Two images represent parallel exploration of contemporary design and its relationship to history through the medium of film and the process of radical intervention into existing structures.

St Mary’s Medieval Mile Museum in Kilkenny - selected for the 2018 International Domus Restoration and Preservation Prize curated by the University of Ferrara - is built around a semi-ruined medieval church. Found elements like the exposed roof timbers have been retained; new elements, carefully researched, have been constructed in folded timber and lead on medieval foundations to restore the original outline of the church destroyed at the Reformation. Internally, the new elements create new spatial relationships; the taut timber-lined chancel room becomes a focus at the Eastern end. 
This contemporary exploration of historic form is mirrored in the Displaced Longitude exhibition in the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle, where three films play across Gothic structure - moving form spliced and cut by vaulted ceilings. The three films - originally shown in the Alvaro Siza Sao Bento Metro Station in Porto, Portugal - can all be seen from one point. They present practice projects (including St Mary’s) simultaneously but from different angles and at different levels of engagement to architectural perception - as ideas, as realities, and somewhere between - perception enhanced by the monstrous capacity of drones.  

Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Hall

Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Hall

County Hall in Dun Laoghaire is a mixture of contemporary and existing architecture- three new wings with the fourth formed by the original Victorian building folded around a covered courtyard space - the central councourse - which provides public access to the various offices of the Council on the ground floor- treated like shopfronts around a public square- and, via staircases and lifts, the upper level as well. ... Recently, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council applied to floor in the Concourse

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Ostrava Plato Competition

Ostrava in the Czech Republic is founded on industry, railways and coal. Until recently, apartment blocks shared streets with pit shafts and lift gear - an urbanity of big machines, bomb sites, Austria-Hungary and 50’s plain-ness. Industry remains in the blood. Ingenious metalwork can be found everywhere - a tradition of making things in sheds and small workshops. Before the war, the town was committed to modernity. There is a little-known Mendelsohn department store and a Functionalist art gallery of 1926. Located at the junction of Poland, the Czech Republic and pre-war Germany, architecture was an expression of cultural progress. In recent years, Ostrava has turned itself around, removing the slag heaps and opening itself to culture and a renewed quality of life. It remains a fascinating assembly of architectural proposals.

Recently, the city held a limited competition for a new art space – PLATO - in old slaughterhouses behind the town centre. The building - isolated in an open site - was made up in four separate blocks, high brickwork spaces created in waves through the last decades of the 19th century which evolved into a disconnected cellular plan without corridors. They have a gritty dream-like quality which matches the character of the city - a disparate sequence of halls with slatted windows, metal columns and old concrete surfaces.  For the competition, the urban character of the space in the city had to be established and the slaughterhouse spaces maintained as a gritty found space for art. At the same time, they required intelligent transformation into a multiplicity of galleries arranged in a logical sequence as well as spaces for education, tickets, café and office/workshop and storage. 

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The project was interesting both for its art and architectural potential - how to do the minimum to the spaces to allow them to work, be lit and linked but not destroy their potential ‘otherness’. Like all intervention projects, a matter of judgement about what to do and not do, but also about forging sequences of gallery spaces which move from very small to large to tall and low and wide - imagining widely varied options for display, creating views down from above, thinking about light from the sky or no light at all.

The scheme leaves the building pure, yet makes two significant interventions. The first, an observation tower which signals the scheme across the city in the tradition of its mineshafts. The second, a giant urban crossroads, one route across the site intersecting another linking the galleries, a line cut through soft spots where the fabric allows. They meet at a new double height entrance space - performance space, education and café on one side; galleries on the other side around a rooflit route from entrance to a new atrium formed from a space between the original buildings. Windows are opened and others closed to create different lighting effects with balconies to allow viewing of ground floor galleries from a height. The galleries as designed form a powerful sequence of large and small spaces offering every possible combination for the display of great art; certain sections may be closed off and others left open without disturbing the sequence.

The site plan makes an intense grid, like an industrial site. One part is related to amenity and display, the other for access and future buildings. The plans of former buildings act like a ’ghost’, forming areas of planting or display. Some parts of the perimeter are walled to make intimate external sculpture courts. The front elevation towards Meat Street is treated as an open esplanade with the access route running down towards the front door. NMC

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 Opening night of plato ostrava exhibition where all shortlisted competition entries were presented

Opening night of plato ostrava exhibition where all shortlisted competition entries were presented

AAI Lecture: 3 x 2

McCullough Mulvin Architects does not have a simple message or produce recognisable trophy architecture for 21st century consumption. The practice is concerned with making buildings reflecting enduring concepts of time, place and nature - which guide where to build, where (and when) not to build, how to make something right in a place. Buildings are different as places and functions differ; ideas are layered; materials are used as long as they are interesting.  

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Ideas undergo constant questioning - methods of making - (static/monumental vs tense/linear), ways to explore the back of understanding through writing and film, thinking about how to make ordinary/special things in an age of extremes and superlatives - how to negotiate history in contemporary work (in layering, in typologies, in using ancient buildings as a source with their unavailability of intent and the revelation of archaeology) - about the phenomenology of construction - things being built up and then falling down. An aesthetic, a curiousity, a position on the fraility of things and the passage of time. It is also about simple things - light, materials, how to make public space in 21st century Ireland.

Architecture occurs at the junctions on, in and around geographies - of the past, of nature, of cities - the project an open question as much as a solution. Working in places like Dublin is, at least in part, an enquiry about what happened to the city and about how to reconnect the pieces, as much as a brightly new panacea to solve its ills. Living in Ireland sustains an interest in nature, in its phenomenal landscape, its weather and light - in how to build on it, in it, use it - making fissures that become opes, erosion that becomes ways of admitting light, making buildings that become geography - working on the tight line that divides nature and artifice - extending to archaeology - the nature of incision, revelation and layering. History is about memory - the inherited line of structure form and type - but also a specific response to and exploration of past and place - about a physical layering on existing buildings in the manner of Viollet le Duc.

Based in Ireland, the practice has always been interested in rootedness, in knowing some things well, in exploring universal themes in a particular place. This position has recently been challenged by new areas of work in the Indian Punjab, which push the methodologies of making buildings out of landscape, nature and place into a different scale, climate and context. Recently presented work – described as "3 x 2" - compares two projects in three parallel areas - public works using expressive tense and loose geometry/geographies, experiments in adherence (new buildings in the company of old ones), and building at scale in campus architecture in Ireland and India. 


Eyrecourt and St Mary's Church - Moulding Architectural DNA

The practice works with the relationship between historic form and contemporary architecture - an exploration founded on curiousity about how to grow a line from a place, how to distinguish between a template, a model, a typology - whether the geography to reckon with is in your head or is the geography of an existing form. Two recent projects display the opposite ends of this beautiful chain - one about the haunting of the mind by historic form, the other about judging assimilation/non-assimilation in the context of a real existing one.

Eyrecourt started with an enduring imprint on the mind, a potent form that became the model for new work. If you travel around Ireland, your eye frequently picks up the shape of medieval towers in the landscape, complete, occupiable, or crazy fragments of stone. They are old but they retain a physical presence and occupy a cultural space. W. B. Yeats understood their power - restoring and occupying one - Thoor Ballylee - in the 1920’s. Externally plain, the towers hide dense plans with thick inhabited walls and complex vaulted sections. They are also beautifully made. When you find them in open fields, their broken state offers lessons in construction. They retain an architectural potency; there are situations where you think of how you might bridge wide gaps of culture and economy to make a contemporary tower in an equivalence of landscape, weather and nature.

In 2015, the practice became involved in a project to rescue a staircase and bring it back to Ireland. Eyrecourt Castle in Co. Galway was built soon after the Restoration in 1660 and survived into the 20th, when it fell into ruin. The staircase was taken out and sold to William Randolph Hearst for use in his Californian mansion at Sans Souci. He gave it instead to the Detroit Institute of Arts - where it remained in boxes to the present day. As part of a plan to repatriate it, the office designed a building to house the staircase. Our first thought was make a tower for it - an appropriate and - in Ireland - immediately recognisable reference to its haunting story and lost world of haughty rurality. The old stairs – two lower flights and a single upper one - sat within a white space dimensioned to the original context; the thick perimeter was hollowed out to provide viewing space with a staircase ascending around the original at the same pitch to reach an upper room; visitors could rise in a dream-like equivalent journey, looking in to examine the old timberwork, out to the landscape and across to associated artwork. Another stairs across the plan led to an open rooftop terrace. Externally, the tower was constructed in boardmarked mass concrete, the material itself like the layering of time; small external windows widened at angles internally to map the light and weather.

The project transformed the plan. It became a strong capsule with thick but perforate walls around a central space occupied with matters of light and display rather than defence. The perimeter formed a zone of continuous circulation rather than a set of separate spaces and embrasures, but there remained a duality of history and the contemporary in the potent relationship of form and content, in the quality of weight used to protect valuable things, in the occupied walls cut by small rooms and widening window embrasures. The project also tried to capture something of the experience of the original, the difficulty of ascent, the inverted section, the euphoria of breaking out through a narrow door at great height to light and the sound of birdsong.




St Mary’s Medieval Mile Museum in Kilkenny was quite different - not an idea but an immediate truth, a stoney church, very real, very material. It required a combination of abstract consideration with careful survey and patient looking, seeking possible truths in architecture and construction unavailable to the academic eye. The resulting architecture follows the idiosyncrasies of the fabric and builds on them. but grows out of its character - like moss or lichen on a stone; new ideas come out of close adherence without seeking banal modern requirements to ‘resolve’ or ‘reveal’ the enigma of age.

The church was clearly very old, a layered monument; there were pieces from many ages, odd angles, remnants of medieval windows; the interior was filled with rooms, an Alice-like fantasy of suspended chambers. The North transept had been walled off to create a Monument Room. It had clearly once been bigger and had been reduced by selective demolition; there was a ruined chancel and blocked-up nave aisles. Analysis included dimensioned drawings, archaeology, history and simple observation. Church and castle had been founded by one man in the early 13th century. Walking around, it became clear there was a strong visual link between them; perhaps William Marshall looked from his castle windows at the church as his ‘memento mori’. This sense of the church as a monument with specific meaning grew when it was surveyed; re-adding the dimension of the original chancel, the cruciform shape was nearly symmetric - a perfect object - a completely intentional medieval idea.

The church was taken ‘as found’ - there was little attempt (apart from the removal of the 1960’s floors) to recreate a perfect original - the place had evolved; changes were simply more evolution within that tradition. A ‘hole’ in the ceiling at the crossing where the plaster ceiling was missing was left in situ, revealing the most dramatic part of the roof timberwork. The sides of the wall separating the Monument Room were cut down to allow passage; the side towards the crossing was re-used to hang further monuments, creating an intriguing spatial complexity. The floor was renewed in Kilkenny limestone laid to a pattern like the patterns of old tombs found on church floors; filled with services and glass sections to display archaeology it became a singular intervention in its own right, set away from the old walls and turning up to form a ramp in the South transept. New steelwork stairs gave access to the tower; a balcony at the top was answered by another in the side of the chancel. The rest of the interior was a careful calculation of colours and materials, plaster, timber and stonework.

New work built on the survey knowledge and historical consciousness of the place, trying to create interventions which were ‘of’ the church, which were contemporary in nature. In its original form, St Mary’s had acquired depth and complexity in monuments and nave aisles, elements which were later shorn off, the aisles removed, the chancel demolished - a shape expanding and contracting, already through a violent cycle of change. To add to the church, the low walls of the areas which had been removed were re-harnessed as foundations for new extensions, reconstructing the the North aisle and chancel to the original plan but a different materiality of timber and lead. The lead was used for its quality of material weight, density and colour - it had affinities with the stone, varied when wet and in sunlight, but had a malleable quality – and an intensity of detail, which was quite unlike the original masonry.

The new elements - heavy holograms - restore something of the spatial complexity of the original building and release a dynamic series of fixed and moving views through windows, screens and old arches. The new chancel room overlooks the town, re-establishing its dominant form in the urban landscape; the space beneath it becomes a tomb-filled undercroft observed through a glazed floor; the new room is visible through the original East window from the nave; rooflights in the aisles are directed down through the floor to levels of archaeology below. Being about observation, looking at and looking through, being a still and moving eye, using archaeology as a generator of ideas- the project is part of the office’s ongoing exploration the relationship between the past and contemporary architecture.


The house that John built (for Sarah)

This is a house for a growing family, a project that is a cumulation of thoughts about materiality that has evolved over a number of years in a true collaboration with the owners who’s 3 storey Victorian house was a blank canvas – the partnership involved the two owners – one the builder and the other the client.

The idea relates to 2 volumes that sit back to back. They touch at their intersection but don’t engage directly, one looks in to the other – like a love seat, looking over ones shoulder at the other. The concrete volume draws in the sky, the timber volume cuts in to the ground. The concrete has the imprint of the timber, like a memory of an earlier version of the design – appropriate for a scheme that developed as a concept over ten years.

The interests were in board-marked concrete and the experimentation of relief, surface and lining and in timber for both the concrete formwork and the kitchen lining. The garden room is a board-marked concrete cube with a double height funnel bringing in the light. The ply lined kitchen is made as a 3 dimensional lattice work with ceiling fins that thread the space together and full height doors; the warm light held in the carapace and reflecting from the sheen of the plywood. The spaces are linked with a concrete floor and other smaller interventions thread the ideas through the house as a whole. 


And the ship sails on

This house is in Harolds Cross, on a wedge shaped corner site with a large garden on Shanid Road. The geometry of the site inspired a response which involved wrapping the existing house in a carapace that had to yield a master bedroom and a generous space for cooking, eating and entertaining. The brief had two components: an enormous bed and for the preparation and sharing of food to be central to the home.

The carapace has a taut exterior and a flayed interior, like the concept of the Aran currach. Built economically in simple materials, the interior of the space reveals the steel structure and the timbers that span between them have been left exposed, as if the ceiling had been peeled off. This has all been painted white, and acts as a counterpoint to the simple surfaces at the lower levels, where oak and sharp blue tiles give a weight to the work areas.

A series of triangular rooflights take this geometry and shine light on the cranked double-height kitchen as well as the master bedroom on the first floor. The exposed roof structure is uplit in the bedroom to give a sense of warmth and interest, a bath sits at one end with the enormous bed on a platform beyond and a dressing area in between. A tiny window in the bedroom wall looks through the new roof across the double height space and to trees beyond.

Science and Architecture

Science – molecular, physical, biological - and  its relationship to the wider world - science and business, science and art – is are the heart of contemporary discovery; science buildings proliferate and have become the engine of campus planning wihile their traditionally closed and singular nature has come under scrutiny from those who find the scientists worlds mysterious and forbidding and from scientists wishing to expand their working practice to provide connectivity and reflection in an laboratory context. In a world governed by uncertainty, increasing emphasis on universal flexibility creates spaces which can be re-purposed or quickly remodelled to suit new ways of doing things. Hence the typology is changing- pushed to become more accommodating, more transparent, more public, and yet more complex in servicing and in function, developing into an abstract platform for possibility in ideas, in a series of spaces which move from laboratory to research to discussion and contemplation.  This growing reality is located in specific urban or landscape contexts, or even the confines of existing buildings-creating interesting potentialities  for abstraction/place. McCullough Mulvin recently participated in two competitions for science- one in Lausanne University in Switzerland, the other in UCD in Ireland; in both cases, the practice designed buildings which reflected interests in synergies between science and architecture.  The Sciences de la Vie building in Lausanne, a 27,000 m2 structure for undergraduate microbiology linked to a research facility for neuroscience was designed in conjunction with Arup, Wilson Architects (USA ) and Transsolar. It was located in the Dorigny section of the campus ;the site was on the hill overlooking the lake and the mountains and set between several existing facilities. In its developed form, the design was essentially about a layered response to landscape;- observing it, creating it, moulding it. The buidling  displaced space around it, creating a series of new  urban ‘rooms’’against the existing blocks ; internally it was formed around two science ‘plates’ held with a perimeter of raised gardens and open spaces overlooking the lake; the joint between the two blocks became a significant public space for this part of the University. The form was raised up to allow the same view to the lake and the mountains for the buildings behind, public space extending in and under it to reach a lower ‘valley’ cut into the existing terrain. The UCD project – providing research laboratories and meeting rooms – was to be built partly within the confines of a Protected Structure; the scheme provided a new field of play- utterly contemporary requirements, light, air, flexibility, collegiate connectivity against the old walls and roofs. The energy of science was housed in  a mixture of new and older spaces- one a secret  18th century courtyard lined out with glazed corridors and meeting rooms; the other a wing of dual aspect flexible and well-lit contemporary laboratories to one side of the 18th century Palladian house.


Printing House Square receives Planning

Printing House Square.

Printing House Square will be built on Pearse Street to provide 250 student rooms over a Health and Sports Centre for Trinity College. The project is bedded in its Dublin location– yet is a contemporary interpretation of that environment, working to make a new vernacular for the city. The courtyard plan can be seen as a strategic extension to the sequence of Trinity squares, yet it also acts as a public city square and will serve as a public gateway between the College and the city, bringing increased life to this relatively dead section of Pearse Street.

The form is like a granite rock with an undulating stone roof folded and shaped, reflecting the mountains in distant view to the South and, at close quarters a grouping of ordinary Georgian roofs glimpsed in the city. It feels like a solid mass externally excavated and penetrated by opes, routes and ways through. Its materiality reflects its form and location- a boardmarked concrete working plinth supporting a granite upper world- which descends to ground floor to encase it externally, revealing the concrete core at key moments.

The site is at several junctions- the beginning of Pearse Street opening towards Grand Canal Dock, the junction of Trinity and the wider city; the building respond to both environments and bridges between them. It also establishes a strong formal and material relationship between contemporary architecture and the surrounding historic fabric, in particular, the character of the old Printing House within the College boundary. The architecture folds down to provide a more intimate context around the Printing House; adjacent gables do not have windows; they will be moulded planes setting its Classical temple architecture in a rocky landscape setting, allowing it to retain precedence in the view from New Square and the steps of the Berkeley Library. 

As featured on Archiseek

Open House Dublin

The Military Archives in Dublin is a very particular 2016 project. The Irish Army has a fascinating and extensive archive built up over the years since the foundation of the State; it includes Army records, depositions concerning the War of Independence, maps and films-

The new building is located in Cathal Brugha Barracks in Rathmines very close to the last house that Michael Collins occupied in Dublin before he went to his death in West Cork. It is made up of two sections- one old and one new- representing at once the tradition and the progressive nature of the Army- and a good example of radical re-use of existing buildings for new uses. The old section is one half of an old stone and brick hospital block dating from the early years of the barracks;this has been turned this on its end and a new entrance opened in the gable leading to a new public library and reading room lined out in timber; the rest is made up of offices and a Conservation laboratory. The new section matches the old in some of its character, extending the architecture of gables, but is made of brick- there is a dramatic folded courtyard between the two. The new building, partially recessed in the ground, comprises two large archive rooms with computer controlled rolling racking at both levels, built to the highest international standards of Archive storage.

If you would like to get a closer look at this building, we will be running tours in association with Irish Architecture Foundation for Open House Dublin. A number of our other projects including Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, HIdden Garden, Blackrock Further Education Institute and the Abbey Theatre will be opening their doors to the public while the Irish Architecture Foundation will be screening 3 short films by McCullough Mulvin Architects in their newly designed HQ. Further details can be found here on the Open House Website.

Trinity Long Room Hub

The new Humanities Research Building in Trinity College Dublin the 'Long Room Hub' will be a platform for the Irish university sector focus on achieving world-class status. It is a space for thinking, for making soaring linkages, for sharing the unique collections of the Long Room. 

The site for the project is in Fellows Square at the heart of the College; the small rectangular form- four stories high with tall rooflights penetrating the volume to form shafts of light- perches on the end of the Arts Block, closing the square and framing the prospect to Front Square over the 1937 Reading Room. The Hub will be a powerhouse of ideas; the honeycomb granite surface is broken and imprecise; it floats over the existing fabric; the canons of light crash through the form, disturbing expectations and creating zones and double heights for work and research. Its character is formed by its thin-ness; it can be seen through from side to side, the external envelope broken by recesses forming balconies and external spaces.