Monday, 28 October 2013

Georgian Group Architectural Awards / Shortlist / Re-use of a Georgian Building

Redundancy can often herald a miserable period in a building’s history but it also offers opportunities for those who can see the almost endless potential of historic buildings for adaptation and flexible reuse. 

We have shortlisted three projects. The first is Norwood House in Beverley in the East Riding, a 1765 Grade I townhouse acquired by the local authority in 1907 and used as a girls’ school until the 1990s. Then disused, it deteriorated to the point where it was formally at risk, a state of affairs exacerbated by an arson attack in 2004 that badly damaged the Rococo drawing room and the 1825 Grecian library: all proof that damage begets damage and neglect soon spirals out of control. We at the Georgian Group, through our Trustees Professor John Wilton Ely and Patrick Baty, offered a guiding hand as restoration proposals were developed. The building has now been sensitively restored both externally and internally, where the decorative scheme, deinstitutionalised at last, complements the architecture. Norwood House is now let in its entirety to a culinary school which uses it in part as a restaurant, thus allowing the burghers of Beverley to appreciate the transformation.  

St. Helen’s House in Derby is also a Grade I townhouse, a monumental Palladian work of 1766 by Joseph Pickford and one of the finest Georgian gentleman’s townhouses to survive outside London. It too spent much of the twentieth century as a school and again the ending of educational use (in 2003) was followed by a dark period of disuse, prolonged uncertainty over its future and descent into at-risk status as neglect, vandalism and arson began to undermine the structure of the building. The white knight here, not for the first time, was Richard Blunt, who on taking possession in 2008 was faced with two inches of standing water directly above the splendid elaborate plasterwork of the ground floor ceiling. The main roof valley and parapet had failed and quantities of water were cascading through the middle of the house. In spite of these manifold physical challenges, allied to financial ones posed by the recession, he has now restored St Helen’s and converted it to office use, securing the future of a building of national importance.

A different type of project is the reuse of this stable block in Northamptonshire. Dating from the 1790s and attributed to Soane, it formed part of the estate of Sulby Hall and survived as an isolated relic after the hall was demolished in 1952 and the estate split up to pay death duties. In the succeeding half-century it went through various uses, including as a store for farm equipment and grain, but by 2005 it was ruinous and largely roofless. Natural England initiated restoration as part of a management plan for the owners’ mixed farm and the stable block, fully restored using traditional materials and methods, is now used as a stable yard for stallions in a national breeding programme. The ochre limewash is an appropriately vibrant coating for a building brought back to vital and viable use. 

The awards will be presented by The Marquess of Salisbury on the evening on 29 October 2013.

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