Two practice’s ‘21st-century country house’ in Kent wins 2017 RIBA accolade

RIBA’s 2017 House of the Year award has been won by James Macdonald Wright and Niall Maxwell’s Caring Wood project in Kent, inspired by the county’s traditional oast houses.

Judges praised the 1,443sq m property near Maidstone for reviving local building crafts and traditions through its use of locally sourced handmade peg clay tiles, locally quarried ragstone and coppiced chestnut cladding with a project designed for three generations of the same family.

The design by Macdonald Wright – who runs his own eponymous practice – and Maxwell, of Rural Office for Architecture, comprises four towers with interlinking roofs that judges said were “like markers” in the landscape, echoing other oast houses in the area.

Deborah Saunt, who chaired the judging panel, said the house “re-imagined the traditional English country house” at the same time as “speaking of its time and place: with a contemporary design that has clear links to the rural vernacular”.

Saunt said that in addition to “sublime craftsmanship” and “spatial grandeur” Caring Wood offered new possibilities for the future of extended family living.

“At a time when we are increasingly atomised, individually preoccupied and lost in personalised digital worlds, designing homes where families come together – in their many permutations – is an increasingly important aim,” she said.

“While this might seem to be a particular brief for one extended family, it is one taking huge risks in asking how we collectively might live inter-generationally as social structures evolve.”

Caring Wood, Kent

Source: James Morris

Caring Wood, Kent

Saunt said Caring Wood was a “brave project” that could offer solutions to the nation’s housing crisis, “providing care solutions for young and old alike, freeing people from punishing costs throughout their lifetimes”.

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire said Caring Wood cleverly accommodated the client family’s “desire to be together and their desire to be apart” by exploring new architectural methods, materials and crafts.

“I’ve no doubt many of the ideas displayed at Caring Wood will influence UK housing for many years to come,” he said.

Macdonald Wright said Caring Wood’s success proved that small practices could “do big things” by joining together.

“It was made possible by the combination of an incredibly dedicated team and a uniquely supportive client,” he said. “I’d like to thank them.”

Maxwell, whose practice was invited to work on the project by Macdonald Wright, said collaboration had been key to realising the project’s design.

Caring Wood beat six other shortlisted projects in the 2017 awards: Shawm House by MawsonKerr Architects; Ness Point by Tonkin Liu; 6 Wood Lane by Birds Portchmouth Russum; The Quest by Strom Architects; Newhouse of Auchengree by Ann Nisbet Studio; and Hidden House by Coffey Architects.

Hidden House, in Clerkenwell, central London, is a 72sq m home built on the site of a forner caretaker’s shed above disused prison vaults. It was the last of the 2017 awards’ shortlisted homes to be announced.

Judges praised Coffey Architects’ design for the “light, open feeling” created with the single-storey property, despite the fact that the building only has openings on its north-east and north-west elevations.

“The minimal, external elevations sit comfortably next to [a] school building, while also delivering an open and engaging corner within the sitting room,” they said.

“This building has been rigorously considered in its design and beautifully delivered in its construction.”

The longlist for House of the Year 2017 is here.