More than a decade in the making, a unique concrete cinema opens in Ireland
In 2004 – a decade before Galway was designated a UNESCO City of Film – a group of locals launched a plan to celebrate the Irish town’s love affair with celluloid via a new art house cinema. One recession, a change of contractor and a new owner later (among other hiccups), the Pálás theatre has flickered to life. Built on the site of a former Georgian house, the Pálás hosts three screens, a restaurant, a café and offices in a cast-concrete tower whose many sides make the most of a compact corner lot. Along Merchant’s Road, the facade of the 1820s building has been recreated (a planning requirement) and recast as an arched entrance. Architect Tom de Paor says he wanted the project to be provocative, to challenge the discourse in a town unaccustomed to contemporary architecture. But he also wanted to create something that was of its place. “Much of the town is made out of Ballinasloe limestone from quarries nearby,” explains de Paor. “The aggregate of the concrete we used – a reconstituted stone – is from the same place, so it has the same look and feel.” The stoney expanses and smaller windows are also reminiscent of the solid grey warehouses and residential towers that can be seen around Galway. Bespoke decorative elements abound and include the exterior signage, which was created by punching a custom typeface into the building’s facade and lining the letters in neon. “In reality there are two typefaces; the first is a 75-millimetre concrete relief, the other is made from 10-millimetre glass tube. Both are handmade – one cast, the other bent,” explains de Paor. Inside the seven-storey tower, visitors are drawn through raw concrete stairwells lined with industrial lighting and exposed electrical conduits before arriving in polished and opulent auditoriums and eating spaces. De Paor designed all of the building’s lighting, including the flattened steel chandelier in the café. The architect collaborated with late Irish artist Patrick Scott on what is undoubtedly the tower’s most dramatic flourish: its resin-coated windows. Inspired by the gel filters used on cameras and stage lights, the 22 small, sapele-framed openings feature geometric patterns – painted between glass layers – in captivating shades of amber, orange, pink, red, green and blue. Scattered at various unexpected heights, they add colour and delight and are a counterpoint to the mass of the building, says de Paor. “They’re like little projectors that play off the concrete.” During daylight hours, visitors emerge from screenings to meet fluttering compositions of colour reflected on the walls. At night, the multi-hued windows and red-and-green neon signs become a kaleidoscopic invitation to enter this rich and unusual building.
LEFT: The three screening rooms are draped in red fire-rated velveteen to improve acoustics. The plush seating is from Quinette Gallay, in France.
RIGHT: The bar is one of the best interior spaces from which to experience the windows (by late artist Patrick Scott) and their playful projections.
ABOVE: Concrete staircases zigzag up seven storeys, casting sawtoothed shadows amid colourful reflections from the windows.