From a distance it might look like a typical Kentish oast house due to its striking angular roof design, by this award-winning home in the heart of the English countryside is actually a cutting-edge contemporary design by British architects James Macdonald Wright and Niall Maxwell.
The property has just won the hotly contested RIBA House of the Year 2017 competition, formerly the RIBA Manser Medal, for its distinctive re-imagining of a quintessential English country house.
‘Caring Wood’, which has been designed for three generations of the same family, was inspired by the conical-shaped oast houses (agricultural buildings that were used for drying hops) that are synonymous with rural Kent and its brewing culture.
The RIBA judges said: ‘This family of towers are sentry points in the landscape with distinct personalities. A conversation is set up both between the towers of the house itself and with those of the oast houses in the distant landscape, providing a tension to the overall composition.’
The house was designed by James Macdonald Wright of Macdonald Wright Architects and Niall Maxwell of Rural Office for Architecture, who took the opportunity to use local materials that echo the region’s vernacular, including clay tiles, coppiced chestnut cladding and ragstone sourced from a quarry nearby.
While an unusual design like this might have been rejected by some local planners, this house was granted planning permission under Paragraph 55, which states that homes can be built if they are of ‘outstanding architectural quality’.
James Macdonald Wright said of the project: ‘Sustainability in architectural practice is expected, but I believe regionalism, craft and the interpretation of the vernacular are also important. I’m delighted that, in Caring Wood, they are being recognised. This project proves that, by joining together, small practices can do big things.’
Built to last, the eco home features solar panels, ground-source heat pumps, an electric car-charging port and wildflower meadows and 27,000 have been planted on the 84-acre estate. The house has been designed for multi-generational living and future-proofing the home was of the utmost importance to the family, who want the property to provide for its future generations to come.
The house is divided into four interlinked blocks – one for each of the four family units – providing accommodation for the owners, their daughters’ and husbands and their children, and the ability to maintain a close-knit relationship while also having their own space.
‘Here we find a family enjoying each other’s time and company, but also enabling timeless layers of support to emerge between generations,’ said jury chair Deborah Saunt. ‘Grandparents and grandchildren exchanging experiences and enlivening each other’s sense of self, parents finding a place to catch up alone as children play. Siblings together with cousins, building the foundation for mutual support for years to come, the network that builds a strong society of mutual respect.’
Despite its size at a whopping 1,400 square metres, the house still feels ‘homely’ and the architects were praised by the jury for managing to manipulate the spaces and scale of the property in order to ‘balance the need for grandeur with intimacy’.
RIBA president Ben Derbyshire said: ‘This ambitious house explores new architectural methods, materials and crafts and allows us to question the future of housing and the concept of multi-generational living. I’ve no doubt many of the ideas displayed at Caring Wood will influence UK housing for many years to come.’
The house was featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs: House of the Year series, where the original shortlist of RIBA contenders was whittled down from seven to just one over a four-week period.
Last year, a modest home in Edinburgh by Richard Murphy Architects won RIBA House of the Year.