Truly uplifting monastery gets top architecture prize

Stanbrook Abbey  at Wass in North Yorkshire. Picture by Gary Longbottom
Stanbrook Abbey at Wass in North Yorkshire. Picture by Gary Longbottom
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Yorkshire’s best new buildings were celebrated at a Royal Institute of British Architecture awards ceremony last night.

The Building of the Year prize went to the awe-inspiring Stanbrook Abbey in Wass, which judges describe as “a truly extraordinary piece of architecture”.

Abbess Andrea Savage in the church at  Stanbrook Abbey

Abbess Andrea Savage in the church at Stanbrook Abbey

The contemporary convent in the heart of the North York Moors National Park, near Ampleforth, was designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley architects with input from the small community of Benedictine nuns.

The brief was to create “an eco-friendly monastery for the 21st century”. Constructed from locally-sourced stone and sustainable timber with solar panels, a woodchip boiler, reed bed drainage, rainwater harvesting and a green roof, the aim was to make simple, tranquil and beautiful spaces that would aid prayer.

The remarkable £7.5m project began when the nuns decided to sell their historic abbey in Worcestershire due to maintenance issues and costly fuel bills. They bought the land at Crief farm in 2007 without planning permission for their new home. It was a giant leap of faith that paid off when the National Park Authority gave the go-ahead for the ambitious scheme.

The RIBA judges citation says: “Having a blank canvas sometimes presents more problems than a tight, hemmed-in site but to execute it in such a beautiful organic form suggests divine intervention. It sits majestically within the woodland, rising out of the ground to form the crescendo to the plateau. The experience of walking into the chapel is truly uplifting.”

York Art Gallery after its redesign. Picture by Giles Rocholl

York Art Gallery after its redesign. Picture by Giles Rocholl

Prestigious RIBA Yorkshire Awards for architectural excellence also went to the Brynmoor Jones Library at Hull University by Sheppard Robson architects; a contemporary lean-to at a Victorian house in Harrogate by Doma architects; the Laidlaw Library at Leeds University by ADP architects; a new house in Brigsley by Hodson architects and York Art Gallery by Ushida Findlay and Simpson and Brown architects.

Judges were impressed with a sensitive new design for the York gallery, which is housed in a Grade II* listed building that was constructed in 1879. They said: “This beautiful gallery is both humbling and utterly inspiring. It was clearly rambling and disorganised until the architects transformed and reinvigorated it by opening up a roof void that has not seen the light of day since the 1950s. The initial glimpse up in to the new first floor gallery is surprising, greatly impressive and creates good visual connections that encourage you not only explore the displayed pottery but also to experience anew the building as a whole.”

The gallery also won a RIBA Yorkshire Conservation Award. Other special prizes went to the Brynmor Jones Library, which got a Conservation Award and a Sustainability Award. The contemporary lean-to won a RIBA Yorkshire Small Project Award and Dr Richard Heseltine, Director of Library and Learning Innovation and University Librarian at Hull University, won Client of the Year for The Brynmor Jones Library .

Tom Van Hoffelen of Simpson and Brown Architects was presented with the RIBA Yorkshire Project Architect of the Year award for his work on York Art Gallery. The judges said “We cannot speak highly enough of Tom Van Hoffelen. He has revealed a special jewel and through this conservation work and intervention, he has unlocked an experience that had always been there but was hidden from view. He has delivered a beautiful and extraordinary piece of conservation work.”

The c ontemporary lean-to by Doma architects

The c ontemporary lean-to by Doma architects

RIBA Yorkshire prize winners will also be considered for coveted RIBA National Awards, which will be announced in June.The shortlist for the RIBA Stirling Prize for the Best Building of the Year will be drawn from the RIBA National Award-winners later in the year.