Sunday, 31 October 2010

Countdown to our Architectural Awards II

Our 2010 Architectural Awards, sponsored by Savills, will be presented on 3 November by Baroness Andrews OBE, Chairman of English Heritage. In the run-up to the event, we are posting the shortlists for some of the key categories, along with the judges' citations. 

New Building in the Classical Tradition category
Three buildings by reliably impressive architects have been shortlisted for the New Building in the Classical Tradition award.  In alphabetical order, they are:

Francis Terry’s Howard Theatre at Downing College, Cambridge, which forms the final side of what is now a quad, opposite William Wilkins’s west range and at right angles to two other Terry buildings. Its Ketton stone exterior, articulated with a robust Doric colonnade, is a relatively austere and sober curtain-raiser to a delightful 160-seat theatre arranged in the Georgian manner, indeed inspired by Wilkins’ Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds, with side galleries set in a rectangular plan and an exuberant ceiling painted with classical scenes.

The new Pipe Partridge Building at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, also helps enclose a quad, also has an arcaded elevation and also contains a theatre, albeit a lecture theatre, but one beautifully detailed with signature flourishes, from ceiling pendentives to decorative iron acanthuses. This may be undergraduate accommodation, but there is no sign of the cut corners, cheap fittings and value engineering that mar similar buildings elsewhere. The architects have picked up Raymond Erith’s cue and used fully-loadbearing brick, warmly pointed with lime mortar, and the buildings fits comfortably within the LMH tradition of enlightened architectural patronage.

Wudston House in Wedhampton, Wiltshire is a delightfully improbable classical essay, a Palladian country villa with archetypal loggia set on a tight site in an English village. The hint of incongruity is quickly forgotten: this is a rigorous and serious building with a powerfully monochrome interior, but there is no sense of dry-as-dust pedantry: playfulness and imaginative flair are especially evident in the extraordinary staircase, an arrow-straight stone flight designed with an acute sense of theatre: a real flight of fancy. The decoration is deliberately spare, allowing the architecture to speak unhindered, but the single decorative flourish, in the form of large stucco panels by Geoffrey Preston, is brilliantly conceived and realised.

Countdown to our Architectural Awards I

Our 2010 Architectural Awards, sponsored by Savills, will be presented on 3 November by Baroness Andrews OBE, Chairman of English Heritage. In the run-up to the event, we are posting the shortlists for some of the key categories, along with the judges' citations. 

First up is the Restoration of a Georgian Building in an Urban Setting category, always keenly fought. We are all well aware these days of the key rôle that historic buildings play in urban regeneration, and part of the purpose of this award is to acknowledge the contribution made by restored Georgian buildings to the quality and vitality of our towns and cities. Four projects, listed here in alphabetical order, have been shortlisted.  

The first encompasses major stonework repairs at Buckingham Palace and Lancaster House - neighbouring buildings and with equal claims to grandeur, though Queen Victoria conceded defeat on the point: “I have come from my house to your palace”, she said to the Duchess of Sutherland on visiting what was then Stafford House. At Buckingham Palace an entire elevation, facing the inner courtyard immediately behind the public front, has been cleaned and restored, with layers of deadening paint stripped off to reveal the bright Caen stone of the Blore façade and the Bath stone of Nash’s pedimented centrepiece, which originally faced the Mall when the palace courtyard was open to the east. The 1820s tympanum sculpture by Baily has been miraculously enlivened by the same treatment. Impressive ambition has also been shown at Lancaster House, where the Bath stone sings again after years of gentle dirt-encrusted decay. The results are a revelation and the projects themselves are a powerful statement of unabashed Government commitment to the care and preservation of public buildings.

The restoration of 42 King Street in Thorne near Doncaster is typical of the excellent work being done quietly in unfashionable places by building preservation trusts, a real salvation army for our built heritage. Here we have a 1747 merchants’ house in a state of collapse, unlisted and in a conservation area that was designated last year by English Heritage as being at risk. It is in such places that attritional damage to historic buildings is done year by year, with negative consequences that go far beyond the realm of heritage. Much of historic Thorne went in the 1960s and 1970s but this building has been rescued from the brink and rescued carefully, so that the story it tells remains intact: among the finds recorded here were Mediterranean volcanic ash aggregates in the floors, a tangible relic of Thorne’s shipping past.    

810 Tottenham High Road in North London is half of the earliest pair of Georgian townhouses in London; 808 was restored in 2002 and received an inaugural Georgian Group award. Its neighbour has been derelict and at risk for a quarter of a century, but now with grant-aid from English Heritage the shop in the front yard has been removed and the house, beautifully restored, is once again an uplifting adornment to a major thoroughfare, a statement of optimism rather than a reason for pessimism.

55-57 Westgate Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne is again uplifting, a reversal of the depressing despoliation of street frontages in our major cities. The legibility and appearance, front and rear, of this fine 1750 townhouse has been transformed by the reinstatement of the stone façade, sash windows and dormers and by sensitive reroofing. The unity of the building has been restored and it reads once more as a dignified classical composition.