Architecture couple's inspired take on old and new


What Niall McCullough and Valerie Mulvin have been trying to do is to give Irish architecture "balls", according to Dutch architect Wiel Arets. But then, Arets is a big fan; he was on the jury that awarded them the AAI's Downes Medal in 1996.

That was for the Black Church Print Studio in Temple Bar, one of the fruits of Group 91's framework plan for Dublin's "cultural quarter". And indeed, as Arets says, it was the Temple Bar project that gave McCullough Mulvin an international reputation.

In his foreword to a book on their work over the past decade, he makes the very interesting point about architecture being such a "personal phenomenon" that there are very few architectural couples who establish a lifelong intellectual partnership.

They are an unusual couple anyway - Niall larger-than-life and Valerie diminutive. Who does what is a matter of speculation, with various theories being advanced about how the partnership works and where the quirkily inspired ideas originate.

McCullough Mulvin Architects are certainly getting noticed abroad. Their refurbishment and extension of Waterford City Library, for example, has been featured in the Architectural Review (AR) and Bauwelt, a leading German magazine.

The AR has also carried illustrated pieces on the Niland Art Gallery in Sligo (another old-meets-new project) and the cedar-clad Virus Reference Laboratory at UCD while Sligo Courthouse (old-meets-new again) has been written up in Germany.

Sligo County Council's new "one-stop-shop" in Tubercurry has been noted in both German and Japanese magazines, while Donegal County Council's civic offices in Dungloe made it in Italy as did the Ussher Library at TCD (done with KMD).

Domus, the leading Italian architectural magazine, even headed its piece "La Nuova Dublino". But McCullough and Mulvin know more than most architects about old Dublin, and they have taken great care to integrate new buildings into its fabric.

In an essay on their work, Raymund Ryan writes that they "incorporate historical fragments and memory of the past" into a collage, or "architecture of accretion", that honours context as well as "the complexity and nuance of real situations".

He goes on: "In their now many projects throughout Ireland, and in their important critical texts, Niall McCullough and Valerie Mulvin invent new uses for old structures and invent new structures that allow the old be re-understood and re-admired."

According to Ryan, such architecture "balances the ideal and the eccentric, and enjoys the layered reality of place, things, associations and space".

Work: McCullough Mulvin Architects is published by Anne Street Press and distributed by Gandon Editions, phone 021-4770830 or e-mail