House - Boyd Cody Architects

Arguably, in our recent domestic past, the street facade of an Irish persons home was seen as a critical projection of his or her status in society. Over the last ten years however, the back lands of Dublin have adopted this role, as more and more dwellers, unwilling or unable to move house, release the invisible equity on their homes, augment and extend existing properties, resulting in the occupation of once private gardens with new public rooms or independent dwellings. BoydCody have spent almost four years and some twenty projects operating in this domestic territory, most recently completing a new brick mews house in the settled, seaside suburb of Monsktown. Not an addition grafted to an existing structure, it is BoydCodys’ first intact building, their first work which does not require life support from an established home in order to survive.

As if determined to prove this, the brick house stands apart from its immediate boundaries becoming a house in the round, with four distinct elevations. While adjacent properties built as villas in the rear of other gardens are attempting to assert a kind of simplistic individuality and greedily mark territory, this house, is quietly radical in its approach, locking itself back into its context. In the absence of a commonly shared modern domestic language which society can understand as meaning “house”, the architects have eschewed any notions of nostalgia or sentiment and have resisted pressures to make a house that looks “authentic”. They have, as a result, made a building that establishes more profound and meaningful, spatial relationships to the local context, both at ground and first floor level. On entering past the solid gate, it becomes apparent, in fact, that all domestic signs and signals have been eliminated; there is no projection of interior to the exterior in orthodox terms, all elements of “decoration” have been removed, there are no flashings, no gutters, just richly patterned brick walls and vast, deep holes lined in matt anodised aluminium.

The consistency of scale of these voids – irrespective of room function inside – makes it challenging at first to establish a natural sequence of entrance and circulation. This is not ultimately disorientating; rather, it lends a certain spatial charge to the exterior, because at ground level, passage is possible through many of the aluminium and glass voids, there is a sense that the site is rushing through this lower floor. Space is borrowed, territory un-claimed. The rigorous, lean and distilled cubic form belies an intense spatial flow between interior and exterior at a house-wide level, also encouraging the necessarily compartmentalised sleeping rooms to somehow communicate with each other via storey height doors, and then beyond to other rooms around secret sunny corners and vertically through the cut in the floor to the living rooms above.

If the architects have managed to ground a home to site and context without necessarily conforming to preconceived notions of what the club entry requirements for belonging are, the upper interior of the house is a variation on this idea. Conceived as a “backdrop for living”, “a Miesian universal space”[1] this ambition can be difficult to realise in any home conceived, detailed and negotiated into existence through the rigorous process of controlled and “total” architectural design and production. In 1900 Adolf Loos warned against the idea of “total design” in his parable of “The Poor Little Rich Man”, where the man was unable to accept birthday gifts for fear they would upset the balance of the architectural design, and where furnishings needed to be rearranged according to architectural blueprints.[2] In this brick house however, any potential for the architectural design to restrict patterns of occupancy has been dissipated by the powerful infiltration and occupation of the rooms by light – uncontrollable, unpredictable and totally random in its colour and intensity.

Light is living in this house. Even during a sudden Dublin downpour, with skies dead-dark, the interior hummed with a kind of constant, chanting light. It seemed too as if light was an enquiring neighbour, paying unexpected, welcome visits, raising the tone, departing again. The contiguous relationship of the rooms is such that light beckons from adjacent rooms through glass walls and open doors. The result is that the upper floor syncopates with the climatic environment and one is aware of the pattern of the sun and showers at all times. The elegant architectural precision of the interior rooms – brick and aluminium directly swapped for plaster and iroko – strikes an appropriate balance with the unpredictable external environment. Thus the rooms feel restful, in equilibrium, offering clues for occupation, but not resentful of individual desire. The house succeeds in offering the occupant a way to belong, with belongings, to both the immediate house and to the environment beyond. This is particularly potent, as she has relocated from the main house. Rather than apologetically squatting in her former back garden however, the brick house confidently recognises, extends and reinterprets her historical and emotional ties in her local, physical and spatial environment. Indeed, this seems to be a constant in the work of BodyCody. That which is familiar is re-presented. That which is everyday made monumental. Depending, of course, on the weather.

[1] Dermot Boyd, April 6th 2004

[2] Adolf Loos “The Poor Little Rich Man” from Spoken into The Void Collected Essays of Adolf Loos 1897-1900 Oppositions Books, 1982, pp124-127


 House, Monkstown.

Boyd Cody – architects

Paul Tierney– photography

All images courtesy / copyright of photographers and architects.

This review was originally published in RIBA Journal 2004.