RIBA Manser Medal 2012 for the best new house - shortlist announced

Two subterranean extensions: one to a gamekeeper’s cottage in Gloucestershire, the other to a French orangery, the imaginative linking of a pair of East Sussex oast houses, the latest architect-designed seaside holiday home to let, and two elegant and sustainable new houses in Cornwall make up the shortlist for the RIBA Manser Medal 2012 for the best new house, the UK’s pre-eminent private housing design award.

The houses shortlisted for the 2012 RIBA Manser Medal are:

  • The Dune House in Thorpeness, Suffolk by Jarmund Vigsnaes Architects & Mole Architects
  • Private house in Gloucestershire by Found Associates
  • Private house in East Sussex by Duggan Morris Architects
  • Two Passive Solar Gain Houses, Porthadown, Cornwall by Simon Conder Associates
  • Maison L, Ile de France by Christian Pottgiesser - Architecture Possibles

The RIBA Manser Medal 2012 shortlist has been chosen from winners of RIBA Awards and RIBA regional awards. The winner will be announced at the RIBA Stirling Prize dinner on 13 October 2012 in Manchester. The winning architect and client will receive trophies designed by the artist Petr Weigl.

Previous winners include Hampstead Lane by Duggan Morris (2011), Acme for Hunsett Mill (2010), Pitman Tozer Architects for The Gap House (2009), Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners for Oxley Woods (2008) and Alison Brooks Architects for the Salt House (2007).

This year’s judges include: Michael Manser CBE, architect; Lady Jill Ritblat; and Tony Chapman, Hon FRIBA, RIBA Head of Awards.

The Architects’ Journal is media partner for the RIBA Awards and special awards and trade media partner for the RIBA Stirling Prize. The Observer is national media partner for the RIBA Stirling Prize.


Notes to editors

  • For more information about the RIBA Manser Medal please contact Beatrice Cooke at the RIBA on 020 7307 3813; or beatrice.cooke@inst.riba.org
  • Images of the five shortlisted houses can be downloaded from: https://www.box.com/s/9gdr7yzsgob3hptflqdu
  • The RIBA Awards have been running continuously since 1966 and are judged and presented locally. No matter the shape, size, budget or location, RIBA Award winning schemes set the standard for great architecture all across the country. RIBA Awards are for buildings in the UK by RIBA Chartered Architects and RIBA International Fellows. Winners are considered for the RIBA Stirling Prize.
  • The judges citations follow:

Dune House Aldeburgh Road, Thorpeness, Suffolk

Architect: Jarmund Vigsnaes Architects & Mole Architects

Client: Living Architecture

Structural Engineer: Jane Wernick Associates

Contractor: Willow Builders

Contract Value: confidential

Date of completion: December 2010

Gross internal area: 243 sq m

Alain de Botton’s Living Architecture concept allows people to find out what it is like to live in a fine piece of architecture, albeit for just a few days. While enjoying a pleasant holiday they might be taking their first steps to becoming clients themselves. This example, with Mole Architects again taking the executive architects role (as they did with another non UK firm MVRDV on the Balancing Barn), is a conceptually bold project that is also well-detailed and constructed. An open plan living space hunkered into its land is topped by four tent-like bedrooms above. Architecturally the roof form plays on the local vernacular gables and sheds but is also an exploration in geometry.

A holiday on the beach is all about being together with friends and family, and being connected to nature. The communal living room is a big, open-plan space, opening fully with sliding doors in three corners on to sunken external areas set into the grassy dunes, protected from the strong north easterly winds. The four bedrooms above, likened by the architect to sleeping in attic rooms on holidays, are also tent-like and playful, evoking the exciting and unpredictable spaces under tents. These rooms maintain their links to the landscape with stunning views framed with the picture windows, and smaller windows that open to enable ventilation with the fresh sea air.

A concrete core on raft foundation housing stairs and services enables the open plan, column-free span on the ground level, with the upper concrete floor spanning as far as the delicate external perimeter steel posts.

Environmental features include well-insulated roofs and a 7500 litre grey water tank, and a heat recovery system. A mandate was given by the client for a house that achieves 20% improvement in energy efficiency over current building regulations.
Ridge, gable, and gutter details are crisp and elegant, as are the picture windows which are flush to the external cladding, and openable windows which are recessed from the external cladding.


Private House in Gloucestershire

Architect: David Russell, Found Associates

Client: confidential

Structural Engineer: FJ Samuely

Contractor: Horgan Brothers Construction Ltd

Contract Value: confidential

Date of completion: April 2011

Gross internal area: 472 sq m

This house has an idyllic setting, overlooking a lake, concealed in a secret valley on the edge of the Cotswolds.

The Planners required that any new building on the site must be an extension to a tiny neglected gamekeeper’s cottage and that it be subordinate to it in scale. End of project. Instead the architect and the client successfully argued for series of dry stone walls and terraces in which the house is buried under grass roofs. The result is a house of substantial scale that does not overwhelm the cottage, with its linear form exploited to create an unfolding sequence of spaces of special character.

This is a project of great simplicity, in terms of materials and strategy and at the same time, considerable sophistication in its theatrical approach to space and light with both framed and expansive views and contrasting spatial events.

Externally the house is formed out of dry stone walls, a modern interpretation of the local vernacular, with sloping grass roofs – the slope burying the house into the hillside. Internally the house is almost entirely concrete – floors walls and ceilings all formed out of a beautiful concrete, the warm tone of the local aggregates and sands creating a material that harmonises with the stone of the cottage and the new drystone walls.

This project demonstrates a deep understanding of the site, with the retention and immaculate restoration of the cottage, adding to the richness of the overall project. Throughout, the strong and elegant diagram is reinforced with a disciplined and considered approach to each component. The use of materials, detailing and construction is flawless. This is architecture that will only improve as the landscape matures and the drystone weathers.


Maison L Ile de France

Architect: architecturespossibles

Client: Private

Structural Engineer: Joel Betito

Contractor: Les Constructeurs de Suresnes

Contract Value: Confidential

Date of completion: August 2011

Gross internal area: 616 sq m

In the corner of an undulating site of a former chateau, close to Versailles, is a heavily restored orangery whose origins can be traced back to the late 18th Century. This was home to a couple with four children. The couple called in the German born, French trained architect Christian Pottgiesser to extend it. The difficult brief called for an extension which impacted as little as possible on views from the orangery and on the mature landscape in which it is set. This suggested the L-shaped general plan and the use of an indigenous stone for retaining walls. But it did not suggest half-burying a series of interconnecting cave-like rooms nor the five three storey board marked concrete towers that poke out of the rockery-roof. This is where the genius of the architect comes in.

The local building code sets an 8 metre height limit (The Orangery is 7), so the architect has buried two metres of the linking building under the sloping site, allowing light in on the leading edge but meaning most of that accommodation does not count within the 8. The code also calls for a gabled or hipped roof but it does allow, in exceptional cases, flat roofs as long as they do not exceed 25 square metres each (clearly they were thinking garage). Thus five three-storeyed tower-like structures were designed, one room per floor with the circulation winding up through them providing dressing/storage, bathroom and bedroom. And by stealing a little off each of the young people’s towers the architects have made a somewhat grander (though still tiny) tower for the parents and planted a roof terrace on top from which there are great views not only of the garden and the district but of “La Défense”, the business district of the modern Paris with its own grown-up skyscrapers.

This is masterful house-making by an ingenious architect who saw the opportunities presented by the most unpromising of briefs and brought a little bit of San Gimignano to this corner of the Ile de France and made an originally sceptical client and his family more than happy.


Private house East Sussex

Architect: Duggan Morris Architects

Client: Private

Contractor: Northlake Limited

Consultants: Stephen Evans Associates, Brooks Devlin

Contract Value: confidential

Date of completion: February 2011

Gross internal area: 433 sq m

The project was aimed at creating a unified series of flowing, contemporary spaces linked to the rolling landscape setting. The brief also called for a building with character and personality, respectful of the existing Oast house, and taking advantage of the views. The architects have rediscovered the integrity of the building through careful observation and research and have made the new additions and alterations work harmoniously with the old so as to create a new whole.

The original building was given a thorough but sensitive makeover, removing all the accretions of centuries: garage, study and kitchen wing. On their footprint is the new annex. What remained was carefully analysed and repaired appropriately. As a result the shape, form, scale and quality of the two hundred year old building is easily discernible against the new annex. The annex itself is an altogether more sculptural and dynamic form of interconnecting volumes entirely clad in a stable, durable, engineered timber boarding, orientated vertically, in contrast to the rough sawn horizontal ship-lapping timber cladding of the oast barn. Equally, the external massing and form of the building is very much an expression of the internal function of each room.

A conflict between the needs of the client and the demands of conservation officials who wanted the replication of a traditional farm building aesthetic has been brilliantly resolved by breaking up and part burying the new building so it appears to be a collection of cellular timber outbuildings dominated by the bulk of the two oast-houses. Yet internally it is quite the reverse. The ‘separate’ barns form a beautiful continuous flowing open plan living area linking into bedrooms in the restored oast-houses.

The architects have created a dwelling which reflects an exemplary approach to contemporary rural renovation work; and produced a flexible living environment for a growing family within exceptional surroundings.


Two Passive Solar Gain Houses in Porthtowan
Avenue 3 Eastcliff, Porthtowan, Truro, Cornwall

Architect: Simon Condor Associates

Client: Private

Structural Engineer: Fluid Structures

Contractor: T&D Carter Ltd

Contract Value: £928,158

Date of completion: February 2012

Gross internal area: 327 sq m

These sibling houses – one a family home, the other an artist’s studio at upper ground floor level and guest apartment - are surrounded by a suburban estate of 1950s bungalows yet they overlook the beach in the village of Porthtowan on the north Cornish coast, with views down the coast to St Ives.

Clad entirely in timber, including the flat roofs and immaculately detailed, they are created out of a strong, simple and confident diagram which exploits fully the location and the enviable views.

Built into the 1 in 7 slope, the project is respectful of its neighbours, nestling into the ground to prevent obstructing their fine sea views. This site strategy also establishes a simple but successful passive sustainable approach: thermal mass, solar gain and natural ventilation each being exploited, with no sense of claustrophobia resulting from the semi-buried forms.

A skilful manipulation of plan and section ensures that all main spaces benefit from the expansive views. On this hillside location, a successful balance is achieved between feeling exposed and contained, allowing occupants to enjoy a strong relationship with what, at times, must be very extreme weather conditions, whilst feeling secure and protected.

The houses use a combination of fully glazed southern elevations and high mass construction for the remainder of the houses in order to reduce energy costs. Overheating in summer is dealt with by setting back the glazed elevations behind hardwood verandahs which also provide balconies and allow the much lower winter sun to penetrate deep into the two houses. The external cladding, roof decking and verandah structures are all made from FSC certified hardwood which has been left unfinished to weather naturally to a silvery grey.

With very low energy consumption, consistent, elegant detailing and construction, these houses are great examples of how thoughtful, modest and economic architecture can create a passive sustainable living environment. In responding to the clients’ very detailed brief, the architect has developed a special home and studio that meets, precisely, their exacting requirements.


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