With their creation, James MacDonald Wright and Niall Maxwell re-imagined the traditional English country house. Caring Wood combines a contemporary design with clear links to the rural vernacular, obtaining a modern space that speaks of its time and place. This country house in Kent has been awarded the Royal Institution of British Architects (RIBA) House of the Year 2017.

A house that mixes tradition and innovation

MacDonald Wright and Maxwell clearly took inspiration from the traditional oast houses of Kent, the agricultural buildings for kilning hops, to ideate Caring Wood.

The house, made of a rich palette of local materials, is skillfully detailed and beautifully constructed. But even more importantly, Caring Wood is an environmentally friendly building. The house is fully carbon neutral, meaning its emission balance is zero.

Caring Wood is constituted of four marker-shaped towers surrounding the main building. The red colour of the house perfectly contrasts the green landscape in which it is immersed, creating a colourful picture to the viewer. Inside the house offers a central bright open-space, surrounded by smaller rooms. The many windows on the roofs, combined with the wide front windows make Caring Wood very bright. Its interior design is modern and essential and it makes large use of wood; for the floors, the stairs, and even some walls.

The word from the jurors

Speaking about Caring Wood, Deborah Saunt said the prize went beyond the sublime craftsmanship and spatial grandeur the house offers, to recognise its aim to provide a collective space to its inhabitants. Caring Wood, the juror affirms, makes us question the way we will live together in the future. In a time of increased loneliness, when individuals seem lost in their own digital worlds, it is paramount to design homes where families are able to gather together.

Caring Wood is in this sense a “brave project” that aims at restoring those lost inter-generational bonds by aggregating extended families. Here, you can easily see a family enjoying each other’s time and company, grandparents exchanging experiences with grandchildren, siblings playing together with cousins, and parents finding a place to catch up alone.

In conclusion, this is a house for all the ages, says Ms Saunt, an intimate place where it is possible to create the network that builds a strong society of mutual respect. Juror Sandra Coppin also speaks of intimacy, adding despite its scale and grandeur the house also feels “lively” and “pleasingly domestic”.

Finally, juror Sebastian Cox highlights the combination of a modern technical approach and traditional materials and handcraft skills. It is an ambitious project, he concludes, that respects the environment in which it is immersed and gives back to it. Certainly, Caring Wood will progressively soften into the landscape as the 25,000 trees that were planted in the ground surrounding the house will grow.