The Irish countryside is divided into parcels of land called townlands. This house is situated in the townland of Killan and is built on a hill on the client’s farm. It overlooks a working farmland of small irregular fields laid out organically across the drumlins; rolling hills formed by glacial deposits.
The house is square in plan, the footprint being approximately 12m x 12m. It takes references from the Casino at Marino, the 18th century Neo-classical house by Architect William Chambers; a continuous reference point for Irish Architecture as our finest example of a house considered as a temple. Though much smaller ‘The Casino’ (small house) is a derivation of Palladio’s Villa Rotunda, built on a hill top outside the city of Vicenza in the mid 16th century, both being square Greek cross plans and both offering four equivalent elevations to the surrounding open landscape. Interestingly, the Villa Rotunda was directly and economically related to the surrounding lands and agriculture, the Casino is not so much.
The house at Killan is a distant country cousin to this aulic grandeur, and departs from the rigorous order and symmetry of its neo-classical precedents. It was the basement plan of the later villa that I became preoccupied by, where the walls are pushed and pulled to facilitate the domestic programme of the downstairs servant staff, while still bearing the dominant order down from above.
The house at Killan is similarly organised for domestic habitual life.
The house is deliberately unharmonious, it adopts a conventional use of datums and alignments, but these are often pragmatically or wilfully broken. I was concerned that if it was tasteful it would be too easily appropriated into culture. I worry that architecture is too readily reduced to consumable imagery, lacking a corporeal body, a parody of itself, ‘innately bourgeois’, and that architects are beholden to a stiff beauty; a pale washed out minimalism of surface thin materiality and retentive restraint. I have a careless mind and in any case careful tasteful work is beyond me, but if the house appears half-finished, it is also so that it remains open to multiple interpretations.
Though the project is largely unembellished, this is as much to do with a strict budget as any aesthetic economy; it is not a minimalism I am looking for in my work. I like awkward absurd things. Hence the outward form of the building, though square in plan, offers four differing figurative elevations. The eccentric location of the chimney ensures that the pyramidal roof alters the character of each elevation. A massive douglas fir timber box gutter is propped along its length by vertical fins at regular centers. There is no need for any of this: it might constitute embellishment. At the north-east corner these timbers form a portico. To the south elevation, the eaves is extended out by 1.1m from the wall, to shade the south elevation and shelter the main patio. This decision in turn necessitates the large cross braced timber supports that are irregularly set out to either side of each first floor windows. The protruding eaves and the height of these supports seem to upset what I would consider ‘tasteful’ proportioning in this elevation particularly.
Constructionally, the house is predominantly a pragmatic stacking of block walls. Major visual axis through the building are maintained, but here and there the walls are pulled or pushed off axis to form the necessary rooms or to create a recess or alcove for a door or bench. The ground floor rooms are relatively open to each other, arranged around a central double height hall. A 450mm step in section across the main east west axis separates the upper from lower quarters. Large oak doors close off the rooms if desired.
The kitchen space is opened up to the south view by long panoramic opening spanned by a 9.5 x 1.5m concrete beam. Pre-cast concrete floor panels bearing on the walls or cast beams carry the upper floors. The walls are plastered in an off-white coloured sand cement floated finish and are left unpainted. Oak joinery and flooring bring some warmth to the masonry.
The first floor is conventional, a long hall is aligned along the north south axis and overlooks the central ground floor hall. It is punctuated at either end by a portrait window. The pyramidal shape of the roof is expressed in the hall.
Robust concrete benches and walls are set out around the house to enclose the stepped or ramped areas of the paths.The chimney is a narrow horizontal slot alluding to a pillbox bunker overlooking the terrain. It is the ‘strong centre’ of the house. The landscaping and construction of outbuildings will continue in the coming years as budget allows.
This project is not beholden to an ideology of craft, it is not about the landscape, it is not about truth, and not expressly about materiality. It does seek to thwart aesthetic convention in so far as the predictive forces of good taste, beauty, style etc., continually return us to the same forms. It contradicts itself in its efforts to mine novelty / eccentricity from convention and precedent, in the balancing of the aspirations of the architect and the aspirations of the client.
It could be read as just the latest product of an ongoing process of living and making work, all the years of hanging around, seeing things, touching things, assimilating things, regurgitating things, making projects. This is the habitual context of any architect, the pieces move around, some are continual, some rare and almost ‘unbidden’, they converge upon the moment of exchange between the design process and the construction. It might lack conceptual and theoretical rigor, but I suspect if artists / architects when asked ; “why this thing?” were to answer straight they might say: ‘I made it, to see what it would be like’. In any case, an architect is by necessity cross disciplinary, not a conceptual artist, not a philosopher, operating somewhere between art and application. To its credit, architecture is not commentary. The next project will be to make this house again, better.
I’m fascinated by objects / buildings - why and how they continue to manifest themselves and renew form. I’m struck by the absurdity of our reliance on a strict belief in quantitative ‘truth’. In a dumb way the house at Killan speaks of breaking this ‘truth’ through the wilful disharmony of its elements. Empirical measure necessarily negates the imagination, the expansive landscape where a millimeter or a second remains infinite. Yet once made, objects display essential observable properties, a circle cannot be a square and so on. Objects come and go, but the substance that constitutes the universe always endures.
The house at Killan in its present manifestation is (I hope) very real. It arrives into its corporeal existence like a drunk guest (late, clumsy, in high spirits) , from a nebula of substance. It could have been any number of things but it turns out it is this thing.
The sheep on the side of the road described by Brian O’ Nolan in The Third Policeman is the beginning and the end of this idea: “Now take a sheep,” the sergeant said. “What is a sheep, only millions of little bits of sheepness whirling around and doing intricate convolutions inside the sheep? What else is it but that?”
Historically it was only the seemingly stable position of our own temporal existence that showed us the world as solid rather than a gaseous nebula of differing states. That stable reality where humans ‘knew’ the world is long gone now (if it ever existed), replaced for many with a state of low level anxiety and lack of agency: gaseous bodies continually reshaped by perceived needs.
The house/object however enjoys a relatively stable position, it endures. Making an idiosyncratic house or object is to project a symbol of oneself into the future, it allows the inhabitant/subject a position from which to identify and position themselves: to ‘know’ the world. Seeking to make durable new forms of heightened ‘objectness’, in art or architecture is a necessary act.
For these reasons the house at Killan exhibits a deliberate awkwardness of form, where the house is considered to be a ‘psychic fortress’ with a strong protected center, around which the square plan acts like a holding apparatus, that is to say the disharmony of particular elements is 'held' by the recognizable square geometry. Pragmatically this translates into the built form as an overlaying of fields of brightness, temperature, air-movement, resonance, viewing angle, so that these things might be experienced more directly.