Architecture student wins national design competition for a scheme that breathes new life into an abandoned Italian hill town

Each year, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Building’s (SPAB) Philip Webb Award encourages and celebrates new design in the context of historic buildings.

This year, the first prize (£1000) went to Marta Ascenso of the Mackintosh School of Architecture (Glasgow School of Art) for her scheme to breathe new life into the abandoned hill town of Craco in Basilicata, southern Italy, re-animating it for both visitors and local people.

Alanah Honey, a graduate of Newcastle University, took second prize (£500) for her proposal to refurbish and extend redundant buildings in Zanzibar to house a new Institute of Design, as a spur to regeneration and a hub for skill development.

The judges awarded third prize (£100) to Kate Nicholson of Sheffield University who re-imagined part of the former Spode Pottery in Stoke on Trent as a storytelling centre.

The judging panel, led by Oliver Wainwright architecture critic at The Guardian, was impressed by entrants’ enthusiasm to engage with challenging buildings – from ancient monuments to twentieth century concrete constructions – and to see the potential in the relatively humble, the architecturally modest and the utilitarian, whether military, industrial or commercial.

Other judges were architect Charles Holland (principal of Charles Holland Architects and Professor of Architecture at Brighton University); Meriel O’Dowd, Conservation Projects Manager at the Churches Conservation Trust; past PWA winner, architect Niall Bird (Giles Quarme & Associates) and John Goom, an architect specialising in the conservation of historic buildings (Director of John C Goom architects).

Marta Ascenso, this year’s winner, said:

“I am very honoured to win the 2017 Philip Webb Award. My project discusses the idea of ruins as a starting point to explore the town of Craco as an artefact of cultural and architectural identity. The ruin is evocative, stimulating thoughts of what was once there and what is to come. The site’s potential lies in the careful articulation of the two aspects – to understand what is still relevant from the past and to imagine what could be appropriate in the future. My scheme is certainly not trying to copy what’s there, neither is it denying what the new has to offer, but it searches for an in between, a deliberate ambiguity that comes from interpreting tradition.”

The SPAB was delighted to receive a record number of entries from students and graduates representing 11 different schools of architecture across the country.