Despite facing stiff competition in the form of Behnisch Architekten’s Haus Im Haus, Opus 5’s Music School in Normandy triumphed as our esteemed judges put it forward as the winning entry to the 2012 WAN Adaptive Re-Use Award. Described by Paul Williams, Founding Partner of Stanton Williams, the Music School was ‘the one’ as he noted that ‘it was worth coming in today just for this project’. The judges immediately fell for the scheme’s sensitivity and also its ‘assertive’ nature, Pauline Nee, Head of Historic Buildings at John McAslan + Partners in particular, who asked, ‘Don’t you just want to go there and hear someone play the saxophone?’
Set in rural Louviers, Normandy the original building was constructed in 1646 as a monastery and has since been reincarnated as a prison and music school. Opus 5 were given the task of recreating the calm and majesty of the original monastery and removing the stigma of the former prison building, as well as adhering to the rigorous schedule and limited plot. In order to achieve this the architects used the existing masonry walls to extend upwards infilling the cloister above the river, replacing what was missing from the original structure and then going further to create a glowing glazed element which sits surrounded by ruins atop the river.
Whilst sitting above the ruins of the original, insightful design has ensured that this beautiful glazed box does not overshadow or overpower the main wing of the building. In fact it was the sensitivity and maturity of its placement and relationship to the old that impressed the judges. From the detailing of how the extension meets the existing volume to the delicate facade which almost blends with the landscape, while still being an incredibly contemporary intervention, ticked all the boxes the judges were looking to fill. Such a modern intervention in a rural environment could have easily been unsuccessful, however the judges found the balance just right. ‘I like the way it still has the feeling of a monastery; beautifully calm’ mused Pauline Nee.
John Assael of Assael Architecture thought the ‘exquisite’ scheme to be a clear winner, explaining ‘I like the way it’s so assertively modern, and the way it sits. It shows great bravery and sensitivity of how it’s been handled; an outstanding entry!’ Whilst other projects struggled with the definition between old and new and what should and shouldn’t be contemporary, the Music School at Louviers does not struggle. Its elegance ‘at day and night’ really ‘raises the spirits’. This was a clear winner across the board, a beautiful scheme that related with great sensitivity to the original monastery and the river. As put by Paul Williams, ‘the setting, the purity of it, the dialogue it has with you, has all the elements we’re looking for’.