Light not blight: A moun­tain­side re­furb

The Irish Times - Thursday - Property - - Feature -

Dormer bun­ga­lows. This house type has been the scourge of many a pretty hill­top set­ting, from Done­gal to Kerry, scat­tered aim­lessly across the Ir­ish land­scape through­out the 1970s. This earned them a stigma that still sur­vives. And as build­ings are wont to do, they stay around for a while, so we are con­stantly re­minded of our mis­takes. Bun­ga­lows, for the most part, have al­ways been seen as dark, de­press­ing and unin­spir­ing. Not this one. It started life as a fairly sim­ple, unas­sum­ing house, set at the foot of sur­round­ing mountains. The original house had a mod­est liv­ing space on the first floor, with small reg­u­lar win­dow open­ings, and the whole struc­ture was ori­ented away from the dra­matic views that lay be­yond (prob­lem No 1). The client was keen that ar­chi­tect Ryan W Ken­ni­han (rwka.com) de­sign a large liv­ing space where the en­tire ex­tended fam­ily could gather, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously find­ing a way to con­nect the house to its beau­ti­ful sur­round­ings (prob­lem No 2).

Build­ing in the countryside is al­ways a bit tricky. What style should it be? What colour or ma­te­ri­als to use? We don’t want to en­cour­age pas­tiche de­sign, but what does that look like? It has to blend in, but does that mean it should look like ev­ery­thing else around it? This house ex­ten­sion shows a care­ful and con­sid­ered un­der­stand­ing of the ver­nac­u­lar, and it is this sim­plis­tic and sym­pa­thetic ap­proach that has made this a bun­ga­low like no other. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, this means us­ing sim­ple build­ing forms fa­mil­iar to the ru­ral set­ting, with pitched rooves and build­ing pro­por­tions that are re­spon­sive to the land­scape. It is lean and un­fussy de­sign, and it re­quires deft sub­tlety to get it right.

There was lit­tle ap­petite for the typ­i­cal prac­tice of adding a strik­ingly dif­fer­ent ex­ten­sion on to the back of an ex­ist­ing house; in­stead they thought it might be pos­si­ble to bring old and new to­gether to make a beau­ti­ful new whole. The pro­posal was to strip back the ex­ist­ing cot­tage to its bare essen­tials mak­ing it more mod­ern, but at the same time, close to its sim­ple ori­gins.

In­for­mal ar­range­ment

The idea was to ex­tend the house by merg­ing the old and the new into a sin­gle new col­lec­tive. The ex­ten­sion took the scale, pitch and ridge height from the ex­ist­ing house, en­sur­ing the two pieces worked to­gether as one sin­gu­lar new home. Cru­cially, it ori­ented this new el­e­ment in­for­mally at an an­gle, twist­ing its ori­en­ta­tion to look to­wards phe­nom­e­nal moun­tain views. This, too, shows an un­der­stand­ing of how clus­ters of tra­di­tional farm­stead build­ings con­gre­gate close to one an­other. There is a loose or­der to this ar­range­ment, al­most in­for­mal, which works per­fectly here.

In­ter­nally the ex­ten­sion cre­ates a large dra­matic hall for the en­tire fam­ily with dif­fer­ent zones for view­ing the mountains, eat­ing din­ner, watch­ing TV or drink­ing wine.

The selec­tion of ma­te­ri­als is also pitch-per­fect. Ex­ten­sive use of tim­ber, at dif­fer­ent scales gives a bal­ance be­tween the strong mus­cu­lar main struc­ture, and the more del­i­cate re­fin­ery of the ceil­ing joists, all form­ing one sin­gu­lar vol­ume, un­der which many a fam­ily oc­ca­sion can be housed with ease.

The new house is de­signed from the inside out. It has fo­cused on the mountains, the grass, the views and the sky. It doesn’t try too hard to be dif­fer­ent, and for that rea­son alone, it’s a stand­out per­former. This is a good ex­am­ple of what we of­ten try to achieve when work­ing with ex­ist­ing build­ings – to cre­ate new ar­chi­tec­ture which is in close di­a­logue with the old; to cre­ate some­thing mod­ern but at the same time, borne out of its ori­gins. Per­haps we could pub­lish 100 vari­a­tions of this house in a book to in­form ru­ral build­ing for the next 30 years. Now that would be bliss.

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