View Point - Architectural Review

Issue 1314
August 2005

Text Paul Finch
Images Nick Kane, Níall McLaughlin Architects

Níall McLaughlin’s house conversion and addition respect and enrich their coastal environment.

The architect for this project, Níall McLaughlin, was given the challenge of producing a building that would match the striking beauty of its site, at Clonakilty, County Cork, on the west coast of Ireland. In their project description, the practice makes reference to the ‘beautiful shards of metamorphic rock that finger out to the sea from the base of the small cliffs'; the new building element of the project, which adds to the conversion of a boathouse and the coastguard’s cottage, produces a built shard of its own, distinctive but responsive to the geological forms in which it sits.

The conversion elements of the project are simple and effective, providing a master bedroom and bathroom in the cottage, and guest rooms in the boathouse. The new extension for living/dining is reached via a glazed cloister, the whole based round a quiet courtyard. The experience of each element of the design, from arrival to sitting at the dining table, is a journey in miniature, with vistas of sea and coast powerful, but not ubiquitous, and complemented by domestic interior views.

The temptation to provide maximum views from all points at all times has been wisely resisted, and the cliché of the big picture window in the extension has al so been avoided, in favour of a pair of separated framed views, one from the living area and one from the dining area immediately next to the courtyard. Responding to light has been a successful driver for the project, given that the relatively sheltered location of the existing buildings, on a south-east facing site, has resulted in a lack of sunlight. As the architect puts it, ‘We have designed the extension  to capture the last scraps of sun as it declines behind the hill in the early evening’. The new extension more than makes up for this, producing a totality in which comfort, aspect, light and geographical drama are synthesised to great effect.

This is an architectural project where success has been achieved by treating each potential difficulty as a constructive opportunity. Rather than a series of tactical responses, which end up compromising the diagram of framed views and calculated routes, the building has a feeling of serenity and completeness that belie the design effort required to achieve such an outcome.

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