One of the central concerns when building within an historical setting is that of authenticity. Without resorting to Ruskinian dogma, we might still acknowledge that much of the value of ancient buildings lies not just in their historic evidence of past cultures and technologies, but more in the felt presence of the lives that have been lived within them and the reflections of the human condition that we see in their slow decay. So much of contemporary intervention into historic buildings removes these emotive effects by restructuring, insulating, cladding etc. in a well-intentioned effort to bring them up to contemporary performance standards. In short, intervention often sacrifices authenticity and therefore emotive connection with historic buildings leaving only a hollow image of their original character.
In this project for a house among the ruins of a farmstead we explore the idea of authenticity through an embrace of the existing ruin and the creation of a new structure whose organization, form and material resonate across many characteristics of the local building culture. We aimed to retain original authenticity while creating a new authenticity.
Within the island of Ireland, one of the most distinctive and ubiquitous building typologies is the rural farmstead. Small scale farming is pervasive across the country and the built manifestation of this are the numerous simple vernacular farmhouses surrounded by a series of pitch roofed agricultural buildings that form one or more enclosed courtyards. These yards are a response to the often inclement weather, providing a sheltered microclimate for work. The buildings and yards tend to accumulate incrementally over generations with new structures added to accommodate new uses while following the same logic. The building type continues to be a relevant point of reference because these buildings continue to be lived in, used and expanded forming an essential part of the local culture of building.
To the north of the capital Dublin, the landscape is dotted with a rich tradition of these buildings, many are still lived in though quite a few are in a ruined state, slowly disappearing into suburbia. The site for this project, a ruined farmhouse and barns that had been in the family since the 1800’s, offered us the opportunity to explore a potential future for these buildings by securing their future while making a new house. The layout of the existing structures was typical of the type with a series of simple volumes arranged around several yards that provide shelter from the coastal weather. The initial client brief was to renovate the existing house – but we enjoyed the buildings as ruins. In their cob and stone walls, in the broken windows and weathered shutters, in the cast iron stove and stable hitches, in the egg boxes and broken books we could see the lives of those who had lived here before and could feel the slow passage of time. To renovate would be to erase the evocative joy of this ruin. We decided instead to add to the family of buildings the way it had always been done in the past, with the addition of a single simple building creating a series of enclosed gardens both between and within the existing structures.
We are interested in making architecture that can communicate to our clients as well as to the community of people around the buildings, not just to an initiated few. In order to achieve this, the project ‘speaks’ a contemporary but local language that people understand intuitively as the backdrop of their daily lives. The form and materials are intended to resonate with the surrounding buildings. The construction is in simple block walls washed with mortar internally and all of the openings are glazed doors allowing one to move freely between new rooms and garden rooms. The simple pitched roof externally conceals a variety of ‘tented’ ceilings internally giving each room a unique character and playfulness.
The overall effect is of a conversation between buildings through time, making a house that is simultaneously old and new, type and variant, local and universal, familiar and uncanny. The history and culture of the family and their farmstead are now secured to be given to the next generation.