The National Trust has launched a competition for a £30 million restoration of fire-damaged Clandon Park, a Palladian mansion in Surrey
The contest, organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants, will select an architect-led multidisciplinary team to deliver a ‘sensitive and thoughtful’ restoration of the landmark building’s ground-floor state rooms and new ‘imaginative’ spaces on the upper levels. According to the brief, the two elements must ‘confidently relate’ to each other and deliver ‘a building that reads as one, and which is integrated within its setting.
The announcement comes just under two years after the Grade I-listed Palladian style mansion was struck by a major blaze, which destroyed the roof, floors and thousands of historic objects.
National Trust director-general Helen Ghosh said: ‘The National Trust is delighted to invite the best talent from around the world to enter this design competition for the restoration and reimagining of Clandon Park.
‘A masterwork of its time, Clandon now needs a sensitive, thoughtful restoration of some of the principal staterooms on the ground floor as well as new, multi-use galleries and visitor spaces on the upper floors to showcase the trust’s and other collections, encourage new creative partnerships and draw new audiences.
‘Clandon is so historically resonant and has such cultural potential that we want the competition to attract the most talented design teams with the freshest thinking to help us bring it back to life.’
Clandon Park’s project director Paul Cook added: ‘The trauma of the fire and sense of loss we feel heightens our determination to transform the visitor experience at Clandon and give the house a higher profile both regionally and nationally. Not only is this a building with an exceptional aura and history, it has strategic position too.
‘In Surrey, in the heart of the South East and close to London, Clandon is surrounded by potential new visitors who share the trust’s love of beauty, of history, of art and culture.’
Source: Image by John Millar National Trust Images
The project, which the National Trust describe as its ‘biggest conservation project in a generation’, will restore the building’s historically significant state rooms on the ground floor.
Key rooms such as the Marble Hall, Speakers’ Parlour and saloon – where some items and architectural features survived the blaze – are expected to be reconstructed to their 18th-century glory.
The ‘less architecturally significant’ upper floors of the house will meanwhile be transformed into flexible spaces for exhibitions, events and performances.
Clandon Park was designed by Venetian architect Giacomo Leoni, as a home for the Onslow family. It was completed in the 1720s.
The building, one of Leoni’s five surviving works in England, fell into disrepair during the 20th century, and was given to the National Trust in the 1950s.
Following the fire, the trust considered a range of options for the house, including leaving it as a ruin, but decided restoration was both technically possible and could generate enough income for long-term conservation.
The restoration cost will mostly be covered by the building’s insurance. Additional fundraising will commence once the plans are further developed.
Surrey Fire and Rescue Service changed its approach to fires in historic houses after criticism that fire fighters prioritised rescuing art works over saving Clandon Park itself. It is understood the blaze was caused by a manufacturing fault in an electrical board.
Applicants must complete an online form detailing their project understanding, proposed team and relevant experience. Five or more shortlisted teams will then be invited to draw up concept designs in May.
The jury will be chaired by Sandy Nairne, National Trust Board of Trustees member and former director of the National Portrait Gallery, with additional panel members due to be announced during the competition’s second stage.
An exhibition of the finalists’ designs will be displayed at Clandon Park during the summer, and an overall winner will be announced by early autumn with construction work expected to start in 2019.
The deadline for applications is 2pm, 21 April.
How to apply
Visit the competition website for more information
Malcolm Reading Consultants
29 Lincoln’s Inn Fields
Tel: + 44 (0)20 7831 2998
Q&A: National Trust director-general Helen Ghosh
National Trust director-general Helen Ghosh
Why is the National Trust holding a design contest to restore Clandon Park?
At Clandon, we are trying to do something very different from anything we have done before. The project is not just about the restoration of historic spaces, but the creation within the same historic shell of new spaces for new uses. Getting the two elements to work successfully and harmoniously together will require imagination, technical skill and a profound understanding of the spirit of the place.
Architectural innovation is part of that spirit. Giacomo Leoni was a visionary in his time, the first publisher of Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture in English, working at the moment of transition from the Baroque to Palladianism. An international competition to stimulate the same vision and flair seemed exactly the right thing to do.
What is your vision for restoring the state rooms and ‘imaginative’ upper levels?
As we carried out the painstaking salvage work at Clandon, it became clear that so much of the principal rooms and their decoration on the piano nobile survived that a decision to restore them was not only viable but well-founded.
The rooms above were more severely damaged and in any event had been subject to significant change over the centuries. That is what gave us the opportunity to think of a different approach there.
In those spaces, we will be aiming to put on programmes that not only tell the story of the house and the Onslow family, but also explore National Trust collections more broadly and showcase new art and performance commissions. The quality of the design and craftsmanship in all parts of the building will be paramount. We will also be looking for a designer who sees the house in the context of the landscape around it. The conservation plan, due to be completed in May, will be key.
What sort of architects are you hoping will apply?
We have no preconceptions about who should apply. The only thing that matters is to find a team that shares our ambitions for the house and its future, and has the knowledge, sympathy and professional skills to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. That might prove to be a large or a small practice, or indeed a consortium of talents. The competition jury, under Sandy Nairne’s chairmanship, will have the breadth of understanding and experience we need to make the right recommendation to our trustees.
Which other design opportunities are on the horizon, and how will the architects be procured?
This is the first architectural competition we have ever held for a National Trust project, and of course we hope that similar opportunities will not arise for this particular reason ever again! But we do believe that something better for Clandon and its visitors can come out of the disaster. We are keen to learn from this competition and see whether it is a model we could apply (on a smaller scale) to future work.
Are there any other similar projects involving the restoration and conversion of fire-damaged buildings you have been impressed by?
When I first talked about our vision for Clandon in January 2016, I cited two examples that had impressed me. The first was David Chipperfield’s work at the Neues Museum in Berlin, where new galleries were inserted into the historic shell. The other, on a very different scale, was the Stirling Prize-winning Astley Castle, commissioned by the Landmark Trust from Witherford Watson Mann in 2007. When I visited Astley, I was bowled over by the attention to detail, the quality and care of the choice of materials, and the seamlessness of the transitions from old structures to new. In both examples, the new work makes you look anew at the substance of the old.
Clandon Park history
Source: Image by John Miller National trust Images
Following the fire, Historic England conducted a geophysical survey over the east lawn at Clandon Park to inform the site set up for the salvage operation This survey revealed that the elaborate parterre garden, designed by Royal gardeners London and Wise, had survived for 200 years under the lawn. This beautiful formal ‘gravell garden’ can be seen in an early 18th-century painting of the first house at Clandon. These excellent physical and visual / documentary sources give us the evidence to recreate the design garden when the house was built, in line with our aim to rebuild the house in keeping with its original 18th-century decorative schemes, designs and layout.
Clandon Park was one of the country’s most complete examples of a Palladian mansion designed by Venetian architect Giacomo Leoni (c1686-1746). This extraordinary commission for a new house required the demolition of a historic house of some architectural importance which had been the Onslow family’s home and power-base for some 70 years. It was a bold move which revealed the self-confidence of the Onslow family, whose members had been financially and politically upwardly mobile since the accession of James I, and reflects their assurance in the Hanoverian succession in 1714, after the uncertainties of Queen Anne’s accession. The significance of the architecture is recognised in its Grade I listing.
Leoni marked his arrival in England by publishing the first English translation of the work of his Venetian predecessor; architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). This had a significant cultural impact among English patrons and architects, and brought Leoni to the attention of Lord Onslow through the Duke of Kent, younger brother of George I. The arrival and adoption of authentic Palladianism brought an end to the English Baroque architectural style which had been prevalent since the Restoration. By at least 1747, a principal drawing room at Clandon Park was named after Andrea Palladio, which appears to be groundbreaking.
Source: Image by Anthony Parkinson National Trust Images
Clandon is one of only five surviving buildings by Leoni in England. Its decorative schemes were highly significant, particularly the ornate plaster ceilings by stuccadors Giuseppe Artari (d. 1769) and Giovanni Bagutti (1681-c1730) and the virtuoso Carrara marble over mantels by sculptor John Michael Rysbrack (1694-1770).
On completion in the 1720s, Clandon Park had interior decorative schemes and furnishings which were equal in importance and quality to their architectural setting. The ground floor, or piano nobile, was conceived as a series of rooms of state or parade rooms, each of which had an important function in the hospitality of Royal and other high-status guests. Rooms included: a grand entrance hall which doubled-up as dining room for large events, the Marble Hall; a large drawing room, the Saloon; a refined with-drawing room, the Palladio Room; a high status and symbolic bedroom, the State Bedroom; and an every-day dining room, the Parlour. All these rooms were decorated with appropriately lavish silk or flock-papered walls, silk or moreen curtains and marble or carpeted floors.
The family at Clandon
Clandon was built for Thomas, 2nd Baron Onslow, to replace the Elizabethan house his great-grandfather had acquired in 1641. The Onslows traditionally followed political careers; the three who served as Speakers of the House of Commons were commemorated in portraits in the Speakers’ Parlour which has survived the fire. The Maori meeting house in the grounds, its steeply pitched thatched roof reaching almost to the ground, is a memorial to another eminent Onslow, the fourth earl, who was governor of New Zealand from 1888–92 and who also rescued Clandon from half a century of neglect by his great-uncle.
The Onslow family seem to have struggled to maintain Clandon Park after the death of the 4th Earl in 1911 and a lack of investment meant the house was in great need of repair. In 1956, the aunt of the sixth earl, Gwendolen Guinness, Lady Iveagh, stepped in and bought the house and many of its contents which she gave to the National Trust along with an endowment, the sixth earl also contributing towards the enormous repair costs that faced the National Trust. The house was refurbished during the 1960s to include a collection of 18th-century furniture and porcelain given to the National Trust, along with a generous endowment, by collector Hannah Gubbay.
Collections rescued from the fire
Over 400 objects were rescued from the fire including:
- Painting depicting Speaker Arthur Onslow calling upon Sir Robert Walpole to speak in the House of Commons, by Sir James Thornhill and William Hogarth 1730, from the Library.
- Board listing the rules to be observed in the servants’ hall at Clandon, eighteenth century.
- Painting of an ostrich and a cassowary, each in a classical landscape, oil on canvas, by Francis Barlow (c.1626–1704), probably painted in the 1670s, from the Marble Hall.
- Bible printed by John Basket in 1716-1717, from the Library.
- Folding screen incorporating Victorian and Edwardian Onslow family photographs, from the Library.
- A pair of giltwood side tables in the manner of John Gumley and James Moore, made in about 1725, from the State Bedroom.
- Silver, including some pieces by the noted silversmith Paul Storr, from the Speaker’s Parlour.
- The hangings of the Clandon state bed, made in about 1710. The hangings had just returned to Clandon following conservation treatment and were still packed up.
- The ornate ormolu chandelier which was part of the decorative scheme from 1801, the large Turkey carpet dating from the 19th century, the decorative polished brass and steel fender from the fireplace and pieces of delicate, gilt etched glassware, all from the Speakers’ Parlour.
- All the paintings from the Speakers’ Parlour, including Arthur Onslow, the Great Speaker, and Richard Onslow, Speaker in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
- Onslow family photographs, personal mementoes belonging to the 6th Earl of Onslow relating to his time as a prisoner of war, and a silver christening mug.