But it’s probably been the dearth of cranes littering the skyline, and kango hammers belting out what became a familiar and almost constantly present staccato rhythm in Irish cities and towns in the last few years, that belies how much architectural activity is actually going on in Cork and the extent of its reach locally, nationally, and internationally.
Addressing this is the recently formed Cork Architectural Association (CAA) which is looking to enlighten the general public on the subject, and impress on us the value of architecture in our environment, an endeavour which has won the support of Cork City Council, CIT, Cork County Council, and developers.
As a springboard to achieving its aims, CAA has now organised an exhibition entitled ‘Architecture and Place’ which was officially opened last night by Simon Coveney TD in the atrium of Cork City Council’s Civic Offices on Anglesea Street.
It’s the first event in CAA’s outreach to the public in what they hope will be a series of two or three exhibitions a year designed to raise awareness of the value of architecture and the contribution being made to its development by Cork-based architectural practices in particular.
“We truly believe that architecture transforms lives,” says architect and co-founder of CAA, Dermot Harrington. “It influences our everyday experience, from the interiors of our houses to our landscape, our cities and our towns.”
Together with CAA’s committee, led by president Seán Antóin Ó Muirí, Dermot invited local architects to submit entries for the exhibition based on the criteria that the architectural practice had to be based in Cork city or county, but the projects could have been implemented anywhere.
Out of a total of 30 submissions which were considered by an independent adjudication panel, 12 were chosen, representing a engaging mix of buildings and places, including civic spaces, libraries, shop spaces, utility buildings, schools, and private dwellings, some as close to home as Cork city and one as far away as Australia.
Each project is now detailed in the exhibition through a mixed media presentation which includes text-based panels, plans, and 3-D models of two award winning projects — St Angela’s College, Cork, designed by O’Donnell Tuomey Architects, and the DLR Lexicon library facility in Dun Laoghaire, designed by Carr Cotter Naessens.
But not all the projects are on the scale of these two.
“We particularly want to show what the small, quality practices in Cork are doing and to give them a voice,” says Dermot.
At the same time, they’ve achieved distinct variety in the size, type, and location of each project, showcasing not only the extent of what is being achieved by private practices, but also by Cork City Council’s architects.
In fact, one of the most arresting of the projects was implemented by the City Architect’s Department at The Glen, on the northside of Cork city.
It’s the second phase in the regeneration of an area where poorly-maintained blocks of flats built in the 1970s, which were subjected to vandalism and anti-social behaviour, have now made way for more than 50 new dwellings offering quality homes, with community facilities and open spaces. The result just might challenge the viewpoint of anyone who has ever accused social housing of lacking in design imagination.
But there are also buildings worth saving with the light touch of conservation by specialists Jack Coughlan & Associates, showing what can be done to repurpose a Georgian town house.
Once a private residence, it is now the Michael Collins’ House Museum in the country town of Clonakilty where, in the early 1900s, Michael Collins lived with his older sister while attending school in the town. Now incorporating original outbuildings which have been adapted to form the new museum entrance, the historic integrity of the building has been retained and the interior preserved as it was more than one hundred years ago.
Bringing both old and new together has been achieved by The PassivHaus Architecture Company when it undertook an extension to a house in Clonmel. Located on the charming Anne Street with its finely preserved late Georgian housing stock, it’s an example of how these old buildings can adapt for modern living in the hands of a sensitive architect.
But what is probably one of the most surprising exhibits is a house built in Margaret River, Western Australia, the design for which came out of a small Cork practice, Fuinneamh Workshop Architects, in response to a brief that emphasised a multi-functional outdoor space for living, with courtyards maximising local forest views, a vegetable patch, play space for children and a deck area for eating outdoors, as much as it did indoor living.
Equally, there are international design influences evident. Subtle and with practical purpose, Japanese tsuboniwa, or courtyards, have inspired a house designed by Cook Architects, where a courtyard forms part of a strategy to create a peaceful and private domestic haven in the town centre of Macroom.
But more than simply showing building designs, the exhibition organisers have taken pains to highlight how architecture goes beyond the design of a structure, illustrating how it respects the place in which it’s planted, to blend into the environment and work with it rather than disrupting it; where the courage to remove what didn’t work and replacing it with something new, creates a better place, or by taking what is already in place with its own intrinsic value and repurposing it. Judge for yourself.