The Irish obsession with property and home owning continues, and with it a kind of obvious paradox is emerging. The house is part of public culture yet the house’s role as a refuge from public life and the domain for the pursuit of individual pleasure grows dominant. Society is promoting this, is demanding this, and our motivations are complex – but what is emerging is a kind of civic body that is somewhat disassembled, fractured, sliding slowly apart and one in which the basic rules of humane communication and interaction, if not quite lost, are often hard to find. If the built environment reflects the social cohesion of the body that creates it, then this fracturing is blatantly manifest in the floppy fabric of the towns, cities and countryside of Ireland as it has been developed over the last years. A little house on the south-eastern edge of the inner core of Dublin city, in the densely jig-sawed borough of Ranelagh, somehow seems to subtly and modestly interrupt the trend and picks up on the once heroic idea that built form can instill a positive pressure on individuals to venture outside, and find some good company.
The house is situated on a corner, overlooking a narrow, compressed part of Mountpleasant Avenue that falls North towards the city, and Richmond Place, rising to the East. It is a scenario typical of the historical pattern of Dublin development, where formerly large gardens have been cut and filled with new developments. Across the road, is a tall yellow-bricked, golden gable, solidly built with a tiny white window, a delicate curtain, the only signs of the domestic life inside. Taking the density of the gable as a point of departure, the new house appears as a solid brick extrusion, which then, in response to the sloping ground condition and a wish to capture light and views, has been sliced, layered and rotated up and around, creating overhangs and shelters and cut brick walls to make edges and yards, the baked inside-face of the yellow bricks on tops of walls beautifully revealed as a deep, pure purple. A solid wall is presented to the front, two taut windows to the side and rear – the house appears to have turned back to front. In its primary formal and material moves, the house seems to exploit the difference between interior and exterior, this side and that – but nevertheless underlines that such opposites are, in fact, just the same thing, in different elevations.
You enter past a thin mortar-coloured aluminium gate, along a ramping path, deep under and into the form of the house, unlocking the door but locking yourself into the unfolding spatial sequence of the home. You arrive in-between, at a junction. At this point, all the major functions of the house overlap, it is literally a cross roads, and each direction leads to a different kind of spatial experience, regulated by a visible datum, set at 2.1 meters above the highest ground level. The datum finds expression in a ceiling plane, a linear window head, it defines the perspective of relationship of the kitchen which overlooks the living room. In the bathroom on the ground floor the datum is felt intensely, making a wonderfully compressed, one-man, oak and rubber space, buried back, down, deep in the house. This datum device is not, as one might suppose, monotonous. While a datum is by definition consistent, the floor levels on the interior are not, and are in fact cleverly corrupted as they morph into tables and fireplaces. Nor are the levels of the exterior consistent, and once down in the smooth concrete tray of the living room, your eyes look up and out, you see leaves and eaves and street-signs of life. This begins to bring the body into direct contact with the built space, and by extension, to the neighbourhood beyond, you are always moving ‘there”, in relation to that datum of “here”.
The internal material intensity of the house has been reserved for the back-of-house service areas, luxuriously dressed in oak paneling, with thick oak doors, the ordinary elements of the house being embellished with a kind of giddy grandeur. The oak panels clothe the staircase, extending upwards to a sunny gallery, around which both white bedrooms and rubber-lined bathroom are organised. Light claims this space, the mood changes, above datum, near sky. The enormous scale of the windows to the private bedrooms seems to interrupt the connection between the home and the neighbourhood, as inevitably blinds will be drawn for intimacy. However the house is infused with an emotional, witty intelligence, which seems to be intent on subtly turning typical domestic forms and everyday life back to front and inside out – and putting occupant, home and neighbourhood back together again.
House, Richmond Place, Ranelagh.
Boyd Cody – architects
Paul Tierney – photography
2006 – occupation
This review was originally published in A10 in 2006.