Designs of the times: An exhibition in Cork shows what can be achieved by hiring a good architect

Designs of the times: An exhibition in Cork shows what can be achieved by hiring a good architect
Haven Hill, Kinsale, Co Cork, comprises a refurbishment of a 1970s bungalow by Conneely Wessels Architects.

For design lovers and interior voyeurs, an exhibition of work by Cork architects is up and running, showing what can be achieved by hiring a good architect, writes Carol O’Callaghan.

Doesn't gorging on television programmes like Home of the Year and Room to Improve make us aspire to the results, or at least the notion of having exactly the house we want?

It’s less likely, though, we’d aspire to the accompanying made-for-television drama and conflict between client, architect and building contractor which add tension, drawing us into the “plot” of the programme and leaving us waiting, breath bated, for the inevitable happy-ever-after.

Nevertheless, it is programmes of this sort which have been instrumental in flagging up the value of hiring a design professional when building a house from scratch, or even when slapping on that beloved feature of Irish house improvement projects, the extension out the back.

On the same theme are local events like the recent Open House weekend which offered us the chance to tour buildings typically not open to the public, and even some private homes.

Now as the year draws to a close, along comes another opportunity with the Cork Architectural Association’s annual exhibition taking place in the atrium of the City Hall right now.

The former Cork Savings Bank building on Lapp’s Quay, now UCC’s Business School’s Centre for Executive Education, has been refurbished and extended by Jack Coughlan Associates.
The former Cork Savings Bank building on Lapp’s Quay, now UCC’s Business School’s Centre for Executive Education, has been refurbished and extended by Jack Coughlan Associates.

Called Experience Unravelled, it runs until Friday, November 29, and features a wide range of projects by Cork architects, from houses in both rural and urban environments to something as unexpected as a scout hut; the repurposing of a bank premises and the design of a bridge.

Paul Carpenter, architect and committee member of Cork Architectural Association, says: “The exhibition is in its fourth year. It came about to promote Cork-based architects’ work which the public may never get to see, that might usually just be featured in specialist architectural publications.

“There’s huge potential in Cork in the next couple of years if things continue. New practices are opening up so there’s a good, healthy community of architects in the city. With the development of the docklands, people are taking a new interest in the city.

“What is key to the exhibition is it demonstrates lots of good architectural work going on in Cork,” Paul adds.

It promotes good design in the built environment, so when architecture practices apply to take part we’re looking for high design, good conceptual work, good execution of it and detail.

This year the organisers focused on architecture as an event, as an experience, drawing on the view of famed Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier who described it as, the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light.

Among the 15 projects on show is the old Cork Savings Bank building on Lapps Quay, citing the Georgian style of architecture which was just starting to wane from fashion when it was designed in 1839 by Thomas and Kearns Deane.

Now UCC’s Business School’s Centre for Executive Education, Jack Coughlan Architects, renowned for its conservation work, responded to a brief to refurbish the building in a way that encouraged openness, social interaction and knowledge exchange.

Achieved by an approach which maintains the building’s character, they’ve also added to it within an enclosed space to the rear, hidden from view so as not to disrupt the lines of this 180-year-old beauty.

At the other end of the architectural scale, Magee Creedon Architects, hired to design a base for the 4th Cork Scouts in the setting of the Galtee mountains, is enough to incite the envy of any misfortunate boy of a previous generation who endured scouting pilgrimages in leaky tented accommodation.

Meitheal Design Partners Architects’ project in the Waterville townland of Toor combines a longhouse restored from dereliction with a new addition.
Meitheal Design Partners Architects’ project in the Waterville townland of Toor combines a longhouse restored from dereliction with a new addition.

Designed in the character of a barn-like structure, as typically seen around the Irish countryside, it conceals a pow-wow space, an open fireplace round which the scouts can gather, and bedrooms.

For an example of residential architecture, uber-cool Conneely Wessels Architects took a charmless 1970s bungalow and remodelled it using the nearby battlements of Kinsale’s Charles Fort as inspiration.

Linking it with history, but up to date, is a feature called enfilade which anyone who has ever visited Versailles or any grand palace while on holiday heard of from their tour guide.

It was a standard feature to interconnect staterooms and is now used in this project for modern living so that moving from one room to the next does not involve a space-hogging corridor, but is facilitated by wide sliding doors between rooms.

This 150-year-old Newenham Terrace house in Cork has been modernised and extended by Cook Architects, maintaining the building’s character.
This 150-year-old Newenham Terrace house in Cork has been modernised and extended by Cook Architects, maintaining the building’s character.

Externally, slimline buttress-type structures not only support a roof overhang but also frame windows through which the occupants enjoy views out over the harbour.

Experience Unravelled runs until November 29 in The Atrium, Cork City Civic Offices, Anglesea Street, Cork.

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