Water Tower in Norfolk house, English second home design, Castle Acre Tonkin Liu architecture photos

The Water Tower in Norfolk by Tonkin Liu

post updated 17 February 2024

Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Award for projects with construction budget of less than £1 million:

Stephen Lawrence Prize 2021 Winner News

Design: Tonkin Liu

15 October 2021

The Water Tower Wins Stephen Lawrence Prize 2021

Location: Castle Acre, Norfolk, southeast England, UK

Stephen Lawrence Prize 2021 Shortlisted

Norfolk Water Tower family home England
photo © Taran Wilkhu

16 + 14 Sep 2021

The Water Tower

Jury Report:

The Water Tower is an extraordinary family second home in Norfolk, where a derelict structure has been brought back into viable use. It is situated above and to the north of the local village, down a lane, surrounded by fields. Its prominent position led to concerns from local residents about overlooking and light pollution, and the impact of inhabiting a structure that once provided functional utility to the village but lay dormant as a decaying local landmark.

Norfolk Water Tower home doors walls Norfolk Water Tower family house staircase
photos © Taran Wilkhu

The building is divided into two elements, in Kahn’s terms ‘served and servant spaces’: accommodation to the north, served by a stair tower to the south. Accommodation comprises ground floor kitchen/dining, two floors of bedrooms and an upper living/dining/kitchen tank room at the top.

Norfolk Water Tower family home interior
photo © Taran Wilkhu

The stair and lift tower has no windows and faces towards the village, resolving the overlooking and light issues. The stair is formed from two layers of CLT, with an interlayer spacer, with balusters reusing reinforcement from the original tank room. It is a delightful helical stair, spiralling within its rectilinear box and lit from a rooflight at the top. A glazed ‘bridge’ link provides access to the northern accommodation tower, with each room enjoying a fully glazed elevation looking out across arable fields. At the top, the stair tower gives access through a rooflight to a terrace above, with PVs and balustrading.

Before works began:
Water Tower Norfolk house England

The new structure sits within the original metal framing and is made from CLT. It provides structural stiffness to the original tower, which had previously been provided by the weight of the water, but which otherwise would bend and twist under wind loading in its absence.

Norfolk Water Tower family home stairs
photo © Taran Wilkhu

The interior spaces within the new structure are exposed CLT, wrapped in corrugated reflective metal on the exterior. The interior has warmth and a visual ‘weight’ to it from the exposed CLT finish. Externally, the play of light on the corrugations and the reflectivity picking up the colour of the sky and passing weather is a delight. It is a complementary visual contrast to the ironwork of the original structure, which criss-crosses in front of it.

The Water Tower by Tonkin Liu

Photographs © Dennis Pedersen, unless stated otherwise

The upper tank room enjoys a ribbon window around three sides, neatly cut through the middle of the tank, providing panoramic views of the Norfolk countryside, and a rooflight giving views of the sky. The interior retains the original exposed metal panels from the plant room, with the original ballcocks and valves being retained as decorative features. The exterior is wrapped in insulated render, painted grey, which transforms the original tank room into a ‘look out’ with a 1930s architectural language.

The Water Tower design by Tonkin Liu Architects

The client is a photographer, who, in order to achieve the vision and bring it in within an affordable budget, became the main contractor. The care and attention that has been given to the details, with the photographer’s eye, is evident throughout, as was the approach to retain as much as possible of the original building structure, and to reuse any elements that were surgically removed during construction.

The Water Tower design by Tonkin Liu

The Water Tower is an example of how an unloved redundant structure can be given a new sustainable life through intelligent design, carefully and diligently applied by a committed and driven client. The effort to preserve and retain as much of the original structure as possible and the rigour of the execution is exemplary. It shows how good retrofitting design can combine low embodied energy and architectural delight.

Water Tower Norfolk house England

Water Tower in Norfolk by Tonkin Liu – Building Information

RIBA region: East
Architect practice: Tonkin Liu
Date of completion: February 2020
Client name: Dennis Pedersen
Project city/town: Norfolk

Contract value: £575,000.00
Internal area: 160.00 m²
Cost per m²: £3,594.00 / m²
Contractor company name: MNB Services


Project Management: Dennis Pederson
Structural Engineers: Rodrigues Associates
Environmental / M&E Engineers: Integration


Project name The Water Tower
Conversion of a steel water tower into a family home

Site as found 2014:
Water Tower Norfolk building before work

Site Completed 2019:
Water Tower Norfolk building after work

Project Info

Name: The Water Tower
Location: The Water Tower
Peddars Way
Massingham Rd
Castle Acre
Kings Lynn
PE32 2FP

TL Appointment June 2014 Stage 1 to Stage 4
Commencement 2017
Completion 2019
Construction Cost PRIVATE
Project Size 160 sqm
Client Dennis Pedersen & Misia Godebska

Architect Tonkin Liu
Project Architect Alex Woolgar
020 7837 6255

Structural Engineer Rodrigues Associates
Mervyn Rodrigues
020 7837 1133

Services Engineer Integration
Dan Brooks
020 7183 8610

Project Manager Dennis Pedersen

Principle Contractor MNB Services
Nigel & Ben Tokelove
The Palms
50c Brow of the Hill
PE32 1EN

Water Tower Norfolk house England


Steelwork GLW Engineering & Construction Ltd
Three Acres
Railway Junction South
Creek Road
PE15 8SD
07831 449668

Cross Laminated
Timber suppliers Binderholz UK Ltd.
St James House
13 Kensington Sq
W8 5HD
Phone +44 1639 892 508
Headquarters Fügen Austria +43 5288 601

Intumescent painting Easter Commercial Ltd
Industrial Blasting and Painting
Lyng Road, Elsing, Dereham, Norfolk NR20 3EW
01603 879787

Rendering External Wall Services (Essex) Limited
27 Bramble Way
Suffolk CO6 4UN
01206 264118

Glazing: Anglian Architectural
Unit 1, Mill Lane
Waterford Industrial Estate
Great Massingham, Norfolk
PE32 2HT
01485 520860

Cladding: AC Bacon Engineering Ltd
Norwich Road
Norwich, Norfolk
01953 850611

Velfac (proprietary windows)
iGuzzini (light fittings)

The Water Tower design by Tonkin Liu Architects UK

Water Tower Norfolk property images / information received from Tonkin Liu Architects 160921


The Water Tower in Castle Acre, Norfolk

Project description

The historic village of Castle Acre is home to a ruined Norman Castle, a ruined 11thC Priory, a ruin Bailey gate and a ruined steel Water Tower. The Water Tower had been relocated from a local airfield after the war and had become a popular landmark with villagers, many of whom had climbed it during their youth. Bidding against scrap metal dealers the tower was bought by the client in an auction. As part of the living history of the village, the disused structure’s preservation and reuse as a home drew great support from the local community.

The Water Tower England design by Tonkin Liu Architects UK

The steel tank has become a living room, the steel frame has been infilled to provide sleeping chambers with a ground floor entrance and recreation area and a new tower has been added for access and to stabilise the delicate structure that swayed in the hill top wind.

The rusty panelized steel tank has been retained and transformed with a panoramic window. Above and below the ribbon window steel trusses works in tandem with the existing steel panels to open the tank to an expansive view of the flat horizon. The support for the upper trussed panel are disguised by the frames of the opening portions of the ribbon window. A single skylight surround by mirror will bring light from every direction into the living dining and cooking space.

Water Tower Norfolk house England Water Tower Norfolk house England

Below the tank the existing steel frame structure is infilled with a prefabricated cross laminated timber structure. The timber cube like sleeping chambers are fully glazed on the north elevation to minimize light pollution to the village to the south and to overlook a vast field of barley that becomes a vast rural phenomenon as it is seen from above as it sways in the wind. The tall chambers that correspond to the frames proportions also contains a washroom and wardrobe with a mezzanine over. Small window to the east and west provide cross ventilation and castle like observation.

A bridge connects the sleep chambers to the cross laminated stair tower. The bridge is fully glazed to its sides to connect the occupants to the tree tops of the line of trees that extend to the east and west. The bright and open space feeds natural light into the height of the enclosed stair tower.

Norfolk Water Tower home interior design
photo © Taran Wilkhu

The cross laminated stair tower has a castle like cantilevered cross laminated stair that acts as a compression spiral as found in a sea shell. The compression spiral delivers wind loads to the foundations and minimizing the thickness of the CLT walls. From below the double tread spiral can be seen leading towards an ovoid skylight that fills the dark vertical shaft with top light. The soft light illuminates the rusty iron balusters that have been formed from recycled tie rods that pulled together the sides of the water tank. The combined strength of timber spiral and shear walls form a ridged structure that lends stability to the existing steel frame structure as it adds lateral stability when it connects to the existing tank.

Water Tower Norfolk house England


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

Film on YouTube


• RIBA Regional Award
• RIBA National Award
• Stephen Lawrence Prize 2021 Shortlist
• WAN Small Project
• AJ Retrofit
• Dezeen Awards
• Structural Timber Awards
• Wood Awards
• iStructe Small Project Award
• AJ Awards 2021
• BCI Awards 2021

Stephen Lawrence Prize 2021 Shortlist

Water Tower in Norfolk by Tonkin Liu images / information received from RIBA 140921

Location: Norfolk, Southeast England, UK

Architecture in Norfolk Area

Norfolk Architecture Designs

Norfolk Buildings

Flint House
Design: Architect Wimshurst Pelleriti
Flint House Norfolk remodelled cottage
image courtesy of architects
Flint House Norfolk remodelled cottage

Backwater House
Design: Platform 5 Architects
Backwater House Norfolk Broads
photograph © Alan Williams
House on the Norfolk Broads

Pivot House, Reymerston
Design: Studio Bark Architects
Paragraph 55 House in Norfolk
image courtesy of architects
Paragraph 55 House in Norfolk

Pensthorpe Play Barn, Fakenham
Design: Adam Khan Architects
Pensthorpe Play Barn in Fakenham
photo © Lewis Khan
Pensthorpe Play Barn Building in Norfolk

Norwich Building

Cambridge Architecture Design – chronological list

Cambridge Walking Tours by e-architect

English Architecture Designs – chronological list

English House Designs

English Residential Architecture

Long Brick House, Seer Green, Chiltern district, Buckinghamshire, southern England
Architects: Bradley Van Der Straeten
Long Brick House The Chilterns England
photo courtesy of architects office
Long Brick House in the Chilterns

Druim House, Winchelsea Beach, Rye Nature Reserve, East Sussex, Southern England
Design: RX Architects
East Sussex property - English Houses
photography : Richard Chivers
House on Winchelsea Beach, East Sussex

English Architect

College of West Anglia in Norfolk

Comments / photos for the Water Tower in Norfolk by Tonkin Liu – England Architecture in Castle Acre, UK, page welcome.