O’Donnell & Tuomey Architects: Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin, Derry

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A crisp November morning provided the setting for 60 AAI members and interested Derry inhabitants to experience a tour of the recently completed Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin.

John Tuomey began the description on the street opposite, introducing the project’s deep landlocked siting, with narrow frontage on to an erratic terraced edge of the city’s Georgian Quarter; neighbouring the political presence of muralled Bogside gables and a short distance from the hard medieval walled edge of the city centre.

The narrative of the building unwound as we wrapped around the rooflit, terrazzo-floored courtyard and the pockets of communal spaces that overlook it. We were drawn through streetscape meeting rooms and language classrooms, as well and oriental strand board lined theatre to the rear. We were told of the complexities of the site; the difficult task of creating an open functioning, tectonic sequence of spaces while accommodating the inflexible constraints of a deep emergency escape, an electrical substation and numerous planning requirements. The journey culminated under the sawtooth roof light that gives views to the landscape backdrop of the city and edits the middle ground of suburban housing; here was recalled the tale of untimely death of the primary craftsman during the course of the construction.

The project was commissioned by An Gaeláras; a cultural ogranisation committed to the promotion of the Irish culture and language. In keeping with this function, its occupants address you and converse with ease in an increasingly invigorated language of our past. Analogously, the building speaks in a former constructional language of this island; the bare, carved massitivity of the medieval tower house. The project makes manifest a vibrant, contemporary expression of both of these linguistic concerns by virtue of its playful ‘jack in the box’ geometry and use of colour; as well as the immensely open generosity of its civic gesture.

Thank you to John Tuomey for his generosity of description in a fascinating tour, to Anne-Louise Duignan for helping organise the event and providing drawings, and to all those who traveled from near and far to attend the event.