What makes an award winner? It’s a question I’ve had to consider recently as a judge of the Best Renovation category of the What House? Awards. For anyone with a love of buildings, judging these awards is fascinating and thought provoking, although not always easy. A feature of renovations is that each one is different. This is good and bad news when it comes to judging. How does one compare the renovation of a grade I listed mansion with, say, a rambling hospital complex or a 1960s tower block?
Any good conversion must have certain characteristics. It should create interesting places for people to live while striking a creative, aesthetic and historic balance with the needs of the existing building. It’s about much more than the simple division and rehabilitation of a property for a new use. The building’s special qualities and proportions have to be harnessed so that they shine through in the finished product.
This was certainly the case with Balls Park in Hertford, the City & Country scheme which took this year’s gold award. Built around 1640, the house is Grade I listed and the work that has been undertaken characterises many of the qualities of a good renovation. It’s about the overall vision and desire to work with the ‘grain’ of the buildings, spatial awareness and ensuring that the final layout complements rather than complicates, thus avoiding a feeling of crude intervention. A crucial factor in any conversion is the use of space. As we state in the judges’ report on Ball’s Park, “We were delighted to see that internal volumes have been retained wherever possible and that the history of the building and the status of the various rooms can still be ‘read’.
St James, part of the Berkeley Group, achieved this with the Grade I listed Roehampton House in London SW15 which took silver. Originally built in 1712 by Thomas Archer, the property was extended by Sir Edwin Lutyens 200 years later. Over the years the building was degraded by institutional use and was hit three times by bombs during the Second World War. The necessary renovation work has been immense. Even so, both the original status of the individual rooms and the influences of the architects have been respected.
Bronze went to Linden Homes for Kingston Mills in Bradford on Avon. When Linden purchased the site in 2007 it comprised a collection of decaying Grade II listed buildings. The extensive work has included repairs to the heavily corroded structure of an important and early example of a reinforced concrete building dating from around 1916. Penthouses added to the top illustrate how good new design can work in an historic setting – all too often twee details and poor pastiche detract.
As a judge, overall impressions count for a lot. Obviously a good quality of finish is vital but, as with any scheme, so are the finer details. Everything from the use of appropriate materials and the way a window has been repaired, to how ventilation has been achieved and fire ratings have been met, differentiates the good from the bad.
Image: City & Country Ball’s Bark