Stonewood Design’s Nicola du Pisanie wins 2023 RIBA South West Project Architect of the Year for The Newt’s painstakingly reconstructed and reimagined Roman Villa Experience
2023 RIBA South West & Wessex Award winner
Project Architect of the Year Nicola du Pisanie
The Roman Villa Experience, Bruton
Stonewood Design for The Newt in Somerset
Contract value: Confidential
The Roman Villa Experience is set in the grounds of The Newt, a country estate in Somerset, and is one of a number of new buildings that populate the sprawling site. Comprising a contemporary museum and fully reconstructed Roman villa, the project is sited over excavated Roman remains discovered in the 1830s. These remained undeveloped until 2015 when further excavations by archaeologists revealed the existence of the magnificent Hadspen Roman Villa, which now forms the basis for the new visitor experience.
The contemporary museum is a welcoming and spatially generous pavilion that is orientated and focused towards the reconstructed villa. The museum’s elevation features a continuous 50m glass facade – with admirably slender window frames – which is set low in the surrounding fields and framed by low deciduous woodland and scrub.
Central to the museum display are the well-preserved remains of the original Roman villa’s bath house and hypocaust. A glass bridge and balustrade partly suspended over the exposed remains enable the visitor to enjoy a close-up view.
To ensure minimal impact to the original archaeology, new pad foundations were carefully laid out to support the lightweight pavilion structure erected above. This has resulted in a series of new vantage points that successfully invigorate the experience of the original remains. A vaulted oak ceiling conceals the structure and mechanical services, while helping to moderate the noise levels.
Jurors were impressed that the high quality of design is also carried through to the back-of-house areas: coat hanging, changing spaces and toilets are all finished to a high quality and naturally lit. Similarly, the mechanical pipework and electrics are satisfyingly set out with military precision.
Energy for the museum is provided solely by electricity, using no fossil fuels: air-source heat pumps and a substantial array of photovoltaics have been sympathetically integrated into the design.
Upon exiting the museum, the visitor experience is continued past further archaeological remains in the grounds – demarcated by large timbers – through newly installed vines and on towards the painstakingly reconstructed and reimagined Roman Villa from circa AD 351. This is one of the most ambitious such schemes ever undertaken in the UK.
Painstaking research was carried out to reconstruct the villa, including research trips to Pompeii and beyond. Drawing from the findings of the excavated site, the villa was erected with immaculate attention to detail, using techniques and materials from the period to ensure that the final building is as authentic as possible. Materials were locally sourced: 600mm-thick walls are constructed with local limestone, and the blue and white lias roof tiles were made specifically for the project. Impressively, a hypocaust heating system has been recreated which heats the bath house (floors and wall) and pools to a constant temperature. The replicated mosaics – one depicting the goddess Diana, another purely geometric patterns – are well executed, as are the small details such as the gutters and spouts of the roof.
The whole ensemble of museum and villa has been followed through with a notable level of skill and commitment, with the opportunity to embrace and recreate a significant period in British history being grabbed with both hands. The process of constructing the project has positively enhanced knowledge of crafts, skills, and techniques of the Romano-British period which have subsequently been vividly brought to life, creating a visitor experience of national interest and importance that is both engaging and educational.
Contractor Stonewood Builders
Structural engineer Hydrock Consulting Engineers
Environmental / M&E engineer E3 Consulting Engineers
Quantity surveyor / cost consultant Synergy
Fire consultant Hydrock
Principal designer Hydrock
Geotechnical engineer Hydrock
Archaeology + historic consultants South West Heritage
Planning consultant AZ Urban Studios
Building control Oculus
Exhibition designer Kossmann de Jong
Hard landscaping LT Studio
Planting design Urquhart & Hunt
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