175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works || Building for the Nation: Architectural Services at the OPW

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  • Irish Arts Review

    Building for the Nation: Architectural Services at the OPWAuthor(s): Richard HurleySource: Irish Arts Review (2002-), Vol. 23, 175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works(2006), pp. 12-17Published by: Irish Arts ReviewStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25503511 .Accessed: 12/06/2014 21:44

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  • BUILDING FOR THE NATION - ARCHITECTURAL SERVICES AT THE OPW

    ..mmm i m

    M

    In an examination of recent, critically-acclaimed projects from Architectural Services

    at the OPW, RICHARD HURLEY finds a sense of harmony grounded in a respect for

    environment common to all structures

    IjL rchitecture in Ireland has undergone a

    I % dramatic change for the better in recent

    i^^^m times, particularly during the past two

    J?L JL. decades; Also many buildings constructed

    during the 1970s and earlier are now making way for

    renewed investment opportunities by hungry corporate

    financial institutions. This is particularly true in rela

    tion to commercial building, but other building types such as hospitals, built as 'state of the art* in the 1950s

    olition. This reality of the temporary nature of archi- ^^^^H tecture in our time sends a strong message to architects. ^^^^H

    Architecture, once the most permanent of images is ^^^^| now becoming the most vulnerable in the ever-changing ^^^^H timeline. Clients are no longer interested in^the idea of ^^^^H long life loose fit', which produced such drab results in ^^^^| the past This has given way to the search for an iconic ^^^^| image, which will promote the product The temptation ^^^^| for architects to respond to this cult of the ego is one ^^^^H

    which needs restraint Countless global images flood ^^^^H

    I

    1 2 OPW 1?5TII ANNIVERSARY EDITION

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  • i^saijpA??

    175 OPW

    17? Office of Public Works Otfig na nOtbreacha Poib?

    !^H Wm

    Architectural Services at the OPW

    the architectural journals and media. Fam? comes

    quickly, burns brightly and then is extinguished in the

    next flurry of fiambovancy.

    The impressive portfolio of work emanating from

    Architectural Services at the Office of Public Works in

    recent times steers well clear of such extremes.

    Breaking away from the philosophy of gridlock (closed

    symbol) their body of work conveys a more open

    humanism, which reflects the ethos of Irish culture

    and landscape; The impact of architecture and land

    scape overlapping is very much part of the ?PW

    dynamic. Contemporary Irish architecture does not,

    strictly speaking, portray a national identity, with the

    exception of the work of the late Liam McCormick

    whose epic church buildings literally grew out of Irish

    soil, wedded to place and climate. Only Finland can

    claim an indigenous national architecture, at the heart 4tffl

    1 EU Food and

    Veterinary Office

    Headquarters, CoMeath

    2 New Custom

    House, Dublin Port

    3 Atrium, Galway

    City Museum

    1 3

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  • I BUILDING FOR THE NATION - ARCHITECTURAL SERVICES AT THE OPW

    :

    4

    4 Galway Custom

    House extension

    5 State Laboratory, Co Kildare;the board

    room

    6 EU Food and

    Veterinary Office

    Headquarters, Co Meath

    of which lies its forests, the inspiration of Sibelius and

    Aalto. Ireland has its lakes, rivers, mountains and

    shorelines, and blossomed once in early Christian

    times. In an organisation as big as the OPW there are

    many forces at work and while many talents emerge

    from time to time, there is no 'house style'. Nor should

    there be. However, it is evident from the body of work

    emerging in recent times that the pursuit of architec

    ture is taken very seriously. It is impossible in a short

    overview such as this to cover the wide spectrum of

    work contained within the portfolio. One cannot ade

    OPW architectural services have received numerous awards and

    honours that reflect the esteem in which they are held by their peers

    quately do justice to it. Principal Architect Patrick

    Cooney, has succeeded Michael O'Doherty's long lead

    ership role (1990-2004) and the transition is assured

    by the design network of talented architects throughout

    the organisation led by Ciar?n O'Connor together with

    Liam Egan, Michael Haugh, Klaus Unger, Angela Rolfe

    and Finbarr Wall. The net outcome is the emergence of

    new arch-types possessing strong architectural content.

    High quality is common to all, but the grammar is dif

    ferent. Architecture does not need to aspire to great

    ness to be good, but it does carry a symbol, open or

    closed. OPW Architectural Services have received

    numerous awards and honours that reflect the esteem

    in which they are held by their peers, including the

    gold medal of the Royal Institute of the Architects of

    Ireland. Five or six major projects of recent times can

    be considered here: the EU Food and Veterinary

    Office, Dunsany, Co Meath (Figs l,ck,6); the Marine

    Institute, Oranmore, Co Galway; the State Laboratory

    , Celbridge, Co Kildare (Figs 5ck7 and); the Museum

    of Irish County Life, Turlough House, Co Mayo (Figs

    9-11); Leinster House 2000, Dublin (Fig 8); and the

    Galway City Museum, Spanish Arch, Galway (Fig 3).

    They all have one factor in common -

    they inhabit

    spectacular sites, both in urban and rural settings. In

    an environmental sense, the sovereignty of Ireland is

    still to be found in its landscape, not in its architecture.

    In the early years of the state the national Romantic

    Movement had played itself out. Nothing evolved from

    1 4 I

    OPW 175TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

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  • 1 ^ HH'^ i

    the Celtic Revival in building terms and Hiberno

    Romanesque as a movement went into decline very rap

    idly. The emergence of functionalism and its failure to

    satisfy deeper needs of society has, in recent years, led

    to an explosion of 'iconic' architecture. In this media

    driven pursuit of imagery, egocentric architects build as

    if all history has ceased. There is an inescapable time

    bound character to built form, and heroic architecture

    has a pathetic vulnerability. The OPW has steered well

    clear of such fantasy and has taken a reserved stance in

    the middle ground. A strong landscape setting has a

    sobering influence on design. Their response to this is

    a contingent factor in a number of buildings illustrated

    here - for example, the EU Food and Veterinary

    Office, the State Laboratory Kildare, and Turlough

    Park. In the two former buildings, a number of com

    mon features are noticeable. Two-storey structures are

    wrapped around a courtyard and internal routes are

    developed linking the various functions within. This is

    a convenient way of reducing the scale of the building,

    but perhaps the courtyard idea is more urban than

    rural, a place of assembly and accessibility to sur

    roundings activities. Extended elevations on the outer

    face of large courtyard buildings create interest. The

    Ciar?n O'Connor

    Assistant Principal Architect Ciar?n O'Connor qualified at the

    Dublin Institute of Technology in 1979. He first gained

    architectural and landscape experience in Germany and Canada,

    before joining the OPW in 1991.

    O'Connor's work has included numerous award-winning visitor and

    cultural facilities throughout the country, and he has won many

    awards and medals both here in Ireland and

    abroad. In 1996 O'Connor was elected a

    Fellow Member of the RIAI for 'work of an

    exceptional architectural standard'.

    O'Connor was born in Finglas, and having

    grown up near Glasnevin he thoroughly enjoyed

    working on the restoration of the Palm House

    complex at the National Botanic Gardens. This

    project, which has been recently completed is

    to be awarded the European Union Prize for

    Cultural Heritage in the Europa Nostra Awards

    this June. He was involved in the original master plan and manage

    ment plan drawn up in 1992, when the Botanical Gardens were

    transferred from the Department of Agriculture to the OPW, and has

    been closely involved ever since. As he explains: 'All the specialist

    research on how to restore wrought and cast iron we had done for the

    Turner Curvilinear Glasshouse in the mid-1990s was of great benefit

    when we started work on the Palm House in 2004. We now had teak

    to deal with as well, and a much taller building -

    twenty-two metres

    high, which is like a seven-storey building.'

    Work at Glasnevin will now pause for the first time since 1992:

    This is a chance to reassess a few things, including staff require

    ments. In the autumn we hope to start on the last projects, including

    the restoration of the remaining historic glasshouses: the Cactus

    House, the Water Lily House and the Fern House.'

    Other recent projects that O'Connor has been closely involved with

    include the Galway City Museum, which is now complete and will be

    opening this summer. Also in Co Galway, The Marine Institute

    Headquarters, consisting of a laboratory, offices, library and cr?che, has

    just been completed on a beautiful site at Rinvilie near Oranmore.

    OPW 175TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION |

    15

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  • if~:

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    corridor of very large cellular buildings can create

    fatigue if not broken down into pathways that, taken

    together, add up to the ideas of a 'route'. Nevertheless,

    the routes within these buildings do not disorientate.

    They present a series of surprises, having a sense of

    location, indicating major elements, different functions

    and acting as links to interrelationships. Thus the pit

    falls of long corridors are largely avoided. Instead of

    boredom, there is a path to be explored. Ciar?n

    O'Connors palette of materials is expressed mainly by

    his love and use of wood. That, and the use of white

    stucco, identifies most if his work. The nature of wood

    is explored to its limits and occasionally beyond.

    Details are practical and consistent, but the activity is

    never merely academic. Consider the EU Food and

    Veterinary Office and the State Laboratory in Kildare

    (Figs 1,6,7). In both these buildings, the use of wood is

    strikingly evident. Wood is a natural material of

    colour, texture and warmth, and these unique qualities

    are developed in architecture. These two buildings

    bring a tactile experience in the threatening world of

    steel and plastics. The corduroy effects of vertical tim

    bers and the layering of wall surfaces can be seen as a

    sub-conscious desire to decorate. Purists and critics

    might call it camouflage, but it is better seen as an over

    all concept of surface treatment both inside and out,

    responding to light and shadow. The hard edge of sei

    Heroic architecture has a pathetic vulnerability. The OPW has steered well clear of such fantasy and has taken a reserved stance in the middle ground

    rgk III

    1 6 I ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^H

    9~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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  • BUILDING FOR THE NATION - ARCHITECTURAL SERVICES AT THE OPW

    ence is given a human face in the State Laboratory,

    where an uncompromising statement of servicing sci

    ence is suppressed. Timberclad chimneypots hardly suf

    fice. Firstly resembling definitive cross-wall breaks with

    in the building the chimneystack service pods is diffi

    cult to read. Here, they are an important feature with

    out disclosing real identity (Fig 7).

    A very different challenge is resolved in the City Museum in Galway. Situated on the river Corrib, close

    to Spanish Arch, the building reflects western light and

    sound of water while affording dramatic views through

    picture windows as the river flows towards the Atlantic.

    The symbol of this museum is not one of a closed series

    of galleries. It is more open than closed, and displays a

    preoccupation with the use of light and in particular

    with the path of the sun around the building. The atri

    um (Fig 3), or hallowing out of the volume, along with

    the curved external wall culminating in roof lighting, is

    a major development. Faint echoes of Finland come to

    mind, but none the worse for that. This is a rich and

    promising road in the exploration of space.

    The same observations in terms of space develop

    ment can be attributed to the Museum of Country Life

    at Turlough Park, Co Mayo designed by Senior

    Architect Des Byrne (Figs 9-10). This building, more

    than any other of its type, anywhere, has moved out of

    the traditional museum mould of introspection. It

    takes the visitor on a journey, along a path that

    embraces not only artifacts, but also light and the land

    scape and its environs. The experience of moving in

    and around the museum is important as well as focus

    ing on the exhibits. The path leads through three

    floors of open inter-locking volumes, overlooking

    spaces below and in distance affording surprising views

    of historic ruins and conserved monuments. Buildings

    are no longer required to function as a machine. Social

    intercourse is now a factor and this is surely a healthy

    development in the aesthetic form and function.

    Stone is used extensively as external cladding at

    Turlough Park. The ashlar type coursing of Wicklow

    granite may belie its function, but it shines brightly in

    the green landscape, as it nestles into the hill and steps

    down to a river and a man-made lake. Stone is suitable

    for this hard-edged but subtly modelled building, which

    is knitted together in a highly sophisticated syntax of

    plan and section (Fig 11). Meticulously detailed, it is a

    cool and highly successful building, one that the whole

    nation can reflect upon.

    Many other projects deserve discussion, such as

    Leinster House, New Custom House, Dublin Port (Fig

    2), and the Galway Custom House extension (Fig 4), but space does not permit. It is not enough to write or

    talk about buildings. They must be visited to encounter

    the experience they bring. The reward is the journey

    within, the experience of light and space, the meaning

    of centre and path that architecture evokes.

    Richard Hurley is Principal of Richard Hurley and Associates

    Architects. He is the author of Irish Church Architecture in the Era

    of Vatican II, and he is the Honorary Professor of Architecture at the

    Royal Hibernian Academy.

    7 State Laboratory, Co Kildare; the

    entrance elevation

    8 Leinster House

    2000 project

    (courtyard behind

    19th-century wall)

    9 Museum of

    Country Life,

    Turlough Park, Co Mayo,- view into

    the main exhibition

    space

    10 Museum of

    Country Life,

    Turlough Park, Co Mayo

    11 Museum of

    Country Life,

    Turlough Park, Co Mayo; long section through exhibition building

    1101q

    0PW 175TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION I"

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    Article Contentsp. 12p. 13p. 14p. 15p. 16p. 17

    Issue Table of ContentsIrish Arts Review (2002-), Vol. 23, 175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works (2006), pp. 1-48Front MatterForeword [p. 1-1]OPW 175th Anniversary Edition [p. 2-2]The OPW a History of Service [pp. 3-5]Art of the State: Inheritance, Development, Legacy [pp. 6-11]Building for the Nation: Architectural Services at the OPW [pp. 12-17]Weaving Heaven and Earth [pp. 18-21]Preserving the Past [pp. 22-25]A Glittering Legacy [pp. 26-29]Conservation at OPW: Policy, Protection, Partnership [pp. 30-33]Cultural Collaborations [pp. 34-39]Engineering Success [pp. 40-41]Kilmainham Gaol: Confronting Change [pp. 42-45]Future Challenges for the Opw [pp. 46-48]Back Matter

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