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Sustainability Sessions: Retrofit #04 – Castle Acre Water Tower with Tonkin Liu

Event video
Wed 7 Jul 2021, 1 - 1.30pm

The Sustainability Sessions are a series of talks that explore aspects of sustainability in the built environment. The first series celebrates retrofit projects that aim to reduce carbon emissions while giving existing buildings new life.

The fourth project of the series is the Castle Acre Water Tower. The project will be presented by Mike Tonkin of Tonkin Liu Architecture. The event will be chaired by Vanessa Norwood, creative director of the Building Centre.



About Castle Acre Water Tower restoration and new build, 2016 

The water tower, a light and delicate frame that supports the heavy mass of a steel water tank above, acts as a landmark that marks the end of the historic village it previously served. The project celebrates and continues the life of the structure by converting it into a home that benefits from its unique form and panoramic views of the surrounding barley fields. The restoration of the tower ensures its existing values are retained by giving life back to its structural system and exposing its robustness and materiality. The tank itself is reused as a living and dining space, and suspended below it are two bedrooms and a ground-floor garden room that allows the structure to integrate with the surrounding wilderness. A separate stair tower to the South is added for access. 


About Mike Tonkin

Mike Tonkin is a qualified architect and landscape architect. He established his practice after leaving the RCA in 1989 and founded Tonkin Liu with Anna Liu in 2001. Mike’s professional practice has been consistently informed by a distinctive pursuit of form and lessons observed from the natural world. The work has been informed by an understanding of vernacular architecture observed during extensive travels around the world. Over the last twenty years, Mike has taught and lectured at numerous schools of architecture, including the AA, the Bartlett School of Architecture (University College London), University of Cambridge, the RCA, and the University of Westminster. He lectures on a number of subjects including world vernacular architecture, using the experience and photographs taken from his extensive travels. He is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Bath, where he is also currently undertaking a PhD under the supervision of Senior Lecturer Paul Shepherd.


 The Story of Castle Acre Water Tower

By the ruins of a Castle, a Priory, a city gate

Rises one modern anomaly, steadfast against all elements,

a relic from the industrial age


A found object, a disused landmark

towering out of shielding trees

loved and unloved by the village of Castle Acre


Restored and reused on a shoe-string budget

Rusty tank a panelled Tudor hall

Hung timber rooms a timber spiral stair


Minimal intervention, purity of structure

Ivy growing, wind blowing a field of barley

Nature returns for the romantic industrial ruin


Keep exploring
Sustainability sessions