• Tuesday , 12 November 2019

RIAI Gold Medal 2004 – 2006 for Poustinia: Religious Retreat wins Highest Accolade in Architecture

Dublin, Friday, November 8th, 2013:  Poustinia, a series of retreat dwellings based on the grounds of Glencomeragh House in the village of Kilsheelan, Co. Tipperary has been awarded, The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland’s (RIAI) Triennial Gold Medal for 2004-2006. President Michael D. Higgins presented the RIAI Gold Medal to winning architects Tom Maher and Kevin Bates at an event held in the RIAI offices, 8 Merrion Square, Friday afternoon.


The RIAI Gold Medal is the highest accolade that a building can be awarded in Ireland for the design of a building of exceptional merit completed within a three-year-old period. Áras Chill Dara (Kildare County Council Head Office) by heneghan peng architects in association with Arthur Gibney & Partners, the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, University College Cork by O’Donnell + Tuomey and SAP Global Operations Centre by Bucholz McEvoy were among the shortlisted buildings nominated for the Gold Medal.

Michelle Fagan, President of the RIAI, commented, “The purpose of the award is to encourage the development of architecture in Ireland and to give public recognition to architects of distinction like Tom Maher and Kevin Bates.  Irish architects are winning awards for their work around the world and the Irish public need to appreciate the world-class buildings that we have on our door step. Poustinia emerged as the Gold Medal Winner from an exceptionally strong shortlist, as it demonstrated the skill of Irish architects to creatively address context – whether historic, urban or rural – and make an outstanding response to the challenge of building in a landscape of natural beauty”.

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The retreat dwellings entitled Poustinia are administered by the Rosminian Order, who have been living in Glencomeragh House since 1960.  Poustinia, an old Russian word for ‘desert’, is used to designate a small cabin or room set aside for silence and prayer. In very old Russia it meant a physical quiet place where people went to find god within themselves, a place of quiet reflection, separated from the ‘noise’ which we deal with every day.

Commenting on the judging process, Des McMahon, Chair of the Jury (and previous Gold Medal Winner) concluded, “The jury visited all ten nominated buildings for the award. The four shortlisted projects, from which the winner finally emerged, were deemed to be of exceptional quality particularly in vital aspects of brief interpretation, and the subsequent imaginative creation of form and detail”.

With worldwide interest created by the quality of the architecture, huge numbers have come to Glencomeragh House to spend some time in the retreat cabins. While the majority of the guests are from Ireland and the UK, they have had visitors from across Europe, the USA, Canada, Indonesia and Japan.

In 1990, Glencomeragh House opened their doors as a retreat centre and restorative work has been completed on the original house (built in 1820), on Glen Lodge and on the grounds. Architects Tom Maher and Kevin Bates were invited to present a concept design for a series of retreat dwellings to be located on the grounds.

The jury for the Gold Medal 2004-2005-2006 were architects Des McMahon (Chair and Gold Medal winner for Croke Park), Dermot Boyd, John McLaughlin, Klaus Unger and Michael McGarry.


RIAI Gold Medal Winner – Poustinia 
Architects: Tom Maher and Kevin Bates
Location: Glencomeragh House, Co Tipperary

Jury Citation
Set in a valley between the Coomeragh Mountains and Slievenamon this project’s refinement of making in a special place combines with its lean use of materials to create an architecture of memorable and elegant simplicity. Nestling on a hillside – offering a remarkable array of seasonal colour and scents enveloped by the rushing sounds of the waterfall and stream which is a tributary to the Suir – the scale and complexity of the Poustinia design is derived from its role as a hybrid of architecture and landscape which somehow succeeds in transcending both.


The name ‘Poustinia’ derives from an old Russian word which designates a small enclosed space set aside for meditation and silence. Meditation is integral to an increasing international culture of mindfulness and spirituality to which this project is devoted. Commissioned and administered by the Rosminian Order, its global impact is reflected in the visitor numbers from Europe, the US and Asia.


Close to mature broad leaf trees, Poustinia is impeccably detailed and built. Every element is exquisitely considered. The rooms cantilevered off the hillside make the lightest of footprints. The cranked plan configuration with bespoke furniture and floors of local limestone entrap smooth plastered internal space to overlook a wider strikingly contrasting land scape. External walls and roofs fuse in a composition of alternating rough sawn douglas fir and smooth sawn larch strips. The contrasts of this wonderfully enigmatic project are resolved in ways which evoke its very spirit. Contradictions are synthesised in a clear and simple idea, suggesting a conjunction of the temporal and the transcendent.

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Highly Commended – Áras Chill Dara (Kildare County Offices)
Architects: heneghan peng architects in association with Arthur Gibney & Partners
Location: Naas, County Kildare


Jury Citation
The reinterpretation of Local Government administration in the context of contemporary democracy has resulted in an elegantly detailed, bold form and architectural expression commensurate with the transparent and accountable spirit of our times. The building courageously distinguishes itself in the provision of 21st century solutions to transform the work place and, in doing so, undoubtedly facilitates delivery of services. Organisation of discrete departments within the overall effectively gives substance to ‘the whole being equal to the sum of the parts’ with interconnectivity provided by beautifully designed ramps in a well-crafted and pleasing circulation hub.


Highly Commended – Lewis Glucksman Gallery, University College Cork
Architects: O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects
Location: UCC, Cork


Jury Citation
Standing aloft in woodland on UCC’s campus, a timber perch set above the lawn entered from below as one would a tree house, the Glucksman Gallery takes a radical interpretation of contemporary gallery design, insisting on the importance of location and space, and eschewing the arguable blandness of the neutral white box. The quality of this beautifully crafted building is its very particularisation of site and programme and their architectural resolution. As a venue it produces engaged responses from those curating, reinforcing that place and space are inseparable from the occasion of the appreciation of art – a most memorable addition to University and City.


Highly Commended – SAP Building, Galway
Architects: Bucholz McEvoy Architects


Jury Citation
This building is a typological response to the architectural problem of designing an intensively occupied ‘call centre’ in a featureless urban location. Working across different time-zones, it is occupied 18 hours a day. The creation of an energised flexible workplace together with environmental sustainability were primary design challenges. The architecture addresses these demands admirably raising practical problems to the level of tectonic delight. The architectural language fuses the functional and environmental in an expression enriched by passive techniques and natural materials. The building atmosphere is inspiring and humane communicating a strong sense of architecture’s role as a powerful agency of social betterment.

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