God’s House Tower wins Royal Institute of British Architects award

The refurbishment and reimagining of Southampton’s historic God’s House Tower has won a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) award

Southampton’s God's House Tower (GHT) was one of seven projects that was shortlisted in the RIBA South Regional Awards for 2022. The 700-year-old monument and former key defensive gateway into Southampton was converted into a new arts and heritage venue for the city between 2016 and 2019.

Southampton arts organisation ‘a space’ arts became custodians of the building, which had previously been the city’s archaeology museum, in 2016 after securing the lease from Southampton City Council, and delivered a successful fundraising drive to enable the transformation of the structure.

As part of a £3.1 million scheme funded by the National Heritage Lottery and public grants, Purcell were appointed as Conservation Architects to transform GHT into a cultural centre that could host art exhibitions, events and cultural activities. The venue re-opened to the public in September 2019 and is now a vibrant entrance to Southampton’s historically significant Old Town, and has quickly become a beacon of the city's thriving arts scene.

‘a space’ arts worked with Purcell to transform the Grade 1 listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument, adding a contemporary extension, and creating an open and expansive exhibition and event space with accessible visitor facilities, including a café bar, reading room and external courtyard. Purcell ran a detailed and painstaking programme of works, sympathetically repairing and creatively upgrading the entire building. A challenge throughout the project was working with the building’s robust medieval fabric which features thick walls and narrow windows, which were formerly gun slots, and ensuring that GHT remains a treasured community asset for generations to come.

The refurbishment project was developed and managed by 'a space' arts, which runs projects that provide facilities and support for artists working in the Southampton area, including studios, exhibition space, and an extensive artist development programme, with the aim of creating a city where artistic communities can flourish and make a meaningful contribution to the cultural life of the city. The organisation was looking for the opportunity to establish a long-term facility and identified GHT as an ideal heritage location.

The pandemic meant that GHT had to close from March 2020, just six months after re-opening, and the doors remained shut until July 2021, when the venue was once again able to welcome visitors and audiences back in person to this historic and now-reanimated building. Between March 2020 and July 2021, the team at ‘a space’ arts and GHT moved much of their programming and events into the online space, and were able to continue, as far as possible, to engage audiences and support Southampton’s visual arts community.

Daniel Crow, Director of ‘a space’ arts, said:

“We are over the moon to have won the RIBA South Regional award 2022 for the restoration and reanimation of God’s House Tower. This is a real validation of the years of detailed work that our partnership with Purcell carried out over the life of the project. The scale of the challenge was greater than anything the ‘a space’ arts team had previously worked on, and we believe the outcome was absolutely worth the effort - the results truly speak for themselves.

“What is even more gratifying is seeing audiences, visitors, and the artist community from Southampton and beyond really take GHT to heart, filling the building with art, music, life and conversation, and returning each weekend to enjoy everything this unique venue has to offer.”

Carolyn Abel, Head of Culture and Tourism at Southampton City Council, said:

“We’re absolutely delighted that God’s House Tower has won this prestigious architectural award for one of Southampton’s iconic heritage assets. It’s emblematic of the strength of the partnership working and collaboration across the city that draws on the strength and diversity of Southampton’s cultural assets to reimagine opportunities for audiences as part of our bid to become UK City of Culture in 2025.”