Burren House by Níall McLaughlin Architects


Anglesey Road is lined with substantial Victorian terraced redbrick houses. Gardens stretch back from the houses to the River Dodder at the back of the site. High granite rubble walls enclose them. The back land space has a serene character of its own. It is a maze of stony garden enclosures. The area is given to flooding. Locals estimate that anything below the ground floor door handles is vulnerable.

The design for this house began with a conversation with the client about a persistent theme in the work of the Californian architect Craig Ellwood. He prepared a significant number of designs based on the idea of a glazed truss surmounting a stone enclosure. The truss would contain a pavilion and the stone enclosure would be organised into rooms and courtyards. This arrangement brings together the two house types explored by Mies Van der Rohe; The Farnsworth House, a vitrine opening out to nature and The Courtyard House, an enclosed world looking back into itself.

The beauty of this form of sectional organisation is that it juxtaposes two opposite principles. The stone enclosure is built up from the ground with load bearing walls; the glazed truss is a frame. The stone enclosure is cloistered and inward looking, belonging among the garden walls. The glazed pavilion is open out to views to the horizon on all sides.

The existing garden walls on the site are made from rough granite rubble walling. We chose to make the new walls from the same granite but to articulate it in different ways. In some places it is rough-faced resin bonded ashlar, in others it is arranged into an openwork screen. The pavilion is made from a steel Virendeel truss that is glazed in two layers. The first is sliding doors and fixed screens protected by external blinds, the second is single fixed glazing with natural linen laminated into the glass. We preferred not to rhetorically express the truss but to allow the layers of glass to express a vitreous quality.

Our intention was that the quality of light in the upper and lower spaces would differ in subtle ways. On the Ground Floor the dominant light would be sidelight brought in off high walls. This would be enhanced by baffled skylight allowing the possibility of strong geometric shadows from time to time. On the upper floor the multiple layers of glass with linen and blinds should produce a softer light with fuzzier outlines.

The whole of the raised pavilion is given over to an extended master bedroom suite for the parents. It contains a study, bedroom, bathroom and small sitting room. The Ground Floor contains guest bedrooms accessed from the hallway. The hall and staircase form the centre of the plan with spaces extending out in all directions. As you enter the building you are invited to move outwards in different directions towards the light. Borrowed light from the upper pavilion illuminates the hallway space from above. The staircase can be read as a pinwheel around which the plan form of the building is organised. The stonewalls are built in ‘L’ shapes in order to be self-bracing. They interlock with each other. This creates a particular spatial arrangement where you move from space to space by sliding between overlapping walls. We hope that this gives a sense of development or unfolding.

The building has a basement, which forms a raised plinth. This has been used to create a flood-proof level and to protect the lower floor from flooding. We use the slope of the site to give us level access at one end through the carport. This arrangement allows us to create a variety of ceiling heights within the Ground Floor. The basement contains a snooker room, plant room, storage and utility rooms and a semi-autonomous bed-sit for short-term guests and the extended family. This room is lit by clerestory from a courtyard.

The habitable rooms in the house are all naturally ventilated using opening windows. On the upper floor, the sliding doors open behind the glass/linen screens. Air circulates between the screens and the inclusion of blinds, between the layers, cut out heat-gain.

The form, material palette and luminosity that we designed for this house are intended to work in that cloudy, showery, maritime environment particular to Dublin. The green glass and crystalline grey granite walls were imagined under Stratus clouds on days that never quite dry out.

Architects: Níall McLaughlin Architects
Location: Dublin, Co. Dublin, Ireland
Area: 490 sqm
Year: 2009
Services Engineer: Buro Happold Consultants Ltd
Structural Engineer: Casey O’Rourke Associates
Quantity Surveyor: Austin Reddy + Co
Main Contractor: McInerney Contracting Dublin Ltd
Photographs: Courtesy of Níall McLaughlin Architects, Nick Kane



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