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RIBA Manser Medal Winner: Hunsett Mill by Acme

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MANSER MEDAL 2010: The winning house, with full jury citation and extended commentary by Acme founder Friedrich Ludewig

Hunsett Mill is a very specific response to a very specific space: a romantic and beguiling arcadian Kate Greenaway setting. The windmill and its out-buildings appear on jigsaws, postcards and chocolate boxes as a famous view from narrow boats on the Broads.

The new building is conceived as a shadow sitting within the sight lines of the retained cottage so that it is invisible from that specific viewpoint. It represents a sensitive and intelligent use of a beautiful site, and is a clear and well executed response to a complex brief.

The new building is clad in black, charred timber so it is a shadow, with flush glazing windows that add to the sense of insubstantiality. The overall impact is arresting – more akin to the response to a piece of art than an example of rural, domestic architecture.

As such, it is a brilliant, beautifully realised idea. In this very particular place it seems appropriate if not directly linked to its fragile context. Strangely the site is very isolated by road, but very public to a popular route for pleasure boats using the Broads, one of which passes within feet of the building. The drama of the architectural response seems to respond to this busy thoroughfare where progress is necessarily slow and lingering.

The judges enjoyed the constant inventiveness of Acme’s approach seeking new materials, using intriguing structural forms to create interesting forms, values and visual effects.

The surface of the new building – charred Japanese oak – is broken with a wilful window rhythm that has no framing or opening lights, echoing traditional materials and colours but in an entirely original manner.

The building is used as a weekend or holiday home by a number of families; this allows the interiors to continue with the inventiveness and drama of the exterior forms without too many domestic constraints.

The roof forms are particularly enjoyable, creating a series of linked gables that are asymmetric but rhythmic. Internally the structural timber slab is open to the rooms but further changes of angle are added to create a series of interesting spaces, with the first-floor walkway to bedrooms particularly special. The whole building is consistently detailed and well crafted with interesting use of off-site construction.

Overall the restoration of the cottage and the new building, which are linked internally, is an exciting and intellectually stimulating response to a strange rural setting, where a cultured client has given free rein to the innovation of architect Acme and engineer Adams Kara Taylor. Hunsett Mill proves great architecture can be delivered on a budget and, given a daring, ambitious client, that it can be achieved in the most restrictive of situations – as a planning authority, Norfolk is not renowned for risk-taking. The resulting project balances value and quality and is one that many people could aspire to.


Start on site date 9 April 2008
Contract duration 8 months
Gross internal floor area 215m
Form of contract JCT Intermediate Building Contract 2005 (Revision 1 2007) with amendments
Total cost Undisclosed
Client Catriona and John Dodsworth, Joanna and Jon Emery
Architect Acme
Structural engineer Adams Kara Taylor
M&E consultant Hoare Lea
Quantity surveyor Philip Pank and Partners / Cyril Sweett
Project manager Philip Pank and Partners
Main contractor Willow Builders, Eurban (Timber Structure), Nuttall (Flood defence)
Approved building inspector North Norfolk District Council

Annual CO2 emissions 22.26kg CO2/m/yr approx – 4.8T CO2/yr (this value reflects the good building fabric of the extension and the poor building fabric of the non-insulated old building which could only be partially remedied)

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I take it the inhabitants of this house do not have any clothes. From the plans I can´t see any wardrobes in the bedrooms. They might fold their stuff in neat piles under the bed?(you know those that lift up etc...) Otherwise lovely house that can be made into a home sweet home...

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