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Competition: Calverley Old Hall, UK

The Landmark Trust has announced a design contest to regenerate its Grade I-listed Calverley Old Hall near Leeds, UK (Deadline: 1 August)

Open to ‘innovative designers with a flair for enhancing historic buildings and creating beautiful sensitive conversions’, the two-stage competition seeks proposals to transform the late-medieval manor house into a mixed-use complex centred around holiday accommodation.

The project comes four years after Witherford Watson Mann’s restoration of Astley Castle for the same client won the RIBA Stirling Prize. Since it was founded in 1965, the Landmark Trust has transformed nearly 200 buildings of historic and architectural interest into holiday rental units – including forts, castles, follies and towers.

Calverley Old Hall

Calverley Old Hall

Calverley Old Hall

According to the brief: ‘Landmark bought the site in 1981, and converted part of it into holiday accommodation, later restoring the chapel and weather-proofing of the Great Hall and Solar. But Calverley Old Hall represents unfinished business for Landmark.

‘Over the years, we have examined various options to bring the site back in to full and sustainable use, but none have come to fruition. We have renewed our commitment to finding a financially sustainable, holistically approached mixed-use solution that both conserves, and internally transforms, this highly significant building. We’re looking for a world-class multidisciplinary design team to work with us on this opportunity to revitalise the entire site.’

The manor house is in the village of Calverly between Bradford and Leeds, and was first erected in the 12th century. It was continually expanded until the 17th century. Key surviving elements include a two-storey, largely 14th-century Solar Block; a late-15th-century Great Hall and Chapel; an early-16th-century Parlour Block, and a 17th-century Lodging Block.

The historic site was purchased by the trust more than 30 years ago and partially transformed into holiday accommodation. The chapel was later restored and weather-proofing added to the Great Hall and Solar but plans to restore the entire site have so far floundered.

Calverley Old Hall

Calverley Old Hall

Calverley Old Hall

The latest project aims to transform the complex into a mixed-use facility featuring self-catering holiday accommodation, short-term assured residential tenancy and community spaces. Proposals may feature a ‘contemporary or historicist’ approach but must aim to restore the building’s historic fabric to the ‘highest conservation standards.’

Interested parties must first submit a prequalification questionnaire featuring two A3 pages introducing the design team and relevant past projects. Between five and eight shortlisted teams will then be invited to draw up conceptual designs, cost estimates and fee tenders during the competition’s second stage.

How to apply


The deadline for applications is 1 August

Contact details

The Landmark Trust

Tel: 01628 825920

Visit the competition website for more information

Astley Castle case study: Q&A with Stephen Witherford

The director of Witherford Watson Mann Architects discusses lessons learned converting disused Astley Castle into new holiday accommodation for the Landmark Trust

Astley Castle by Witherford Watson Mann Architects

Astley Castle by Witherford Watson Mann Architects

Astley Castle by Witherford Watson Mann Architects

How did your Astley Castle create a new lease of life for a disused monument?

The Landmark Trust had sought to safeguard Astley Castle for almost a decade, the ambition being to restore it and then let it out as holiday accommodation. The conditions at Astley were however profoundly different to more typical Landmark projects. Firstly the building was in a perilous state, having been destroyed by fire in the 1970s. Secondly, it was not a building constructed in a single moment; it had been adapted and incrementally added to over 800 years, which at the very least would raise the question: restore it to what point in time? Thirdly, the huge cost of full restoration had proven to be unviable. The Landmark Trust, after setting the project aside for a few years, then adopted a completely different approach. It held a competition to create a contemporary four-bedroom, eight-person house within the precinct of Astley Castle. Our response was to treat the ruin unsentimentally and see the new house as simply the ongoing occupation of the site. We wanted to bind the historical fabric that remained into the body of this new house. In this sense we think of our approach as reimagination rather than restoration.

Which architectural, material, and other methods did you harness in your design?

The design approach we took responded to the urgent action required. Working closely with David Derby at engineer Price & Myers, we used the new construction to stabilise the ruin, to prevent its continuing collapse. Even during the process of carefully clearing out the derelict fabric, further sections of the rubble walls fell.

Astley Castle by Witherford Watson Mann Architects

Astley Castle by Witherford Watson Mann Architects

Astley Castle by Witherford Watson Mann Architects

We therefore developed a constructional economy that recognised good conservation practices, digging almost no foundations and building all the new brick walls directly off the medieval rubble walls, while in the same action, using the new brickwork and precast concrete lintels to bind the ruin together and prevent further collapse. In a sense the old and the new construction cling to each other for dear life. It felt important to gently amplify this continuous conversation between the old and the new, and we were therefore committed to the idea that the new house not ‘complete’ the ruin. The experience of this slightly unsettling condition appears to underpin many visitors’ experience of living in Astley Castle.

What advice would you have to contest participants on designing a new future for Calverley Old Hall?

I have only looked through the Calverley Old Hall documents briefly, but it appears to be a very different situation. The work required, and therefore the approach necessary, will be different to that at Astley Castle. The Hall appears relatively stable and much of its primary structure seems to be intact. The Hall is also bound between already restored buildings. The project takes a more extensive approach to the whole site and therefore anticipates other uses and different participatory groups. In all of these conditions, Calverley Old Hall differs from Astley Castle. Perhaps the one thing that we would recommend to consider, is to imagine the life of the new accommodation, the joyful engagement with the past as part of the future and the complex human relationships that are shared across generations by the people who will stay there. The Landmark Trust will prove a challenging and brilliant client.

Q&A with Caroline Stanford

The historian and head of engagement at the Landmark Trust discusses her ambitions for the contest

Caroline stanford

Caroline Stanford

Why are you holding an international contest to regenerate Calverley Hall?

Landmark’s approach to saving historic buildings typically falls somewhere on the conservation-restoration continuum. Very occasionally, a site crops up where such an approach falls short – the building is too large, too ruinous; the evidence too stripped out – and then newly designed elements necessarily play a crucial role in its revival. Astley Castle (2012) was one such case, and Calverley Old Hall is our next, after several aborted attempts to resolve the site. Its seemingly intractable areas will require exceptional vision to retrieve and turn them into interesting spaces for 21st-century living. Normally, we’re a pretty informed client but it’s precisely when we’re stumped ourselves that we choose to spread the net wider through a competition, to stimulate the best architectural imaginations in our search for an inspiring solution. The scale of the project means OJEU procurement procedures apply.

Calverley Old Hall

Calverley Old Hall

Calverley Old Hall

What is your vision for the future of the historic complex?

This is an evolved, Grade I grouping on half an acre, on the Heritage at Risk register. There is great commitment on all sides to revive it fully, including from statutory authorities. We want to make Calverley Old Hall the hive of gentle mixed use it once was, both as medieval manor house and later as a multi-household base for artisans.

We envisage stunning Landmark holiday accommodation in the huge 15th-century, hammer -beamed great hall and the two-storey solar range (both gutted, but still hugely atmospheric, shells); perhaps an AST (or two) and community rooms in the less ruinous, later portions of the grouping. We’re keeping an open mind about whether this latest intervention in the Hall’s long history is explicitly contemporary. The features of the historic spaces we hope to reoccupy as the Landmark let are visually stunning: we seek an architect who can devise an innovative and daring scheme that lets them speak within the conversion. Sustainability is also something we seek to integrate, as are the highest standards of quality.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

Within the constraints of preserving the historic shell, we’re open to the widest range of ideas, and to applications from emerging practices as much as established names. The prequalification stage seeks to make sure those we invite to submit outline designs have the necessary skills and can head up a multidisciplinary team competent to take on this demanding site. That way we save everyone’s time. We’ll be publishing the designs submitted by the shortlist on the Landmark Trust website, which is a great way for young architects to get themselves noticed. We can guarantee wide media coverage and interest in any completed Landmark project, and this one is likely to generate even more publicity than usual.

Calverley Old Hall

Calverley Old Hall

Calverley Old Hall

Are there any other historic conversion projects you have been impressed by?

Speaking personally, I respond especially to schemes that succeed in meshing ancient and contemporary fabric with equal respect, rather than a jarring juxtaposition of the old with the new. Sensitivity to materials and texture is key, whether in conservation or new build. I appreciate Dow Jones conversion of Christ Church Crypt in Spitalfields (2016); I’m intrigued by Kate Darby and David Connor’s witty solution for Croft Lodge Studio (2016). I particularly admire the David Chipperfield Architects/Julian Harrap collaboration on the Neues Museum in Berlin (2010) – and of course Witherford Watson Mann’s work at Astley Castle (2012).

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