Design/life: Profile of Shane Cotter, Director at Architectural Farm

Name: Shane Cotter

Occupation: Director at Architectural Farm

What is your background?

I’m from Midleton in Cork. I studied Architectural Technology in CIT mainly because I loved to draw.

In our third year, we were fortunate that the first phase of DeBlacham and Meagher’s CIT Library was completed and having the opportunity to study in such a fine building gave me my first real insight into the potential of architecture and well-crafted spaces.

After that, I worked in Dublin before going back to study Architecture in Canterbury and then Queens University Belfast. Returning to Dublin, I gained a huge amount of experience on projects both large and small in some of Dublin’s larger firms, including a spell in Norway.

I set up Architectural Farm with Kathryn Wilson, my wife, around 2014.

A walled garden by Shane Cotter. Pictures: Ste Murray
A walled garden by Shane Cotter. Pictures: Ste Murray

What’s a typical workday like for you?

It starts with a cycle to the studio — there’s no better way to clear your head and organise your thoughts before the day begins.

Then my day might involve site visits, meeting new clients, discussing details with builders, modelling, sketching, reviewing projects in the office with the team, as well as making sure I have some space to draw and design.

Tell us about a recent/ favourite project

We are working on a free play playground in Fernhill with Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (DLRCC), which involved workshops with primary school children to help shape the design.

Our clients and the practice were keen to avoid paying lip service to the idea of the children designing, so we had to go into the process with an open mind, which has been rewarded with so many ideas to incorporate into the project.

We recently spent a morning in the forest discussing ideas and trying to site the new play elements with the clients and builders and craftsmen, who are all committed to the idea of encouraging creative play. We can’t wait to get into the detail and construction of this one.

What’s your design style?

I’m not sure we have a style, but we probably do.

What we are really interested in is the basics of site, function and daylight.

We love to test the use of textures and materials, and recently we’ve used brick, timber, corrugated metal, concrete and rough cast render.

Each material is chosen for how it responds to the site, the client’s brief, and the light.

What/who inspires you?

There is no better way to understand a building than seeing, touching and absorbing its atmosphere and understanding its details.

Over the last few years we would have had office trips to The Architectural Biennale in Venice, New York and Oxford, as well as visiting buildings in Ireland.

No trip home to Cork is complete without a visit to the Glucksman Gallery in UCC.

The Blackpitts project
The Blackpitts project

What’s your favourite trend at the moment (if you have any)?

We don’t tend to follow trends — not consciously, anyway; we try to start every project with fresh eyes.

What’s your most treasured possession?

Treasured might be a strong word but as I’m out in all kinds of weather on the bike or on-site, my leather messenger bag is the hardest working bag in Ireland.

It’s got a Mary Poppins quality to it, somehow fitting in a laptop, sketchbooks, drawings, samples, and pens.

It takes a beating and is getting better with age.

Your favourite designer?

I’ve been re-looking at a lot of Marcel Breuer’s work after a visit to his brutalist Whitney museum in New York (now the MET Breuer).

But the timelessness of the Belgian Architect Marie-José Van Hee is a real inspiration.

The Marino project
The Marino project

Your dream project?

We really believe in the difference good architecture can make to people’s lives and society, and we have been enthusiastic participants in the Irish Architecture Foundation National Architects in Schools Initiative and Open House Dublin.

We would love to work on more public work, in particular social housing.

Have you any design tips?

Kept it simple and visit good architecture.

Instagram: @architecturalfarm

Twitter: @ArchFarm

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