A question: what is architectural criticism? Since the written criticisms of Louis XV's urban plans for Paris in the 18th Century the discourse of architectural criticism has divided — be that a neighbour in suburbia responding to a domestic planning application; Frank Lloyd Wright describing Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, as "childish"; Ada Louise Huxtable on the New York Gallery of Modern Art: "a die-cut Venetian palazzo on lollipops," or Michael Sorkin's brutal take-down of Qatar's new architecture as "twisted dicks." Given that architecture is the most omnipresent of disciplines the importance of the question should not be underestimated.Read More
A version of this article appeared in the Sept/Oct edition of Perspective magazine
Rathhview Mental Health facility in Omagh is part of a complex ecology of social and political events that two decades after the Good Friday peace agreement are still being untangled. During the troubles, the ordinary anxieties of everyday life were delegated to the ongoing violence. But as decades of daily turmoil receded a void appeared. Anxieties remained but with nowhere to go they manifested in an epidemic of serious mental health problems. Since the Good Friday agreement, more people have died from suicide in Northern Ireland than were killed during the troubles, leaving the province with the highest suicide rate in the UK. This is, therefore, an important building.Read More
This house is like a game — a game of homes. The pieces: a farmhouse built in 1850, in need of updating; space for Ian & Lin McMorris a retired couple returning to the family homestead after living around the world and space for Michael McMorris their brother who has been living in the house since birth farming the surrounding land. The problem: combine all the pieces in a way that provides two distinct living areas, catering for each parties individual needs while creating one coherent and comfortable modern rural farmhouse.Read More
You were born in it; raised in it; taught in it; some get married in it; have children in it; shop in it; work in it; and will, one day, eventually die in it. Every moment of our lives involves Architecture. Yet, like asking a fish what he thinks of the water, it often passes us by; like the air we breathe, unnoticed, unthought — just there. “What the hell is water?” replies the fish.
Architecture matters. So, in this piece I want to talk about something that happened in Northern Irish architecture last week.Read More
A version of this piece was published in the Irish Times
Stood with your back to the sea you would have seen an “uninspiring” existing two storey house on a derelict state — “two small windows, a door facing the wrong direction; dark; sat right back into the hill; nothing of any significance or value” says Shane Birney recalling his first visit to the Donegal site where his Derry-based practice where commissioned to design a contemporary family house. But turn around one-hundred and eighty degrees, and in the distance, just beyond the point where Drongawn Lough greets Lough Swilly a vast panorama unfolds, that in the western half-light of the Donegal sky is a view as beautiful as any.Read More
A version of this piece was published in The Sunday Times
“It’s a family home; it’s not taking itself too seriously,” says Shane Cotter who with Kathryn Wilson founded the award-winning architects practice Architectural Farm, who in 2014 were listed by Wallpaper magazine as one of the top-twenty best young architectural talents in the world. We’re talking about their extension and renovation to a typical 1930’s Dublin brick house on The Stiles Road, Clontarf East — what they have done is anything but typical.Read More
A version of this article appeared in the June edition of the RIBA Journal
A 499,000 meter invisible line carving its way across the island of Ireland has become a visible symbol of our pre-Brexit woes and perhaps, more importantly, the future stability of the Good Friday agreement — here be ghosts. Northern Ireland / the north of Ireland; my own personal dialectic; a place I love and, if I am being honest, sometimes hate. I hate living in a place where a simple punctuation mark like a slash has become a powerful signifier for thirty-years of violence, immense pain and visceral anger — something I will never understand.Read More
A version of this piece first appeared in the May/June issue of Perspective magazine.
“Robots will take our jobs," wrote Larry Elliot, The Guardian’s economics editor, in an interesting opinion piece earlier this year. They already have, I thought to myself, about a century ago — it’s called the industrial revolution. Manufacturing processes began to become automated, the worker took on a different role; more passive and repetitious. Industries like linen manufacturing that had remained largely unchanged for centuries were transformed, as the weaver's hand was exchanged for the power loom — something that Karl Marx noted with interest in volume one of Capital.Read More
This month I was asked by Perspective magazine to write a short piece on where I find my inspiration from. Here's a slightly longer version.Read More
A version of this piece was published in The Sunday Times.
From the feet and inches marked with pencil on plaster walls telling the stories of growing children, to the door that always creaked; the scratch in the floor; the tree in the garden planted by Grandad, or the noise the central heating makes; houses tell stories. Houses are remarkable storytellers — the cycle of family life — generations of births, marriages, and deaths, captured in bricks and mortar. Millions of mini-monuments to stories we may never hear spread across the cities, towns, and villages of the Island of Ireland. The narratives of generations past quietly whispering to us as we rush along the streets from A to B to C, staring at our palms. What might we learn if we took the time to listen?Read More
First published in the Spring edition of Living Design magazine.
No.37, a house by FAMILY Architects, is as much about what isn’t there as what is — what hasn’t been designed and why. The question leading architects Grainne and Alasdair to design the house was what to do now that their two-hundred year old, five bedroom nest was empty. A dilemma that many of us, if we haven’t already, will one day face. This house is an exercise in what Grainne describes as “creative downsizing.”Read More
This piece was first published in the Spring edition of Living Design magazine.
I once interviewed an architect who was showing me around his sleek and minimal, modernist inspired self-designed house — not a speck of dust to be found to be hiding among the painstakingly detailed junctions. A few years later I happened to be in the house again and noticed that since my last visit the furniture had been completely rearranged. Being interested in how people inhabit spaces after they have been occupied for a while, I asked the architect-owner why. smiling, he answered honestly, “To hide the mistakes from you”, pointing to a large crack in the glassy polished concrete floor, and then to a bit of “dodgy timber detailing” around the stairwell.Read More
A version of this piece was published in Perspective magazine March/April
About 250 million years ago, during the Triassic period, a hot and arid desert that we now know as the often grey and damp island of Ireland rested about 15 to 20 degrees north of the equator — approximately where Sudan is today. In the desert heat, large areas of salt water evaporated, forming a layer of mudstone that would become the first strata upon which the dramatic, undulating topography of the Belfast hills would rise. 150 million years later, sea levels had risen and the calcium rich waters were full of algae known as coccolithophore. When dead their calcite skeletons settled on the seabed, over millions of years forming a seam of limestone that now weaves its way along the slopes of Belfast’s hills.Read More
A version of this piece was published in The Sunday Times
If you were born towards the tail-end of the 1970’s you will have just about made it into what became known as Generation X. In other words, you came of age in the 90’s; you’ll remember where you were when Mandela walked free, what Oasis vs. Blur was all about, Clinton and Lewinsky, Curtained hairstyles, Dr. Martens shoes and where you were when you heard the news about Cobain. Recently you will also have reached another coming-of-age milestone. Your parents likely called it being middle-aged, but after a heavy dose of mid-nineties pre-millennial tension us Gen Xers prefer the more optimistic outlook of seeing the forty-year mark as the start of something new rather than the beginning of a slow downward trajectory towards retirement, daily trips to the golf course and — should the pension have survived —a yearly Mediterranean cruise.Read More
A version of this piece was published in the Irish times
Buying a site and having your own house built is enough of a challenge. Designing the house and doing most of the building work yourself, in your spare time, while living on site, in a cold and damp caravan, with two children and a third on the way, while running your own busy architects practice would test most people. Add to this Kevin McCloud, a Grand Designs camera crew, and an audience of around 3.5 million people, eager to journey along the familiar narrative arc of, big dream, big budget, over budget, no contingency, late finish, happy or unhappy owner. This is the story of the house that Elaine and Micah Jones built — a beautiful, timber clad, open plan, agricultural-barn-inspired ‘long house’; very much at home in the landscape of the gently rolling hills of Drumlins Co. Down.Read More
Published in the Irish Times
In 1947, as the machines that made war, were put to work rebuilding the world they had destroyed, the architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe declared that the maxim for this new age of ‘progress’ would be: “less is more”. God — if he still existed in the shadow of Auschwitz — was to be found in the stark, minimal details of steel, glass and white concrete boxes. The hero of this new age would be the architect; his gospel, an architecture, that, irrespective of context, from Deli to Dublin, would be a new ’international style’ — concrete promises in an age of optimism and progress.Read More
The Titanic Visitor Centre in Belfast is a very popular tourist attraction. Between 2012 - 2015 it attracted 1.9 million visitors — that's more than the population of Northern Ireland. As a piece of architecture it raises all sorts of question; I'll maybe write a separate piece on those. But, I do find the whole concept a little strange. One the one hand, a kind of expensive shiny Disneyland for disaster. On the other, it tells an important story from Belfast's history.Read More