility and sustainability, and how fit the building is for its purpose, and the level of client satisfaction.”

The Stirling award usually goes to the most cutting-edge buildings, so Astley Castle is a bit of an anomaly. The building dates back to the 12th century and has been linked to three former Queens of England, but as RIBA’s current president, Stephen Hodder, said, “Astley Castle is an exceptional example of how modern architecture can revive an ancient monument.”

Astley Castle was left in dire need of renovation after a fire in 1978 gutted the residence. The winning design incorporates large glass walls into the original medieval stonework, making for a building that is truly an interaction between the old and the new. A new bronze and timber staircase goes up from old brick floors, while an open-air dining hall finds its new home in a ruined room.

The building renovation was designed by Witherford Watson Mann Architects and made possible by the Landmark Trust, which helps to rescue important historic buildings that may have suffered damage.

The castle won with 27% of the votes, chosen from a shortlist of six other buildings that were all designed in the UK.

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