Thursday, 11 December 2014

2014 Georgian Group Architectural Awards sponsored by Savills: the shortlist

Our Architectural Awards, sponsored by international estate agents Savills and now in their twelfth year, recognise exemplary conservation and restoration projects in the United Kingdom and reward those who have shown the vision and commitment to restore Georgian buildings and landscapes. Awards are also given for high-quality new buildings in Georgian contexts and in the Classical tradition.

The 2014 Awards will be presented tonight by His Grace The Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry.


There are two aspects to restoring country houses. One is about repairing fabric, perhaps dramatically so after a fire but also to address the depredations of time and longstanding neglect. The other, more subtle but no less important, is about revivifying a place, allowing it to recover its spirit. Our three shortlisted schemes cover both aspects in varying degrees.

Corngreaves Hall, a few miles west of Birmingham, is a longstanding Georgian Group case. At times, over the years, we thought it a hopeless one. The building dates from the late C18 and became offices as early as 1825. The grounds were bought for housing in the mid C20. Conversion to flats followed in the 1960s and it was formally at risk by 1998. The local authority handed it over to West Midlands Building Preservation Trust in 2003 but successive restoration proposals stalled. It has now been restored as apartments by a private developer, whose incorporation of enabling development and treatment of surviving historic details has been achieved with a degree of sensitivity that is far from universal in this sort of scheme. (Developer: Gr8Space)  

Hendre House is a small Regency country house in north Wales that was requisitioned during the War, then abandoned to the elements and in effect left to rot – the sort of building that could easily have joined the depressing roster of lost houses of Wales. Michael Tree, fresh from rescuing Trevor Hall in Denbighshire, has overseen a comprehensive rescue project, reroofing and consolidating the building and painstakingly reinstating the interior using the clues offered by what little survived. The results, achieved by local craftsmen, are a tour de force. The small working estate has been kept intact, with extensive restoration to drystone walls and selective relandscaping to enable the recovery of fine views across the valley. (Client Michael Tree; Conservation Architect Graham Holland; Structural Engineer Brian Morton)

St Giles House, Dorset  is a complex, multi-phase house but essentially 1660; the architect is unknown but Inigo Jones’s influence is evident in the classical north and east fronts. The landscape is C18. In the C20 it fell into poor repair and a Victorian wing was demolished, leaving unresolved and scarred elevations. The recent restoration reinstates Hardwick’s stone loggia and resolves the truncation caused by the demolition of the Hardwick wing. The principal interiors, including the Library, the South and North Drawing Rooms, the White Halls and the Great Dining Room, have also been restored, as have several garden buildings, notably the grotto, castellated arch and pepperpot lodges. All this demonstrates commendable commitment on the part of a new, young owner who has assumed his inheritance with gusto but also with great care: the conservation work shows a light touch, radically so in places, and is underpinned by exhaustive scholarly research.  (Client The Earl of Shaftesbury; Conservation Architect Philip Hughes Associates)


Too often perhaps we are seduced by outward transformation, but even where historic buildings remain unchanged externally magic can be wrought internally, sometimes to Georgian interiors within older buildings and sometimes within tight physical limits: a single room, perhaps, or a single ceiling. The effect can be dramatic or subtle, but always we are looking for an underpinning of research and scholarship, so that something of the original designer’s intention is recovered.    

At Kensington Palace, we have the recreation of William Kent’s 1720s red and white interiors in the King’s State Apartments, built by Wren in 1695 with alterations by George I a quarter of a century later. The overall effect is one of authenticity regained, the fruit of intensive scholarly research. This is amply evidenced in the Presence Chamber, where the walls were given back their mix of crimson damask and white panelling, consistent with Pyne’s watercolour. Silk was also hung in the Privy Chamber, with guidance from a specialist upholsterer to determine the historically correct application. The ceilings of both rooms were also conserved, as was the magnificent King’s staircase, where the panelling and Tijou balustrade have recovered their correct decorative scheme. The project team used documentary evidence and extensive paint analysis to inform their meticulous work.  (Purcell et al for Historic Royal Palaces) 

At Kenwood House, recent conservation has focused partly on restoring the house; extensive work included remedial intervention, including repairs to the hipped lantern over the Adam stair, to protect the historic interiors. Beneath all this, the great ‘Adam Sweep’ of interiors has been redecorated and refurnished to recover its appearance as newly built or remodelled by Robert Adam for the first Earl of Mansfield in the 1770s; at last, in these key interiors, we see Adam as Adam intended, not the bastardised Adam compromised by later overlays. The transformation is especially compelling in the library, where the familiar gilt has been banished, and in the ante-room, where the light blue decorative scheme has been recovered. Change of this sort can be challenging; we have become accustomed to a particular aesthetic and Adam in full cry is not necessarily for the fainthearted. Happily, English Heritage have been far from that. This is conviction conservation, and we should congratulate them for carrying it through. (Client/project management English Heritage)


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. Restoration often involves a degree of compromise and occasionally we have to accept some departure from the absolute ideal so that threatened buildings can be wrested from the dire circumstances in which they languish. It is all too easy for the best to be the enemy of the good and for dogmatism to have the opposite effect to that intended, so some latitude is often needed.

4 Brabant Court is that rare thing in the City of London, an early Georgian townhouse. It was residential for only a decade or so after completion and by degrees had acquired that tired air of a townhouse long used for pedestrian purposes, with all the ill-mixed clutter that entails. Now, remarkably, has become a family home once again, despite planners’ reservations about permitting residential use in an overwhelmingly commercial environment. It turns out to be a perfect fit – the days of prescriptive urban zoning are long dead - and the building has benefited hugely: the six-over-six sashes have been brought back, the cement mortar on façade replaced with tuck pointing in lime mortar, the panelling restored and reinstated where missing and the original plan form reinstated. (Client Marlin Apartments; Architect D'Arcy Associates)

The project to restore Llanelly House in Carmarthenshire has brought new life not just to a building but to a town badly in need of regeneration. Built exactly 300 years ago, this fine townhouse for Sir Thomas Stepney eventually became a shop and then fell into dereliction. A comprehensive and meticulously-researched restoration and reinstatement project, involving extensive archaeology, has focussed on the Great Hall, the Stair Hall, the drawing room and Sir Thomas’s study. Wider townscape improvements have included the rerouting of a road immediately outside the house that cut it off from the parish church opposite. Now a Genealogy Centre serving the local community, the building is a powerful symbol of urban renewal and shows the socio-economic value of heritage-led regeneration. (Craig Hamilton Architects and Austin Smith Lord Architects for Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust)

Our third project in this category involved the reuniting of 1 Royal Crescent in Bath with its original service wing to create an extended historic house museum. Key elements were the reinstatement of the original façade design to 1A, including a lost Venetian window and six-over-six sashes. The interiors were recreated and refurnished using 1772 estate agent’s particulars. Though modest in scale and function, the building occupies a pivotal corner plot and registers visually as an introduction to the majesty of the Royal Crescent. It has now been given the attention it warrants, allowing it to complement No1 and serve beautifully as a curtain-raiser to the main act beyond. (Client: Bath Preservation Trust; Conservation architects Simon Morray-Jones)   



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. The necessity for compromise applies here too, perhaps with even greater force, but the challenges are commensurately great and we happily laud those who give a viable future to Georgian buildings that would otherwise have been left to rot. 

Howsham Mill in Ryedale, Yorkshire is a delightful mid-Georgian Gothick eyecatcher for Howsham Hall, attributed to Carr of York and full of jeux d’esprit with its ogee architraves, finials and quatrefoil windows. It fell into disuse shortly after the War and then became ruinous and overgrown. The square mill and its adjoining single-storey granary are now fully restored using traditional methods and have been converted to produce hydroelectric power, with ancillary use of the building as an environmental education centre. The femininity of the building and the masculinity of its new use make a perfect marriage. (Renewable Heritage Trust)

St George’s Chapel in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk is a Grade I deconsecrated church of the 1710s. It was converted to theatre use in the 1970s, then fell vacant and was a building at risk by 2009. Now it has been restored with a commendably light touch, the watchword being retention of patina so that the building has kept the scars, age spots and imperfections that lend it personality and character – so much better than an over-zealous facelift. The removal of 1970s interventions and the revealing of overpainted scagliola have transformed the interior, which has been reused as a performing arts space. The interior volumes have remained uncluttered courtesy of a clever decision to provide supplementary space in a new pavilion, a beautifully crafted composition by Hopkins Architects. (Client: Great Yarmouth Borough Council; Architects Hopkins)

The Silk Mill in Frome, Somerset shows how imaginative reuse driven by a dedicated project team can bring salvation to even the most woebegone industrial building, of the sort that can so easily collapse under the weight of long neglect. This late C18 rubble and timber mill was closed in 1925, derelict from 1985 and formally at risk when bought by its current owners in 2005. In 2009 they restored the roof, reusing much of the slate and all the original trusses. Extensive external masonry repairs were followed by beam and joist renovations. Volunteers built a spiral staircase, laid the floors and replaced each of the 72 windows like-for-like. Fifteen studios were created and are now occupied by local artists and craftsmen. A triumphant restoration by and for the local community. (Client Damon and Kate Moore of the Frome Silk Mills Arts Ltd; Architects Nash Partnership)


This award is especially prone to the vagaries of timing, as landscape restoration schemes are prolonged affairs: to some degree, work on organic tableaux vivants is never done. As usual, we include within the category schemes that involve the restoration of garden buildings and monuments. This year we have shortlisted four projects.

The mid-eighteenth century Arcadian landscape at Hagley Hall, Worcestershire is largely intact but faces significant conservation challenges, not least an accumulated maintenance backlog and the logistical difficulties of securing and preserving an estate bisected by a busy road. This project, the result of exhaustive research and back-breaking labour that shifted by equivalent of half a dozen Hagley Halls by volume, continues the long-term conservation plan by restoring the lost vista between the Rotunda and the Palladian Bridge and bringing back to life the silted and overgrown Muirhead cascade. The garden buildings themselves have been restored, with the Rotunda recovering its roof and the Palladian Bridge crowned once more with a columned shelter, the measured drawings for which were rediscovered in a French archive. Both have now recovered the dignity that befits their pivotal position at either end of the 1750s vista. The network of eighteenth century and Shenstone’s Urn have also emerged into the light, as intended. Altogether, the iconography of this linked sequence of outdoor spaces and structures can once more be read, after decades lying illegible and invisible beneath silt and vegetation. (Client: Hagley Hall Estate; Project Management Mark Van Oss Associates with Nick Reading and Nelson Askew)

The treatment of lodges is a recurrent casework issue at The Georgian Group. How do we make these small, outlying buildings habitable without damaging their essential qualities with oversized or unsympathetic extensions? The restoration of the 1787 Gate Lodges on the Heveningham Estate in Suffolk shows one route. These were disused and vandalised, with part of the Coade stone frieze stolen. Structural decay had set in. A subtle and imaginative restoration project has seen them repaired, stabilised and converted to habitable accommodation by means of a subterranean link, invisible except for lightwells - an imaginative masterstoke that might usefully be adopted for other abandoned pairs of lodges.  (Project management and architectural design: Argus Gathorne-Hardy) 

London Lodge at Highclere Castle, Berkshire is more accurately a triumphal arch, marking the historic entrance to the estate.  Dating from 1793, with side lodges added in 1840, it was in poor condition by 2006, with the ridge roofs collapsed and cement render breaking away. Stabilisation and fabric repairs have since taken place and, refaced with lime render, the arch has once more assumed its original role as a gateway to an historic estate. The side lodges have been sympathetically converted to holiday accommodation. (Client The Earl and Countess of Carnarvon; conservation architect Peter Brownhill of Brownhill Hayward Brown)

Painshill Landscape Garden, Surrey will be known to many of us as one of the superlative landscape restoration projects of the post-war period. Conducted over the past thirty years, it has seen the rescue of an entirely derelict and overgrown landscape garden designed in the 1760s by Charles Hamilton. This has culminated in the restoration over the past eighteen months of the five–arch Palladian Bridge and lake vista, the Woollett Bridge, the Chinese Bridge and the Crystal Grotto. This last is probably the finest stalactite Grotto in Europe; its restoration is the fruit of extensive archival and archaeological research. Hundreds of thousands of crystals – calcite, gypsum, quartz and fluorite –have been embedded with lime mortar onto a framework of inverted wooden cones, to recreate the effect of the original folly. All this recent work complements earlier restoration and consolidation of the Gothick Temple, the Ruined Abbey and the Turkish Tent. (Cliveden Conservation et al for the Painshill Trust)


Happily the market for new-build commissions remains robust, allowing us to continue to use this category to celebrate diversity in contemporary architecture, the vitality of the classical tradition – which flourished in the Georgian period – the imagination of patrons and the skill of craftsmen. We have shortlisted two projects.

Chitcombe House in Dorset is a 5-bay house faced in ashlar and flint. The entrance side has a faintly Dutch character, deriving from seventeenth century precedents. In the centre of the facade, up a flight of curved steps, is the front door, with its open segmental pediment and Gibbsian blocked architrave enriched by recessed squares of knapped flints. It is partly this use of local materials that allows the house to sit comfortably in the landscape, without bombast or self-aggrandizement. Viewed from closer quarters, it reveals itself as an intriguing and nuanced melding of influences, the careful craftsmanship carried through to the interior spaces. (Stuart Martin Architects for a private client) 

Crucis Park in Gloucestershire replaces a 1960s house at the centre of a large estate, creating a focal point worthy of the setting. Built of locally-quarried stone with Clipsham stone dressings, it is a subtle and fluid evocation of classical principles. Again, a mix of sources from Baroque to Schinkel is used as inspiration, giving a result that manages to be playful as well as imposing. As ever, the secret lies in the disciplined, rigorous application of diverse sources. (Yiangou Architects for a private client)


We were delighted to be able to name this award, introduced in 2006, in honour of the distinguished architectural historian Dr Giles Worsley, who served as a Trustee of the Georgian Group for many years.

The Nadler Hotel in London replaces a 1960s office building with a facade attuned to Soho’s urban grain and seventeenth century street pattern. Essentially this is a grid, with Soho Square as a focal point; as a result, long axes and viewing corridors are created. How these are terminated is a key aspect of town planning. In the mid-twentieth century, the art of closing a view of this kind was sometimes forgotten. This is a case in point and we celebrate this new building, with its restrained but powerful detailing, as an example of the recovery of that subtle art. The double-height Ionic entrance storey, on axis with the western entrance to Soho Square, is a civilised and theatrical backdrop that gives order and meaning back to the streetscape. As the poet almost said, no building is an island, entire of itself, and the architect here has shown the wit and humility to recognise that his design is one element in a greater work of art.  (Robert Adam of Adam Architecture for Nadler Hotels)

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