RIBA South East Sustainability Award

Caring Wood, Kent  | Macdonald Wright Architect and Rural Office for Architecture 

This scheme is an ambitious project which seeks to re-envisage the “English country house” in the 21st century to meet the needs of three generations of the same family. The jury was impressed with how Macdonald Wright and Maxwell had manipulated space and scale to balance the need for grandeur with intimacy – from the soaring spaces of the piano nobile to the living spaces partially embedded in the hillside below. As a result they have created a house of over 1400 sqm which nevertheless feels like a home. The detail of how each space will be inhabited has been very carefully thought through.

Caring Wood engages in the dialogue of critical regionalism: the design of the house is modern but with clear links to the Kentish rural vernacular and local building traditions. Externally, the form of the house uses the traditional oast house as a form generator - on entering, there is a framed view of a traditional oast in the distance. The house comprises four towers with an interlinking roof. This family of towers are sentry points in the landscape with distinct personalities. A conversation is set up both between the towers of the house itself and with those of the oast houses in the distant landscape, providing a tension to the overall composition.

The jury were also impressed with the quality of the build, the level of craftsmanship and the rigour of the pared-back palette of materials employed throughout. It is a composition of locally sourced handmade peg clay tiles, locally quarried ragstone and locally coppiced chestnut cladding. It is a rich, warm palette that ties the house to the Kent countryside and speaks of ‘place’. The towers together with the interlinking roof are clad solely in clay tiles, which the architect describes as a ‘tablecloth being draped over the terrain’. The simplicity of this visual device is very effective and the attention to detail in the way the roof is peeled away in places to acknowledge window soffits or other openings was a delight to see.
The quality of the internal environment both acoustically and in terms of how the daylight was manipulated was fantastic.

The extensive landscaping surrounding the house is still in its infancy, yet there is already evidence as to how this will help to seamlessly connect the house to its setting, a year or two from now.
The house has excellent sustainable credentials. It provides a carbon neutral response to climate change. The form of the building was developed around a central courtyard with oast towers providing summer cooling by passive stack ventilation. Caring Wood’s sustainability is addressed through low energy design and the use of clean green technologies, and in the regional application of building form, material choices and detailing.

Source: RIBA