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Acanthus Clews’ Oxfordshire community centre wins Design of the Year

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Warwick Hall community centre, winner in the heritage category, has taken the top prize of Design of the Year at the AJ Architecture Awards

This project in Burford, Oxfordshire, epitomises the benefits of great design in many ways. It shows how quality architecture comes from a good architect working with an engaged client and from an intelligent, informed brief. It demonstrates that thoughtful, contemporary buildings can not only fit into, but enhance a historic environment and contribute to a local community.

What distinguishes this scheme in particular is its quiet complexity. Acanthus Clews has dealt deftly and intelligently with the historic site, fitting in with, but also cleverly reworking it. It has renovated the existing 500-year-old Grade II*-listed parish hall attached to medieval almshouses, while boldly inserting a new entrance into a Grade I-listed churchyard, linking this to a new community hall, café and series of flexible meeting rooms and facilities.  

The use of materials is particularly successful, elegantly employing traditional contextual ones like local limestone, while using contemporary glazing to both connect and distinguish the old fabric from the new, and to bring light deep into the building. The new build is boldly and elegantly detailed: the roof of the new hall, curved to reduce the height, giving it a distinct, contemporary profile that still melds perfectly into the surrounding landscape of Cotswold roofs. The use of rooflights to maximise natural light internally is just one aspect of the sustainable credentials of this project, which also makes extensive use of natural ventilation and has a ground source heat pump. This all adds to its sustainability credentials inherent in its being a retrofit project. The scheme is socially sustainable, too, offering flexible spaces that are perfectly tailored to the community it serves, reflecting the real engagement of the very active client group during the course of the project.  

This means Warwick Hall Community Centre is used across the day, weaving itself into the fabric and life of the town with the new social hub offered by its café, to its day care for the elderly, or as a venue for club meetings, lectures, weddings and receptions. 

This building, already in 2017 named winner of the AJ’s Retrofit of the Year Award, is a perfect balance of how sensitive adaptation and great contemporary design can visibly add value to people’s lives.

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