Saturday, February 7, 2015

A Holiday Among the Ruins: Astley Castle

Astley Castle in Nuneaton, Warwickshire

Astley Castle has a long, eventful history. Over the past 800 years the edifice, which stands just a few kilometres east of Birmingham, has been altered and expanded again and again. First used as a manor home, it later served as a castle, fortress and military base until finally being transformed into a hotel in the 1960s.  In 1978, large sections of the historic structure were destroyed in a fire. Several attempts to restore the castle to its original form failed due to the prohibitive cost. Eventually, salvation appeared in the form of a competition sponsored by the Landmark Trust, a foundation dedicated to saving historically valuable buildings from ruin. With a budget of 2.5 million pounds and a fine feeling for detail, the neglected castle has now been reborn as a  holiday home for eight guests. The architectural approach was the topic of intense discussion among all the parties involved, as is shown in the following film.  Architects: Witherford Watson Mann Architects, London Location: Castle Drive, Nuneaton, CV10 7QD Warwickshire, UK

Photos: Philip Vile

Project description
Astley Castle served as a place of residence for more than eight centuries: it was first chronicled in the thirteenth century as the country seat of the Astley family. A number of concepts seeking to reinstate its pre-fire state were drawn up in the 1990s, but each of them was stymied by the costs. And so for more than three decades the wind and the rain further eroded the ruin.

The solution came in the form of an invited architecture competition, hosted by the Landmark Trust. Twelve teams were asked to develop designs for a contemporary accommodation for eight guests situated within the castle’s remnants. Emphasis was placed on the historic context: the castle stands on a shallow ridge, surrounded by a hamlet with a slender church and traces of medieval field systems and eighteenth century gardens. The living and sleeping spaces are now situated in the castle’s oldest part. The historic walls are tied together by reinforced concrete lintels, buttressed by new brick piers, and protected by the new roof. This makes the walls structurally sound, but the old wounds remain open. From a distance it still gives the impression of a ruin. The shell of two magnificent rooms dating to the 15th and 17th centuries was transformed into open courtyards. Instead of bearing frescoed ceilings they now frame a view to the sky. The walls are crowned by a roof of wood whose high-performance, load-bearing structure remains hidden. The glazing that provides views to the courtyard and its once magnificent Renaissance windows is also framed in wood. From the second window in the living and dining area − on the upper level due to the view − one sees the church.

Project details

building type: cultural construction
support structure construction: mixed construction
roof construction: pitched roof
support structure material: masonry
facade material: bricks
roof material: wood, bricks
interior work material: wood, metal, steel, corten steel, aluminium, iron, copper, zinc, bronze, bricks, adobe bricks
issue no.: 05/2014

Astely Castle wins 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize

This year the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize for the best building comes of age and celebrates its 18th year. Six buildings were shortlisted for the prize – on 26 September 2013 the winners were declared at an evening event at Central St Martins in London.
The winner: Astley Castle
Architect: Witherford Watson Mann Architects
Client: The Landmark Trust
Astley Castle, Witherford Watson Mann Architects
Photos: Hélèn Binet
Astley Castle sits on a site originally owned by the Astley family in the 12th century, in Nuneaton, north Warwickshire. The sensitive scheme places the new building at the heart of the old, demonstrating creativity, preservation and conservation. In a 12th century fortified manor, further damaged by fire in 1978, the architects have created a new house that allows Landmark Trust guests to experience life in a near thousand-year-old castle with distinctly 21st century mod cons.
Astley Castle demonstrates that working within sensitive historic contexts requires far more than the specialist skills of the conservation architect: This is an important piece of architecture, beautifully detailed and crafted. The decision to put the bedrooms and bathrooms on the ground floor and the communal spaces above makes the experience of the house very special as perhaps the most impressive spaces are the outdoor Tudor and Jacobean ruins.

2013 RIBA Stirling Prize Shortlist: Astley Castle from RIBA on Vimeo.

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