New traditional mansion replaces ‘starfish’ design as house of the future
A new classical mansion will be built instead of the Ushida Findlay ‘starfish’ design which, seven years ago, was held up by the Modernist architectural establishment as the country house of the future.
The new classical house, designed by Robert Adam, received planning permission this week from Chester City Council, following months of consultation. Unfriendly commentators dubbed the style ‘neo-Georgian pomp’ in 2002. This week, however, it was called “an exceptionally outstanding design” in a carefully considered planning report from the City Planners, who recognized the designer’s “innovative use of classical principles in a contemporary manner” in a way which “will be unique to this building”.
In 2001 the Grafton Hall site in Cheshire was the subject of a well-publicised RIBA competition to find country house style for the 21st century. The winning design was a starfish shaped building with pink tentacles spreading into the landscape. The proposed house made headlines when it received planning permission in 2002. But it proved impossible to sell despite The Guardian’s confident assertion that it was ‘unlikely to be a white elephant, or even a stranded starfish’.
Robert Adam’s new country house in Hampshire was rejected by the RIBA Awards selection committee in May this year despite having been dignified with the top award by the Georgian Society. Robert Adam architects say this is an example of the architectural professions’ stylistic bias towards ‘contemporary’ styles, a view apparently not shared by the greater public.
The owner of the site, however, had the vision to commission a new classical design as an exemplar of sustainability as well as of architectural quality. The design is traditional but, in accordance with government regulations, it is also an innovative use of classical principles. The 32,000 sq ft mansion is built of local stone and complete with pool buildings, staff accommodation and stables. The new house sits in its own 200 acre mature landscape setting (once the setting for a lost Tudor mansion).
Grafton Hall was awarded the rare planning permission under PPS7 which permits a private house in open countryside because “the highest standards of contemporary architecture” have been reached.
To achieve a development with minimal environmental impact, Robert Adam Architects worked with the environmental engineers Atelier Ten to design a building to meet the exceptionally demanding Code for Sustainable Homes Level 5 certificate and which, to date, no house has achieved. Atelier Ten believes Grafton Hall is ”truly innovative” and will “be used as an exemplar for future housing development."
Robert Adam commented, “My client made the common-sense choice. Survey after survey has shown that people prefer to live in traditional buildings and not in architectural experiments. This may be bigger and more expensive, but the choice is the same. Usually the public gets what it is given, but with Grafton New Hall my client was fortunate enough to be able to choose. After seven years of trying, no-one wanted the competition winning design.”
Crispin Harris of Jackson Stops and Staff, who has been advising on the design, said “it is our experience that this is just the kind of house that our wealthier clients are looking for.”