Ireland’s Houses of the Year: the winning designs

From an origami house in Ranelagh to a glass box in Kilkenny: RIAI winning houses

Yesterday evening Ireland's leading architects, and many of their happy clients, gathered at Dublin's Mansion House for the 28th RIAI annual awards. The awards given by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland applaud architecture, from healthcare to sustainability, commercial to conservation, across 14 categories. One of the most eagerly-awaited categories is the House of the Year.

From a timber and glass box rising from the ruins of an old stone farmhouse by Boyd Cody Architects, to an ODOS Architects origami-puzzle of a house on a tight site near Dublin's city centre there are, as it turns out, not one but five houses of the year, as the awards wisely recognise the virtues of new architecture throughout Ireland's distinctive regions.

"I think what's great about the regional awards is that it's emphasising that architects don't just work in urban areas," says RIAI president, Carole Pollard. "A lot are on rural sites, and when you look at them, and then look at the standard issue houses in the countryside, you see what it means to work with an architect who responds to a site, who puts a house in its context."

It’s a distinction that goes two ways according to Pollard. “These buildings are designed so that the people living in the house have a relationship with the landscape, as does the house to the people going by. Some people think that designing a house is just combining a collection of rooms under a roof,” she says. “All these go way beyond that.”


Looking at the winning designs, this includes some extravagant gestures but also could be down to something as simple as the positioning of a window to exclude some views and make the most of others, or getting the proportions of a room just right.

This year’s five regional winners are: Dublin winner, Price’s Lane, the origami puzzle by ODOS Architects; Leinster winner, Bleach Road in Kilkenny by Boyd Cody Architects; Connacht winner, Kilsallagh by Aughey O’Flaherty Architects; Munster winner, Teeroneer by Boyd Cody Architects, and Ulster winner, Tireighter Cairn by Broadstone Architects.

The houses also demonstrate how an architect’s input can help with negotiating planning and building control. “Architects are the only construction professionals that are trained in design,” says Pollard. “They’re able to interpret the site and its restrictions. Sometimes having a really restricted site is a challenge for an architect, and they love that,” she says. The payoff is definitely worth it. “We wake up each day and are amazed that this is our family home,” say Padraig and Bernadette Ó Mianáin, of their compelling contemporary house, Tireighter Cairn.

There were 14,000 votes cast in the People's Choice Award, which this year went to Taylor Architects, in association with Richard Murphy, for the O'Donoghue Centre for drama, theatre and performance at NUI Galway. The runners up were Henry J Lyons Architects for the Central Bank of Ireland, North Wall Quay; and my personal favourite, Kane Architects' Child's Play Tower – a marvellous playhouse for the architect's six-year old daughter, built with the help of his brother, celebrated woodturner Emmet Kane.

An exhibition of the winning houses will tour Ireland later this summer, and keep an eye out for the RIAI’s Walks and Talks guided tours of the winning houses. See and for more.

Dublin House of the Year

Autumn Duncan and Ian Dempsey’s house is down a narrow lane in Ranelagh, Dublin 6. Barely noticeable from the roadway, and only if you were to pause while passing, you might briefly wonder what goes on behind the sleek white panelled gates at street level. This is the house ODOS Architects created for its clients on a tight site, delivering a three-bedroom home that includes off-street parking.

“I love that you can drive the car right in,” says Autumn in her comments for the award. “I had always wanted a wonderful façade, though we’re quite hidden here.” Instead of that impossible imposing frontage, ODOS gave the couple plenty of internal drama.

Once through those gates, the main living area is located upstairs, where the kitchen looks down to the family car parked safely within, and up to the master bedroom, where the family dog likes to snooze, and also out to the back garden. Clever lighting, plenty of glass and a spot-on orientation mean the walls are always alive with patterns of light and shade.

The two further bedrooms are downstairs; these are quiet spaces, with light coming from the garden a step above. They’re currently guest rooms, but are also flexible enough to accommodate the family’s changing needs. This future-proofing is something Pollard says a good architect can bring to a project. “You’ll end up with property that’s worth more in the long run,” she says. “If you’ve got children, your needs will change over time, and architects know that your house needs to be doing different things for you over the years. Good design is often less expensive than you think it will be,” she adds.

Autumn agrees, adding that the house worked out about a quarter less expensive than other properties they had seen in the area while house-hunting. “And it’s so nice to get something you made that suits your life,” she adds.

Getting the house you want is partly about having the right architect, but it’s also key to know what you want, and be able to communicate how you want to live. Ian and Autumn worked on a full outline of wants and needs before they started their project, and this has played a huge part in them now having the house of their dreams.

“The top level list of the things we wanted: how many bedrooms, parking, [and] light was important,” says Ian. “I work long hours during the week. In the longer months I wanted to pull in as much light as possible; and in the winter to have interesting lighting so it feels nice when you’re in the house in the dark.”

Built-in LED strips make the walls glow, and there’s more to love everywhere you look. A funky, spidery light fitting in the living room was designed by Autumn, and this room houses another of the couple’s favourite features – a built-in bar. Even though the living room is up a level from the kitchen, you can look across the open central space, and in the summer open the windows too, so there’s plenty of communication between those cooking and those relaxing.

The house is deceptively tall so the main bedroom on the top floor has a lovely feeling of being in the trees. Another special treat is the roof garden that opens off this space. “It’s surprising in Dublin,” says Autumn, “when space is at such a premium, that there aren’t more of these clever solutions to getting your outdoor fix, while still having somewhere to park your car. This one is sheltered by walls just high enough to give some privacy, while still letting in light.”

The couple took the idea for an outdoor space off the bedroom from a New York apartment Ian had rented while living there. An American by birth, Autumn also had her own ideas, including having a large fridge-freezer and a waste-disposal unit. “Bringing ideas you’ve found, discovered or dreamed of from your life experiences around the world is one of the most wonderful things about working with the right architect to design your own home,” she says.