Spotlight – Banu Oksuz

Banu Oksuz is a Senior Designer with 15 years experience designing high end residential, hotel, commercial and mixed-use projects. Hailing from Turkey, Banu has worked on projects in the UK, Europe and the Middle East and boasts experience contributing to projects at any stage – from concept to construction and final completion.

Based in Woods Bagot’s London studio, Banu’s role is to lead design teams and to liaise with clients and design team consultants to ensure high quality project delivery.

Banu at the Woods Bagot London studio.

View of Antognolia (render).

You’re currently leading the architectural design of Antognolla Castle – a 12th century castle in Italy that Woods Bagot is helping to transform into a 5-star hotel. As a designer, what do you think is the most important thing you need to achieve?

When working with heritage buildings like Antognolla Castle it is important to recognise your responsibility to create a successful link between old and new. The task of integrating new built work of the highest quality with historic architecture that needs to be preserved is complicated but crucial. Ensuring a successful architectural interpretation is of the utmost importance.

Located in the Italian region of Umbria, which borders Tuscany, Lazio and Le Marche, the Antognolla site features a historically significant 12th century castle – which itself includes a 6th century crypt within the basement. Our task is to take this gem and undergo a full-scale reconstruction to respectfully transform it into an exclusive international resort offering spa, golf and sport facilities without sacrificing any of its history or charm.

Once home to the powerful Antognolla family, the castle has long been abandoned and needs significant restoration – so a big aim for the project is to be able to repair and reinvigorate the site to be enjoyed by another generation. This aim is shared with our client, who wholly support our aim of a sensitive heritage restoration.

The project is also the first of its kind in the area – which is close to the city of Perugia – and aims to increase the regions’ value by becoming one of the most attractive destinations for tourists around the world. The construction materials and manpower will mostly be sourced locally which will support the local industry and increase the job opportunities.

“When working with heritage buildings it is important to recognise your responsibility to create a successful link between old and new.”

How do you inject the modern, five-star amenities you need for a hotel into a building that pre-dates everyday luxuries like electricity?

The castle and the buildings around it, called “Old Borgo”, have multiple features to consider while designing the spaces required for five-star facilities and services. Not many hotels boast the luxury of a suite over a ballroom or public spaces and guestrooms with priceless frescos on the walls and ceilings!

These historical features can be a challenge for designers, and other disciplines, during coordination. Even the simplest technologies such as card readers, lighting, audio-visual tools and basic computer technology require careful consideration based on where they are required. Solving these challenges is part of the privilege of working on a heritage project.

Rather than a demolition and rebuild, Antognolla requires the team to work with the existing built fabric – breathing new life into an old building by understanding its past. As well as protecting heritage architecture, this approach reduces the projects’ carbon footprint. The Castle also aims to obtain a LEED certification.

“Breathing new life into an old building by understanding its past” is a welcome goal for Banu and the team when it comes to working on Antognolla Castle’s next chapter.

“Solving complex challenges is part of the privilege of working on a heritage project.”

What do you think people would be surprised to learn about working with heritage architecture?

The dangers of ‘faking it’. One of the most surprising things designers find when working on heritage architecture is just how difficult it is to strike a balance between reimagination and refurbishment. The last thing you want is for elements of your design to have a phoney quality to them and, despite best efforts, make the space feel more like a replica than the real thing.

Materiality on a heritage project is delicate, sensitive and must be based on the historical value of the space. Therefore, in addition to the history of the building itself, a deep understanding of how a structure was built and what materials were used is crucial.

For example, Antognolla Castle’s inner courtyard requires us to maintain its original terracotta tiles and cobblestones based on historical evidence and similar reference buildings. However, the same space also requires contemporary, modern style light fitting on the walls and ceilings to avoid giving the impression that the same type of lights were originally used in the past.

Another good example is the ballroom of the castle, which is being transformed into what will be an exceptional guest suite. While all the other guestrooms have the flexibility to use various materials on the floors – like terracotta, timber and marble – this particular guest suite has to have unity despite its different uses. As a result, the ballroom suite has been designed with the same terrazzo flooring throughout. The same space has also forgone full-heighted walls to maintain the feel of a single space.

“Materiality on a heritage project is delicate, sensitive and must be based on the historical value of the space – a deep understanding of how a structure was built and what materials were used is crucial.”

Authenticity and sensitivity are key factors when approaching any project, says Banu.

The Londoner (middle) sits in the heart of central London.

Before you started working on Antognolla, you were instrumental in the design of The Londoner – a building that has undergone several iterations since its inception as a stage theatre in 1930. Were there any similarities between the two projects?

To be honest the difference between the two projects is quite vast because the Londoner was a completely new build. The Londoner is a city hotel with a cinema, ballroom, guestrooms which can be converted into meeting rooms when required and other facilities that go with the life in central London, whereas Antognolla is more of a remote escape to nature and history.

Another difference between the two is that The Londoner requires full compliance with UK regulations but Antognolla prioritises the preservation of the Castle. At Antognolla, heritage approval is always the first step, there are rooms you can’t drill with because of a fresco and places that are not accessible due to the nature of the existing building – this was not the case with The Londoner.

But there are some similarities between the two projects. Both are focal points for the sites in which they stand, both are important to the local community, and both have prioritised sustainability – with Antognolla following LEED standards and The Londoner achieving a BREEAM certification.

Of course, both projects saw their teams work with relevant authorities and strong consultant teams to implement the best design response aligned with the client’s expectations. Both benefitted from a well organised design team in which coordination and communication were essential.

The Londoner is set to premiere towards the end of 2021.

Video by The Londoner

“Any project, anywhere, will benefit from a well organised design team in which coordination and communication are highly valued.”

Banu Oksuz is a Senior Designer with 15 years’ experience designing high end residential, hotel, commercial and mixed-use projects. Hailing from Turkey, Banu has worked on projects in the UK, Europe and the Middle East and boasts experience contributing to projects at any stage – from concept to construction and final completion.  

Based in Woods Bagot’s London studio, Banu’s role is to lead design teams and to liaise with clients and design team consultants to ensure high quality project delivery.