Niall McLaughlin 40 Under 40 cover  

40 Under 40

The use of lighting, both natural and artificial, to create texture within an interior is deftly handled within McLaughlin’s work. Concealed roof lights and glass screens set up layers to diffuse and reflect light, casting ever changing patterns across walls and floors. Throughout his work, a point is made of allowing the occupant to sense the quality of light changing during the day as the patterns and colours in the room gradually change.

“We are less interested in the overall expression of technology by bolts, junctions and gaskets, more in the overall presence of a space. In particular, the way in which materials alter space by modulating light, combining it, diffusing it, storing it, reflecting it, dulling it or changing its speed.”

A love of materials – “We work with anything from gold to Daz” – and knowledge of the production process means that all McLaughlin’s work is beautifully produced, whether the intricate joinery in the London Carmelite monastery or the carefully devised pattern of individually cast paving stones in a garden. He works with the same small group of craftsmen and builders, discussing all his designs with them.

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Chapel and Sacristy, Carmelite Monastery

1992, Kensington, London, UK

The sacristy is intended as a place of passage, of stillness and meditation for the priest to prepare before going through to the altar. McLaughlin’s calm interior reflects this. The flowing planes of the ceiling in the sacristy fold over each other, concealing two roof lights that fill the room with a soft light reflected from the white surfaces. A celestial presence is suggested by the shaft of light cast by the narrower roof-light which the priest must cross on his way to the chapel, a device inspired by Carmelite monk Fra Filippo Lippi’s painting of the Annunciation in which a loggia separates the Virgin and the angel. Materials are kept very plain so that the colourful vestments can resonate within the room.

The adjoining chapel is intended to be experienced in the context of the garden. Objects in the chapel are based on pure geometric forms – circle, cube, cone – in contrast to the freer realm of the garden, representing paradise. The twelve chairs around the walls allude to the Last Supper, their backs at shoulder-height to evoke human presence. The tabernacle containing the consecrated host is a solid oak cube that splits in two to reveal a gold-lined cylinder. Joinery and furniture are the work of Westside Workshops in Bath, England.

The Shack

1996, Northamptonshire, UK

The Shack is a pond-side hide for photographer Gina Glover, who specialises in pictures of insects, but includes a sauna for her partner and a den-cum-bedroom for their daughter to keep the rest of the family happy.

Built in the grounds of a former World War II airbase, the hide takes its cues from flying. The plywood and fibre-glass roof canopy of broken wing forms suggests metallic plumage, while scales of polycarbonate and perforated metal extend out over the water. A long boom with a camera on the end skims over the surface of the pond, which McLaughlin likes to think of as “a reconnaissance flight from base bringing back images from remote landscapes.”

A blind wall at the rear of the building captures light entering the shack from the pond, while layers of fins and concealed roof-lights cast ever-changing light patterns along its screen-like surface.

Garden and House Remodelling

1995, London, UK

An earlier project for the same photographer shows McLaughlin’s commitment to craftsmanship. A beautifully executed wooden window has back-to-back seats facing both into and away from the house to form the window sill. Intricate layers of silk blinds,wooden shutters and sliding folding windows allow a multitude of relationships between the room and the garden. A wooden pergola encourages creepers to grow into a canopy above, and paving designed and cast by the architects, sends a beautiful pattern out across the yard. At the end of the garden, McLaughlin has positioned a silver light box, visible from the front door of the house, a linking element through the building. Sandblasted glass is mounted onto the front and laminated with silver-plated strips. Tiny gaps between the ingots glow with light from behind. As the light changes, so does the silver wall, and throughout the year it builds up a natural layer of patination, changing colour from silver through yellows to black. The family polishes the wall every Easter.

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