Architecture awards reveal 'hollow valley'
Between high-class domestic work and arts-related public projects lies something of an architectural wasteland
It’s the shortest volume of New Irish Architecture for many years, with just 11 awards or special mentions listed, and may also mark “the last hurrah, at least for a while, of exceptional public and cultural buildings”, in the words of the award-winning architect Keith Williams, one of the assessors for this year’s Architectural Association of Ireland Awards.
Chosen from 76 entries, the latest New Irish Architecture inevitably includes O’Donnell + Tuomey’s new Lyric Theatre in Belfast. It’s a prime example of the cutural genre, according to the Warsaw-born critic Joseph Rykwert, another assessor for the awards. It’s evocative, he writes, of Säynätsalo Town Hall, in Finland, by the legendary architect Alvar Aalto. Although, “it hasn’t got the ease of Säynätsalo”.
According to Williams, the foyer is “slightly like a 1970s university common room” and “rather unfriendly”. He also found it “somewhat unwelcoming as a building” and was “puzzled by the very sharp rake of the auditorium: it seems excessive”.
It was denied the Downes Medal, despite strong support from other members of the jury, notably Michael McGarry, professor of architecture at Queen’s University, Belfast. For him, the Lyric is “a great building, extraordinarily well executed”, with that “sense of edginess” so appropriate for a theatre.
McCullough Mulvin’s Long Room Hub at Trinity College, Dublin was given a special mention instead of an award after the jury concluded that its asymmetrical elevation was “harsh”, when it should be, according to Williams, “sitting there quietly in a good-mannered way, coming to the elegant dinner party that is Trinity”.
Donaghy + Dimond’s extension to a split-level house in Portobello was described as “very clever”, particularly for its timber box-beam doubling as a valley gutter.
McGarry liked LiD Architecture’s “matter-of-fact robust response” to an existing house in Co Leitrim: “Gable wall whipped away and the new room added – no angst.”
A villa-style house on the site of a ruined farmyard in Co Wexford, with a centrally located rooflight, won Steve Larkin Architects an award. “I think it’s unpretentious, very elegant, and extremely well-executed. It’s what you imagine all good houses would be,” writes McGarry. There was also high praise for the “beautiful” drawings.
According to arts consultant Ruairí Ó Cuív, the Lyric was “without doubt the jewel in this year’s awards”. Among “the plethora of extensions and small-scale domestic dwellings” submitted in the wash of the “tsunami” that hit the property sector, he writes, the Lyric was one of the few major public buildings to consider