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Rory Olcayto: 'Astley Castle changes the way we look at, and rework, old buildings'

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Astley Castle’s Stirling Prize victory will appeal to both the public and the profession alike because it changes the way we look at, and rework, old buildings says Rory Olcayto

Witherford Watson Mann’s stylish retrofit, a subtle blend of contemporary modernism and picturesque ruin, is a rule-breaker – and a very welcome winner. 

Europeans have been reworking old buildings in this manner for years  – whether its David Chipperfield and Julian Harrap at the Neues Museum in Berlin or Carlos Scarpa’s Castlevecchio in Verona - Astley Castle’s win signals a change in how we treat and make use of historic buildings here in the UK.

Until a few years ago picturesque ruins like Astley Castle would either have been left to rot or faithfully restored. Not any more. Witherford Watson Mann’s design is a stylish new template.

Coupled with English Heritage’s recent enthusiasm for listing Brutailst architecture, Astley Castle’s victory shows our appreciation of the built environment is being reconsidered wholsesale.

Regarding those that didn’t win, there are two obvious losers. AJ’s readers favourite, Park Hill, has had its moment in the spotlight – twice now – when it was first built in the 60s and again this year as a contender for the Stirling Prize.  But it would have been a divisive winner. Its overhaul has hardly begun, much of the building is derelict and there is something uncomfortable about its conversion from public housing to private property.

Niall McLaughlin however, has a right to be disappointed. His chapel for Cuddesdon College is as 2014 RIBA Gold Medalist Jospeh Rykwert says, “as thoughtful a piece of architecture as has gone up in this country in recent decades”.  Perhaps though, it never had a chance. Being the Bookies’ favourite is the Stirling Prize curse.

Rykwert on Astley: Witherford Watson Mann have been gentle surgeons, saving the essential, eliminating the incidental'

Rykwert on Astley: Witherford Watson Mann have been gentle surgeons, saving the essential, eliminating the incidental’


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Readers' comments (1)

  • Could have gone either way (with the chapel). These did seem to be the best two projects

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