1996 Architectural Award

The City Trust’s annual award, open to all buildings constructed or restored in Durham District during 1996, has been won by Aykley Heads House. The Grade 2* listed building, unoccupied, neglected and vandalised during the 1980s, when it was the focus of a succession of letters from the Trust, has now been gloriously restored.

In the field of architecture one has to accept that the ideal must yield to some acceptable or feasible compromise – not least in tasks involving conservation or historical reconstruction – but not in this particular instance! Here, not a jot has been ed, not a detail overlooked or skimped, in a truly remarkable exercise. The transformation constitutes a case study worthy of wide dissemination.

The key figure in the restoration is Peter Candler, director of Rivergreen Developments Ltd, entrepreneur extraordinary, a civil engineer by training, with a keen knowledge of, and sensitivity to, historic buildings. As overall director of the scheme, he negotiated the purchase of the building from the County Council, and engaged Simpson and Brown of Edinburgh to produce a Conservation Strategy, and Darbyshire and Kendall as architects. The expertise and enthusiasm of this trio has been continued by the various craftsmen who have worked on the proiect.

The saving of Cortese’s fine mid-18th century stucco ceilings from their sodden state, restoration of exuberant wooden mouldings, recovery of stolen fireplaces and installation of a fire-vandalised Venetian window on the basis of old photograghs, the application of appropriate pastel colours – these are but some of the components of a rescue and restoration act which has been progressing for more than four years. The fortunate new occupants of the building are the County’s Career Service, which has been unable to furnish it in a manner befitting the restoration, Rivergreen Developments, Building Design Northern and an award-winning Bistro 21.

The award is covered in Bulletin 40, January 1997.

Update June 2022

The restaurant venue is now Finbarr’s.