England’s Most Beautiful Architecture is a Countryside Home in Kent

Winner of the RIBA House of the Year 2017 prize, the rural home echoes tradition to reunite a large family under a collective roof

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Heiko Prigge

An unusual giant pops up in the countryside to win RIBA House of the Year, a prize given each year by the Royal Institute of British Architects for the best architectural project in the UK.

Completed after 7 years of construction, Caring Wood was signed off by James Macdonald Wright and his studio together with Niall Maxwell of Rural Office for Architecture. The former is also responsible for the annexed barn in black wood, which serves as a base to maintain the 25,000 trees on site.

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Heiko Prigge

An ambitious project whose sheer size brings things into perspective: 1,400 square meters, which extend over 84 hectares of land. We find ourselves in the countryside of Kent, among the idyllic landscapes dotted with abandoned homes and turrets that once served to dry out hops.

Restoring this old tradition, Caring Wood was inspired by the typical elements of vernacular architecture to bring a modern touch to the new home.

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Heiko Prigge
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Heiko Prigge

To call it a countryside home may be a bit reductive. Wright’s project is more similar to that of a small village, conceived as a space to accommodate four families in distinctly separated blocks that are interconnected. Each home boasts an angular turret that juts out into the crisp, English sky.

The goal was to create a nucleus of country homes to fuse three generations: the principal owners, their children, and the grandchildren. Within a crowded home, it became essential to break down the spaces into separare modules to accommodate for both shared and private moments.

With this in mind, the architects imagined a series of diverse levels, which could flow harmoniously from one to the next without disconnecting or blocking each other. The central spaces between modules take after the squares of a village, around which the living areas are extended, including a music hall and an art gallery.

As you pull away from the structure’s core, spaces become more secluded until you arrive at the turrets, where the families have their own private dwellings.

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Heiko Prigge
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Heiko Prigge

Despite the complex’s imposing dimensions, here in the countryside of Kent there’s a profound sense of warmth and intimacy. It was this very balance between private and collective spaces that impressed the judges, who saw Caring Wood as a poignant response to the familial crises of today.

In the face of a continually separated social fabric, the architects here created a space to solidify and mend such taught relationships.

Among the various differences within each family and between each family unit, the home acts as a kind of collector, protecting commonly held values.

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Heiko Prigge
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Heiko Prigge

Recalling the roots and traditions of yesteryear, Caring Wood reflects these values in many aspects. In a nod to the surrounding structures now abandoned, the turrets are integrated among the landscapes along with materials and construction techniques that follow the same principles. Take a look at the details and you’ll find handmade clay tiles covering the roofs, stone extracted from nearby quarries to stabilize the structures, and the chestnut cladding to enrich the appearance.

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Heiko Prigge

The entire countryside home is a tribute to the local craftsmanship, and while the foundations are based in the past, it’s flexible and daring personality push Caring Wood towards a new future. Ben Derbyshire, president of RIBA, might have said it best, “This ambitious house explores new architectural methods, materials and crafts and allows us to question the future of housing and the concept of multi-generational living”.

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Heiko Prigge

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