The selection of projects and themes considered here are discussed with the aim of understanding what it is that propels a collective generation of architectural discourse. Three built works have been selected as embodying collective concerns and individual thinking. They are House 1 by TAKA architects, Slievebawnogue by Clancy Moore architects and House at Bogwest by Steve Larkin architects.
The Immediate Present
In 1986, UCD School of Architecture published a book documenting the Dublin City Quays Project. The project involved students and staff from the whole school to produce proposals for Dublin’s quays, from Islandbridge in the West to the city’s port in the East. The publication was an anthology of schemes that might shape the future of the city.
In 2012, QUB School of Architecture published a book entitled Stair Rooms. The project involved students from the M.Arch programme investigating the specific architectural form of the stair-hall. The publication was a catalogue of precedents, drawn both spatially and in detail, that might be viewed as equally poetic and pragmatic.
There is much in common. Both publications are a compendium of sorts. Both are manifestoes. The contrast of concerns between each is one of scale.
Type and Typology
Building at the scale of the city drives the recent past. Thinking of typology within the boundaries of urbanism defines the work of the Dublin City Quays project. The architecture of the present continues this interest in type but does so at the scale of the architectural element – of roof, window and wall etc.
At House 1, there is a manipulation of traditionally perceived parts that constitute a domestic space. The presence of a public face possesses the recognisable features of wall, roof, window and door. Yet there has been a fissure of each; the vertical frame of the window has been split in two, the front door is chopped into laths and the facade of Flemish-bond has been stretched across the plan. In taking the house apart (almost literally) elements simultaneously lose their integrity as types while being raised in their awareness as things.
A composition of archetypical elements defines House at Bogwest. Here, there is a clear articulation of parts. The order is one of structure and fill. An internal reading of concrete columns and a banding of beams sit separately, adjacent to the insertion of timber, marble and everyday life. Externally, an existing stone wall, new concrete insertion and zenithal-reaching roof are layered each on top of the other. A gathering of the elemental building blocks of architecture is possible to read throughout the house. Inherently spatial, both in essence and in arrangement, they form a coherently, composed whole.
The broadest interpretation (either by my own doing or that of the architect) of the typological object is at Slievebawnogue. On approach, the manifestation of house/bridge and entrance stair are materially, formally and physically adjacent yet individual. An order of black-stained Douglas fir are structural and protective in their role as colonnade; behind which windows and doors sit obscured. Located on a site that inspires the semi-infrastructural, it therefore perhaps displays a less residential motif than its contemporaries.
Urban vs Domestic
The proposals of the 1980s emerged from a generation operating at the scale of the city. Urban space, public and private, and the tempo of metropolitan fabric tie together various practices and architectures. The projects of the emerging generation are more domestic in scale. This is not to say they are typified solely by the residential but that in terms of proportion, usage and spatial relationships there is a sense of intimacy in contemporary Irish architecture. The morphological concerns of a generation before are eschewed in favour of an architecture of things. It is within the margins of this language of types that a newfound expression of domesticity takes place.
A wall is often used to define a boundary. In doing so, a threshold between sides is created. At House 1, the sundering of a single wall fulfils this threshold with a home. Boundary itself is stretched to form a habitable space. It’s a strategy that repeats. The stair, the threshold from floor to floor, is shaped to be lived in – wide enough for two and stepped for sitting on. Again to the edge, is a nook beyond the main thoroughfare. This is a house of ‘withins’, of rooms within rooms. Each layer emphasises the relationship with the other, ultimately searching for the intimacy that is somewhere between.
The feeling of domestic space is more centrifugal, by comparison, in House at Bogwest. A structure of internal columns and external wrap creates a composition of containment, in which the disorder of daily routines is allowed take place. Wall-space here is also inhabited. Slotted between the concrete (sometimes set within, sometimes as fill between) are deep timber recesses. In one sense they are occupied very obviously – as spaces for storage. In another, the effect is more subtle. Their depth emphasises the moment of transition. Moving through, one is made aware of the space between spaces.
Existing on the edge of the infrastructural, Slievebawnogue makes a bridge habitable. The spaces of domesticity carve up the necessities of building. Between the two is an edge which itself may be described as a threshold space. To label this width as a porch or veranda fails to distinguish the context and the reality. It is an external corridor, of sorts, but with more than the possibility of circulation. Mediating house and forest, it is not really of either. Like the verge that runs with the road, it is a boundary along sides.
It’s a little early for a conclusion. This has only been a snapshot, of things and of time. It is predicated on a single observation – that there has been a discursive shift in the architecture between generations. The scale of inquiry has changed; from the typological to the archetypical, from the urban to the intimate. This is the starting point for a current generation of young Irish architects.