Hunsett Mill on the Norfolk Broads by Acme architects has scooped the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) prestigious Manser Medal 2010 for the best new house or major extension in the UK in association with HSBC Private Bank. The presentation of the award took place at a ceremony at the RIBA last night, at which the winner received an increased prize of £10,000 and a new specially commissioned trophy designed by artist Petr Wiegl from presenter, designer, author and host Kevin McCloud. Acme architects has won the award for its arresting extension to Hunsett Mill, a nineteenth century Grade 2 listed mill keepers house on the Norfolk Broads. Building a major extension that more than doubled the size of the original house on a uniquely picturesque site was challenging.
Acme created an extension in the form of a shadow of the original house, which the judges describe as “more akin to a piece of art than a piece of rural, domestic architecture.” Speaking about the winning building Ruth Reed, President of the RIBA said: “Hunsett Mill, like a lot of really good architecture, results from one simple, strong idea. Instead of creating either a pastiche of the Victorian red-brick cottage, or a self-effacing glass box, the architects’ truly inventive solution was to create a kind of triple-shadow of the original, in black charred timber, crossed by the shadow of the neighbouring windmill’s arms.
“A private house commission gives the architect an opportunity to get inside the ambitions of the client and produce a shared personal statement. It is a building type in which every detail matters and in which they matter to client and architect in equal measure. Houses like Hunsett Mill do not get built without the extraordinary faith in and commitment to the architects by their clients. The RIBA is grateful to HSBC Private Bank for its strong support of this award.” H u n s e t t M i l l 39 Hunsett Mill is a very specific response to a very specific space: an arcadian setting on the Norfolk Broads.
The windmill and its out-buildings appear on jigsaws, postcards and chocolate boxes as a famous view from narrow boats. The new building is conceived as a shadow sitting within the site lines of the retained cottage so that the new building is invisible from that specific viewpoint. The new building is clad in black, charred timber so that it is truly a shadow, with flush glazing that add to the sense of insubstantiality. The overall impact is very arresting - more akin to the response to a piece of art than an example of rural, domestic architecture.
The judges enjoyed the constant inventiveness of Acme’s approach seeking new materials, using intriguing structural forms to create interesting forms, values and visual effects. The building is used as a weekend or holiday home by a number of families; this allows the interiors to continue the inventiveness and drama of the exterior forms without too many domestic constraints. The roof forms are particularly enjoyable, creating a series of linked gables that are asymmetric but rhythmic. Further changes of angle are added to create a series of interesting spaces, with the first floor walkway to the bedrooms particularly special.
The whole is consistently detailed and well crafted with interesting use of off-site construction. Overall the restoration of the cottage and the new building, which are linked internally, is an exciting and intellectually stimulating response to the strange rural setting. A cultured client has given free reign to the innovation of his chosen architects Acme and engineers Adams Kara Taylor. Hunsett Mill proves that good architecture can be delivered on a budget and that it can be achieved in the most restrictive of situations – as a planning authority Norfolk is not renowned for risk-taking. The resulting project balances value and quality and is one that many people could aspire to.