Written by Amy OConnor on 30-11-10 | Categories: Fun!
The first year architecture students from UCD embarked on a class trip to London last week. Although the trip was only for one night, the excitement at the airport was palpable. Many of the students had never been to London and those who had been were looking forward to seeing some familiar sites as well as some new ones.
The trip started off shakily when the pre-booked coach didn't show up to the airport. Despite this little mishap the group piled onto a train and headed into the city enthusiastic nonetheless. On arrival at the impressive Liverpool Street Station (designed by engineer Edward Wilson) we divided and went to find our hostels. That afternoon we met at the British Museum for a short look-around. We were all thoroughly impressed with Norman Foster's glass-roofed 'Great Court' and spent the time sketching and photographing the glazed roof and reading room in the centre. After this we walked to the John Soane Museum where we were booked in for the next two hours.
If I was to advise on one must-see London building for architecture enthusiasts it would have to be the Soane House. The house is an incredible maze through the three houses John Soane bought and the numerous extensions and refurbishments that he designed and commissioned throughout his lifetime. Highlights include the 'Dome Room' which is full of plaster casts and models that Soane collected, the gallery room in which the walls open out to display concealed paintings, and the candle-lit crypt below which houses the sarcophagus. Overall the building is full of nooks and crannies, narrow passageways and complex methods of illuminating the spaces. It was an amazing experience and I would definitely go again if given the opportunity.
Having seen the building we came to see the group went on a walking tour down through the city. We stopped briefly at Covent Gardens, Leicester Square and the National Portrait Gallery Situated there, and Trafalgar Square before meeting the rest of our class at the National Theatre. Here, among the array of restaurants and bars, we had dinner and a few drinks before going out for the night.
The next day we arrived bright and early to the Tate Modern art gallery. For me this was the highlight of the trip. There was a Gauguin exhibition going on, as well as Ai Weiwei's Unilever Series which includes the piece 'Sunflower Seeds 2010'. This piece encompasses a large part of the room by filling it with ceramic seeds that the artist made. An unusual moment occurred when a man hopped over the small wire barricade to sit in the middle of the vast pit of seeds whilst ranting about art being not being accessible to the public (the piece was deemed unfit for the public to walk on due to the dust that arises from the ceramic). In addition to this we visited some of the permanent collections and saw (among others) artists such as Dali and Warhol. All in all a brilliant morning.
Before we made the trip back to the airport, we took a walk through the Barbican. This is an area of London which was designed with a view to urban planning. The thousands of residents have in their vicinity schools, shops, an art gallery, a library, a theatre and impressive gardens to name but a few amenities. The centre was designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon in the Brutalist style and is an impressive area to visit. It was voted "London's ugliest building" in a poll in 2003 and it's not hard to see why.
So finally we returned to Ireland, exhausted, with empty stomachs and full notebooks.
Written by Erl Johnston on 21-11-10 | Categories: Site Visits
For architecture students in the North of Ireland, the opportunity to visit the site of the new Lyric Theatre was a significant one. Doubly so for students at Queen's University, as the site is less than 300m from the architecture studios where such designs are always aspired to, but maybe only seldom approached. Also of great significance was to have the tour led by Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey, with John providing a wealth of information, anecdotes and insights into the building's conception and construction.
For Queen's students the construction process has been a continuous, and constantly elaborated, tutorial on building technology. The daily identification of changes, the puzzling over form & detail and the appreciation of how such things are constructed have been valuable and free lessons carried out on our doorstep. But what had maybe been a mainly technical appreciation of the building changed very markedly during the site visit, with the real character and subtlety of its design coming into clear focus.
Following a route dictated by the necessary continuation of construction works the visit was nevertheless able to cover all of the significant areas of the building. In the spring of 2011 it will be possible to experience the processional route from street to auditorium in the way that the architects intend, but even mid-construction the powerful spatial qualities of this route are quite striking and appropriately theatrical.
It would be wrong of course to assume the design only presents its qualities on this large scale - at each level of inspection it reveals an attention to detail that highlights great care and much thought. John Tuomey spoke about the choice and detailing of the brickwork in the building, making reference to the rich heritage that Belfast possesses in this area. The student's eye will no doubt be drawn to this aspect of the detail design, learning much as it focusses closer and closer on the design.
Back at the macroscopic level the continuation of the tour illustrated how the building's brickwork is as defining an element of its interior as its exterior. Never oppressive, it manages to simultaneously divide the bulk of the building into human scaled elements whilst drawing the whole architectural composition closer together. For those of us students at Queen's who are strong advocates of traditional Belfast materials and construction methods it is a powerful lesson, and one that loses none of its strength by virtue of being delivered from a Dublin-based office.
Moving through the Directors' boardroom, bar and upper foyer we arrive at the main auditorium itself. Described by John Tuomey as being almost like another full design project in its own right due to the complexities involved, it is still in the throes of construction. Yet, its essential qualities are evident at this stage. For a venue with a 450 seat capacity it is surprisingly intimate - an impression only reinforced when we later reach the stage and view the auditorium from the perspective of the performer. With the careful positioning of audience access routes, the auditorium presents no unoccupied axes of view to the performer, and will surely be as pleasant a space to perform in as to spectate.
Of further interest to the architecture student was the ability of the architects to engage with the client on the definition of the building programme, and the obviously collaborative relationship that allowed them to introduce and exploit new concepts. The first of these described by John Tuomey was the visual connection provided between the performers' rehearsal space and the auditorium lobby. A previously unthinkable connection, it is handled with a discretion that will no doubt permit both performers and audience to value it greatly. Similarly surprising, though in hindsight eminently sensible, is the introduction of a substantial picture-window to the studio space. Capable of being quickly and seamlessly shuttered to create a black-box environment, when opened it creates a space of very different character and utility. It will surely become an important venue in its own right.
If the architects had to work hard for these changes to the programme, then for the upper meeting room that overlooks Ridgeway Street and beyond they were eclipsed by their client. Perhaps unremarkable in its dimensions, its positioning and the outlook it provides over the local and greater environment of South Belfast make it a very significant space in the building. To paraphrase John Tuomey - when they experienced it the client dismissed their preconceptions of its use and were seized with a new imagination of what might and could happen there. That, perhaps, is the most succinct analysis of the whole building - that ultimately it is a product of and supporter of great imagination and creativity.
Project: Bessborough House Child & Adult Psychiatric Unit
Led by: Valerie Mulvin of McCullough Mulvin Architects
Date: 23 October 2010
The Child and Adult Psychiatric Unit at Bessboro House will, when completed in the near future, be the first of four similar institutions to open in the state. It is a particularly challenging brief, which brings together a 20-bed residential care unit with a small school and group therapy facilities for children and young adults from the ages of eight to sixteen.
As the architects state on their website, “Bessboro House and its demesne has been a therapeutic campus for many years under the auspices of the Sacred Heart Sisters, who still live in the 18th century house.” The campus is certainly restful and well-shielded from intrusive passers-by, lying at the end of a long avenue bordered on one site by mature trees and on the other side by a field of cuds well inspected by curious ruminants.
A chapel and maternity hospital on site date from the 1920s, and it was the architects’ brief that these buildings, combined with the existing farm buildings, form the basis for a ‘therapeutic campus’. With recent exposés of the involvement of the Catholic Church in institutional care, particularly the Ryan Report, it is a hugely charged brief and site; attempting to downplay the traditional mixed institutionally religious/religiously institutional language of the buildings, without either offending the order that granted the facilities or negatively altering the fabric of them in order to fall in line with some politically correct ideal, is a delicate path to tread.
Beyond that, and far more immediately relevant, are the impositions placed by building regulations and best-practice documents on the design and fit-out of institutions dealing with people in danger of harming themselves or others. As reported by Valerie Mulvin of McCullough Mulvin Architects, one of the care workers described the user base as describing “the whole spectrum, from the mad to the bad”. The architects intensely felt the burden to “safeguard the safety of the people who are here, once they’re here”; professionally, it was reflected in a massive detailing task that focused on eliminating ligature points and considering at every turn the potential for self-harm that the building could possibly provide.
Vital to remember though, is that this isn’t a prison facility: those people who spend time here are patients, not criminals. It is first and foremost a medical institution, and the architects were keen to address issues that they felt were a major factor in the design of hospitals. Foremost among these, was the fact that “[one] never gets a sense of the inside or the outside as a whole being” in typical hospitals, that there is always a disconnect between the ill and the rest of the world which isn’t necessarily healthy or a positive factor in recovery.
Thus, in terms of both a conceptual idea behind the design and as an initial move with regard to site strategy, Valerie Mulvin described the approach as “gathering the space and making a relationship with the relationship”. The new buildings would engulf the existing buildings, “reversing patterns of use and expectation”. Something fundamental to the execution of both sets of buildings, the entirely new and the converted existing, was the intention to ‘de-institutionalise the corridor’; in the upper corridors, this is done by introducing rooflights to pull light down into an otherwise standard double-loaded corridor, in the lower by allowing visual links between the corridor and the rooms off it.
Perhaps the most successful element of the scheme is the newly created courtyard garden. Split in two by a curiously Niemeyer-esque curved cast-concrete wall, punctured by variously sized portholes and topped with a deep-sectioned canopy, the garden on one side opens to views of the fields and on the other acts as a secure outdoor space between the two elements of the scheme. The landscape side has a cleverly created mound that rises in front of a fence that skirts the avenue, visually shielding this potentially upsetting security measure from the patients. It’s a thoughtful and effective touch.
The design and execution of a project like Bessboro House is a severe and serious challenge. It’s fair to say that it is a case where architecture has the chance to change lives, and there is no doubt that it is a facility that deals with some of the most vulnerable people in society. In such briefs, the duty of care and the burden of any potential failure weighs heavily on the architect, and it is vital both to accept these professional responsibilities and not to let them unnecessarily outweigh the importance of creating an architecture and environment which are beneficial in their own right.
Furthermore, in dealing with two government agencies, in this case the HSE and the Dept of Education, as well as a non-state institution in the Sacred Heart Sisters, the ability to effectively analyse the brief and refine the instructions given is paramount. In Bessboro House, McCullough Mulvin have worked with a restricted budget on an extremely difficult brief, to create a vital and new piece of architecture which hopefully can have a positive impact on many childrens’ lives for years to come.
Title: Investigating Materiality: Re-restoring Mies' Villa Tugendhat in Brno
Speaker: Iveta Cerna
Venue: Synge Theatre, Trinity College Dublin
Date:10 November 2010
Edward R Ford wrote "There have always been two Mies ... the European Mies, who did many projects and built little, and ... the American Mies, who built one major building a year from 1950 until his death. The European buildings were irregular,assymmetrical, fragmented and touched by expressionism and De Stijl; the American buildings were regular, symmetrical, complete and recalled the work of Schinkel."
The Villa Tugendhat in Brno is one of the former, and occupies a position in the Mies canon that is worthy of discussion. The great bluffer's standard criticism of art is that, when in doubt, the labelling of something as a "transitional piece" is relatively hard to dispute and implies a knowledge of the artist's entire oeuvre; and yet, there is a good argument to say that the Villa at Brno is just that.
Ford's quote regarding the European and American Mies is perhaps most aptly embodied by two different projects separated by twenty eight years: the Brick Country House project of 1923 and the Farnsworth House of 1951.
The Brick Country House embodies many of Ford's descriptions: irregular, assymmetrical ... and unbuilt. Composed of freestanding brick walls, and with a plan that Colin Davies compares to Theo van Doesburg's Rhythm of a Russian Dance, the Brick Country House is the clear progenitor of Mies' Wolfe House in Gubin  and has a notable material influence on the Lange and Ester Houses in Krefeld .
Against this material similarity with the Brick Country House, the Lange House's construction method - finished just two years before Villa Tugendhat, it should be remembered - is more of a hybrid than one would originally suspect, given its monolithic brick walls. The structure of the floors and roof is composed of steel beams, which support a deck of tiles and concrete; there is even an interesting steel X-brace concealed in the set-back wall of the second floor.
The bookending Farnsworth House, in comparison, is incredibly resolved and still. There are no structural tricks; the dignity and the rigour of the project come before inventiveness.
Between Mies's European brick houses and the Farnsworth House, and yet on both timeline and geography heavily loaded to the European end of the scale, come three projects whose composition and approach attest to there existing a certain 'transitional period' as referred to above: the German pavilion at Barcelona, the Villa Tugendhat at Brno and the Villa Hubbe [unbuilt].
There are certain similarities in these three projects which mark them as siblings, yet there's also a marked difference - a progression? - in terms of their planning. The Villa Tugendhat is particularly noteworthy, as it takes up the material extravagance preluded in Barcelona with a more static plan than the exploded right-angles of the pavilion. That the Tugendhat plan is inarguably more prosaic than Barcelona reflects that the latter never really had any program to house; Tugendhat was, on the other hand, a family home, as Iveta Cerna's lecture was able to prove.
The beauty of the lecture came from the fact that it dealt with one building; to be able to focus on just one project, and a project that many – if not most – of the audience were familiar with, was enthralling.
The wealth of hitherto unseen images – the colour images which gave a glimpse of the opulence and luxury of the materials used by Mies, the family shots of the Tugendhat children sitting with their feet on the radiator pipes, later photographs taken from the period when the house was used as a school of dance – were revelatory in a small way; most people are used to a familiar black and white view of the house taken from the garden. Certainly, most images of Mies’ houses are absolutely bereft of human figures, and it was delightful to see photographs of the house not just inhabited, but absolutely filled ... and with children, rather than self-conscious adults.
The way that the history of the house and its owners was sketched out by Ms Cerna went far beyond an architectural case study: we were told how the Tugendhats used their Swiss connections to escape from Czechoslovakia and avoid the German invasion, and how Russian Cavalry units used the house as a stables while they were sweeping across the country towards Berlin in the closing days of the war.
In the aftermath of the war the house underwent many changes of use, something that marks a building, even to those who have no knowledge of its design or history, as worthwhile and well-built. Charmingly, it hosted a school of dance, and later on became a clinic for children with spinal problems. The adoption of the Villa Tugendhat as home by these institutions, and especially the photographs shown by Ms Cerna from these eras, for once allowed the building to exist in the background, rather than the foreground.
[As an aside, these photographs and the evidence they offered of a mass inhabitation of the house, made one realize just how vast and spacious the villa really was. One of the criticisms of the Tugendhat house at the time was that it cost roughly twenty times the amount a normal house in Brno would have cost to construct – the temptation to blame that on Mies’ lavish taste in materials can be indulged, but it is also worth remembering that the clients were an incredibly rich family used to living at the highest of standards.]
The ongoing renovation and refurbishment of the Villa Tugendhat formed the final part of the lecture. As an UNESCO World Heritage Site, the restoration is being painstakingly documented, and one of the compliments offered to Ms Cerna’s team was that they are not reticent about revealing where they have mis-stepped, so that future efforts can learn from, rather than repeat, their mistakes.
The following article by Eoghan O’Shea appeared in Building Material 12: Morality and Architecture.
Indenture was the contract used to bond apprentice to master. It outlined the duties of the apprentice, the length of time for which they were tied to such duties and the conditions under which he or she was entitled to leave. The term itself derives from the method used to ensure that the two copies of the contract (one for the master and the other for the parents of the apprentice) replicated each other. After the copies were drafted they were held tightly together and a strip was torn, ensuring a matching indenture on both. The duties and responsibilities could be severe but the agreement was legally binding and unquestionable.
In modern times such severity in working conditions cannot be enforced and employees are pampered with certain statutory rights. For instance, the maximum average working week is forty-eight hours, balanced out over a four-month period. While this allows bouts of productivity within an office, it will also force periods of calm in between. Employees are also entitled to eleven consecutive hours rest in a twenty-four hour period and, if work takes place on a Sunday, then premium payment or paid time in lieu are due. However, there is great value in the ability to drive one’s workforce to extremes and to do so economically, without emptying the purse into employees’ pockets. The twin rewards of education and experience can be offered instead and history has shown both the evidence and benefits of such a practice.
MORE TO LIFE THAN MONEY
Education as a reward for work was instituted at least 4,000 years ago amongst Egyptian scribes, when rules governing apprenticeships were included in the Code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi’s laws were placed in the Temple of Shamash in 2,100 BC and the sacred quality of this early legislation suggests how, within a modern architectural practice, the commitment demanded of ancient apprentices can be expected from today’s staff. Religions are often based around a cult figure about whom a mythos arises, which, in turn, creates a sense of awe. In the case of the Master Architect, the delicious wisdom held and potentially offered by this figure can draw hungry and tireless staff irresistibly towards it. The young and inexperienced best ingest this mythos; stories, whether true or fabricated, of the achievements and formative experiences of the Master Architect, can feed this sense of awe and leave a necessary distance between employer and workforce. Suggestions as to how staff should apply themselves to their work can thus be received with due reverence.
RECYCLING WASTE TIME
Nights full of sleep and mornings full of wake are comforts easily forfeited with no evident result beyond sunken eyes and throbbing head. An excess of free time can often lead to a deceleration in tempo. It is thus unproductive to offer rest periods of eleven hours to one’s employees. Sixty hours or more at a sitting are possible, although this can lead to episodes of hallucination. To get workers to perform for such periods can be difficult, given the frivolous pursuits with which many choose to fill their time and their tendency to extend their sleeping hours well beyond what is strictly necessary. The drive to encourage such efforts, however, is very much worth it and can create a reinforcing cycle; once one begins to chip away at the spare hours of one’s staff, their goals and aims in life become their goals and aims at work. Abraham Maslow’s pronouncement, given in his hierarchy of human needs, to ‘[A]ssume in all people the impulse for achievement,’ begins, therefore, to work for the employer. Slowly, the employees’ valuation of their own needs will change.
BOUNDARIES OF THE NEW WORLD
During the Middle Ages, the apprenticeship system became widespread across Europe as the skills and tools required in craft became more complex. Parents could not teach their children enough to guarantee them a living so they paid a fee to have them apprenticed to Master-artisans. The children received no pay during the lengthy period of apprenticeship - often between two and seven years - but were given basic food and lodging, often beneath the shop counter. They effectively lived their work for the period of indenture. It might be considered a cruelty, but to be trapped so tightly within the universe of work is not as restrictive as it might first appear. Indeed, a life spent solely within an office need not necessarily be an isolated or disadvantaged existence. Essential needs are easily satisfied; food can be prepared in well-equipped office kitchens or be delivered ready-made. Highly stacked libraries are full of reading: periodicals, monographs, weighty books of theory - therein lie all the merits of the world, carefully filtered for all conditions of human habitation. Exercise can be maintained by placing plotters a good distance from the main working area. Having their operation needlessly complicated maintains frantic movement.
As we have seen, spirituality is also accommodated within these walls. The Master Architect at the centre of this work/life cult - he who provides work and thus gives life - can be admired as a true deity. The Master Architect becomes the demiurge, the Ein Sof, the Alpha, from whose genius emerges this mechanistic office and from which in turn, whole worlds can emerge: a city, visible but unseen, will burst forth. Devotion to this deity can be most efficiently expressed through labour, according to the maxim advocated by St. Bernard, ‘Laborare est orare’: to work is to pray. Echoes of religion can also be heard in the sequence of the design project which begins its life within the office then disappears into the increasingly abstract outside world, before finally achieving resurrection in the Architectural Periodical as flesh once again becomes word.
Medieval Arab artists copied landscapes onto grains of rice, even detailing each leaf on each tree because they believed Allah read the world like a flat page with all things perceived at once. These miniaturists give example in terms of commitment, even to the indentured apprentice. According to the master Seyyit Mirek, the blindness that all in his profession feared, and most succumbed to, was a blessing. The art of illustrating was the miniaturist’s search for Allah’s vision of his earthly realm and could only be attained through recollection after the colourless veil of darkness had descended; only, in other words, after both eyes of the miniaturist had been expended. When he could see the world solely through memory and darkness, then he would realise his destiny.
Likewise, the young architect can, from memory of the world foregone, seek to improve it. And, he can draw on that memory day and night in a quest for a type of blindness. The designs created can be intricately represented and detailed, even if the worth of this work isn’t apparent to client or contractor. No hour will be wasted in the infinity of time the staff can offer. Each drawing can be requested as a microcosm of every other on the project, with the beauty of the whole scheme screaming from every single page. More detail than the eye can see can be demanded. When the feeling and sense of the design does not talk directly to the soul and if a single contradiction can be felt - even if not observed - then the work must be re-done.
THE NEW BABYLON
When apprentices were taken from house to workshop, which became their home, the boundary between work and home-life was dissolved. The collapse of this boundary in a new age would modify Le Corbusier’s claim. It is not the house but the office that is the machine for living in, where life is honed to precise and continuous production. Think of it. Our humming offices filled day and night with toiling employees. The need for housing will pass; our offices will fill cities and factories their peripheries; shops will remain open twenty-four hours in support, with tireless workers and fleets of delivery vehicles; the new apprentices with indentured souls will sign away their lives with pens sharpened to compass points to draw blood from their own veins and will work tirelessly through the new working day which now becomes a beginningless and endless mélange of successive periods of light and dark – a day broken solely by the music of the dawn chorus, when birdsong is drowned by the drumming of the Kango hammers prophesying new edifices; the trumpet of traffic delivering potential clients and the deep bass notes of trucks filled with building material to create potential photographs in magazines.
At the time of writing, Eoghan-Conor O’ Shea lived in Dublin and worked part of the day as an architect.
led by Shane de Blacam of de Blacam and Meagher Architects, Cork, 23 October 2010
The timing of the recent site visit to de Blacam and Meagher Architects’ Cork Institute of Technology buildings, the week before the AAI Awards Adjudication, prompts once again the serious issue of the validity of an awards scheme where the jurors never visit the buildings in contention.
The coherency, the scale, the vision, the clarity of the architects’ intentions, the significance of the buildings to the prestige and place of the institution, the rigour, the fastidious attention to detail over a decade of construction: none of these attributes of the North Campus Development can be adequately conveyed over a pair of A1 boards.
The AAI is proud of its awards, and believes that there is substantial worth in not altering the agenda for its jurors, nor changing the entry regulations for its members. The jurors change on an annual basis; the rules do not.
That doesn’t mean that it’s a faultless system, nor that the awards handed out by its juries haven’t been flawed.
That the AAI did not recognize the CIT North Campus with its highest award, the Downes Medal, is to me a grievous and egregious error. That the error came about largely from the limitations imposed by the AAI Awards entry regulations is embarrassing.
The CIT North Campus buildings are a massive architectural achievement. They bring a dignity and a prestige to the institution that both affirms its role as a seat of learning and reaffirms the power of architecture to create a sense of place and an atmosphere on a grand scale.
It is an architecture of permanence and solidity, and an architecture that reflects the skills and attributes not only of its designers but of its builders. Andrea Deplazes talks about the ‘pathos of masonry’ in his book Constructing Architecture, and there is an inherent solemnity to this campus, both through its materiality and its formal layout. That the language is borrowed from Kahn may be a sticking point for some critics; then again, everything is borrowed from someone, and few results are this pressing and impressive.
The American poet Jack Gilbert called poetry a ‘witnessing to magnitude’. I’ve always felt that much of what he wrote about poetry could just as easily have applied to architecture. It’s a fantastic phrase, this ‘witnessing to magnitude’, and in this instance it is particularly appropriate. The sheer weight of the walls, the countless bricks laid, the scale and peace of the spaces, the obvious immovable nature of the masonry … it is a series of buildings of great magnitude, and a campus that establishes its institution as an important piece of the academic fabric of the country.
The tour itself was given by Shane de Blacam; he was full of insight, anecdote and reminiscences. It was a marvelous, three-dimensional relation of the history of the design and construction of the institute. From the initial success of the library, which paved the way for the rest of the scheme –“Independent student study was not on the [Institute’s] agenda … but we wanted something permanent and academic, and it is very rewarding to see something so well-used” – we were given an off-hand summation of the pros and cons of its precast concrete soffit [‘People hate it, architects like it, and I think it’s okay’] and a tribute to the joiner Eric Pierce for his work on the beech furniture.
De Blacam talked plainly of the propositions that they had made, and the negotiations the architects had engaged in with the academic authorities who held the institute’s purse-strings. Some were won [“We wanted … an aula maxima, a big hall covered in brick, albeit full of columns … we didn’t want it as a shopping mall”] while others, notably the debate over a teaching kitchen arrayed in the round with one extraction hood in the centre rather than one for every separate cooker in a traditional class-room layout, were lost: “I didn’t get a look in!”
Perhaps most satisfying was the fact that the architect was willing to make clear the relationships between the various aspects of the work: the site strategy, the initial design of each component part, the professional aspects of the job, the negotiations with contractors and clients.
Nowhere is the holistic nature of architecture – as a profession and as an art form – more clear than on site; there are many ways in which the process of construction can strip a project of its academic sheen, its subtleties and its pretensions.
It takes persuasion, determination and the ability to accept small defeats to successfully complete a project. One of the most telling remarks that de Blacam made was on leaving the stunning Demonstration Kitchen in the Tourism and Catering Building: “The fatal mistake is to touch the concrete: you strike it, and then you live with it.” There’s a real profundity in this remark. However, it wasn’t a series of profundities; we were also privy to the dry aside, “There a dignity of the academic environment which is not to do with gloss paint” as well as throwaways like the construction of the teaching kitchens engaging “the full whack of Arups M&E department!”
The work of de Blacam and Meagher Architects at Cork Institute of Technology is solemn and dignified. There’s a sense of timelessness than belongs to well-made buildings of a certain scale which restrict their material pallets to those with which traditional craftsmen and builders are most familiar – concrete, brick, and wood.
But beyond the building itself, it is encouraging to think that an Irish practice can earn the trust and respect of its clients and be afforded the time and capital to build something which has this timeless quality. The design of the first phase of the library started in 1992; the body of the rest of the campus was finished in 2007. To bring something of this scale to fruition, with all the hundreds of people who have worked on it over two decades, is really the most inspiring thing of all.
Shane de Blacam in the CIT Library, 23 October 2010
I confess. I do not own a copy of 'Modern Architecture since 1900'. According to our President, Hugo Lamont, during his introduction to last night's lecture, that put me amongst 5% of the audience. This morning, looking for reassurance in our bookshelves I feel as though I may be missing out on a significant source of reference to the Modern Movement. While I can recall and refer to battered college photocopies of individual chapters from that canonical book: Mies:(nature and the machine...), Aalto (..scandinavian development), Le Corbusier (form and meaning..), our own collection of books on the history of 20th Century Architecture seems, at times, heavy with the impassioned ideology, relentless categorisation or questionable selections of other writers. To take one case in point: Kostof's termination of the otherwise magnificent 'A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals' with his choice of Meier, Krier, Libeskind and Eisenmann still leaves me with a sense of.......anti-climax?
During William Curtis's lecture, given as the Annual AAI Critics Lecture for 2010 in the Arts Building of Trinity College, the critical approaches taken by some of those writers was reopened to review and clarification. Or perhaps I should say, going by the tone of the lecture itself, 'torpedoed' mercilessly, with its main sails shredded and its crew left for dead in shark invested waters. The lecture's emphasis, supported by a series of personal photographs and drawings, drew on human experience itself; light, shadow, music, materiality and movement as opposed to an Architecture of direct ideological expression or one that required a philosophical text for support.
William Curtis opened the lecture with a genuine appreciation for the opportunity to return to Ireland after 44 years, recalling an enjoyable three hours in 1966 discussing poetry with the Professor of English at Trinity during an interview for a position he subsequently turned down. For him this felt like a homecoming of sorts and throughout the lecture it was clear there was much affection for Dublin both in his admiration of its finest works: "the neutral abstraction and repitition" of our Georgian terraces, and his sharp, witty and virulent attacks on some of the city's recent development. While he acknowledged his engagement with criticism and gave a valuable and hugely entertaining insight as to the perils and responsibilities of that role within contemporary society, he considers himself as someone with many involvements: whether it be as an historian, photographer, artist or as an active and experienced juror.
Curtis himself emphasised the importance of the "building as the primary document" with visitations and direct experience as vital to our understanding and appreciation of Architecture - perhaps an issue the awards system in Ireland might learn from in future years? . Likewise, I hope this brief review encourages those AAI members absent last night to spend some time with the thing itself: this lecture in all its glorious audio entirety is available now for download in MP3 format and 'Modern Architecture since 1900' is now in its third edition, extensively revised.