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 ConcourseRead More
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.