GRAIGUENAMANAGH (IE) - This private house by Boyd Cody Architects is like a series of frames enclosing a continuous, flowing space.
An hour and a half drive south-west from Dublin city ends at a clearing along a small country road lined with hedgerows. This marks the entry to a courtyard, surrounded by low walls in the manner of a traditional Irish farmyard. At the back of the yard is a wall with a large recess in which the front door is hidden from view.
This is the public face of a new house designed by Boyd Cody Architects. It has little in common with its neighbours, be they traditional or contemporary. It is an abstract composition with none of the features of the archetypal house – no ornate gate, picture window, brick chimney, pitched roof, roll-up garage door. There is no hint of the life within. This is revealed upon entering a 2.1 metre low hallway which offers the first views into courtyards and along the main axis of the house, through a series of frames, each delineated by a strip of fluorescent lighting, exaggerating the perspectival view experienced.
Peter Cody was both architect and client and this house serves as his retreat from city life. It was conceived as five volumes, each dedicated to a particular use – washing, cooking, sleeping, eating, sitting. Each has the same length, but increases in width and height. The volumes are shifted apart in plan, creating an ordered series of rooms with courtyards in between. In section, the roofline is constant while the ground steps down to follow the lay of the land, creating terraces that extend the full width of the site from its highest point at the road down a south-facing hill. The house hugs the land with its low-lying forms. The resulting plan is rigorous, controlled and original, but also flexible, suggesting the possibility of infinite future expansion. This plan, easily adaptable to any site, could form a new typology.
This is a house designed for one, or at most two, but the plan could easily extend to accommodate a family. Its continuous, flowing spaces prescribe a particular way of living in which privacy is subservient to collectivity. Although this particular house remains free of adornment, this architecture could assume the messy affairs of family life without being compromised. From outside, each volume reads like a picture frame – the fields and hills are reflected on the windows and overlaid on the furniture and action within, like a multiple exposure photograph. Viewing through layers of green glass is like looking into a kaleidoscope.
The bathroom occupies a sliver on the highest terrace within the house. It is lit entirely from above. One step down leads into the kitchen, its dimensions the minimum required to house counter-top and workspace. Although narrow, it feels comfortable because its fully-glazed south wall extends into a courtyard, which leads into the dining room. This is a beautifully proportioned space which looks out to rolling meadows across a concrete floored terrace which houses a giant bed of heather. The bedroom, situated between two courtyards, faces the rising sun and is minimally separated with a freestanding cabinet. The sitting room, at 2.7 metres high, opens to the south and offers views east and north. The original concept shows a fireplace, but this would have broken the flow of space. Instead, a simply constructed, freestanding bookcase is at its heart. The elemental acts of living are celebrated – the dimensions of each room seem perfectly in tune with the ascribed function.
According to Peter Cody, the house feels larger at night when the courtyards read as rooms. This is partly due to his radical lighting concept. Lighting in the courtyards provides the primary source of light to the interior spaces. The internal walls and ceilings are free of light fittings, switches, radiators, TVs, electric sockets and curtains. There are no pictures on the walls.
The material palette is limited to polished concrete floor, rendered exterior walls, rendered interior surfaces, double-glazing, untreated Iroko window frames and doors. The details are low key, minimal and disappear to allow space and spatial relationships to predominate. The soft, dove grey colour of the walls and ceiling reinforces the sense of architecture as backdrop. Colour is provided by the sky and the changing colours of the countryside.
Peter Cody worked for Alvaro Siza and one senses the spirit of Portugal and Spain in this house. In hotter climates walled courts and gardens serve to block direct sunlight and create outdoor rooms, often painted white. The courtyard house typology has been adapted to the Irish context. Each courtyard is open to the landscape on one side – the landscape forms the missing wall as such. It allows light, heat, cold, rain and wind to enter the interior world, exaggerating the occupier's experience of the weather and seasons. This is a contemporary response that takes advantage of contemporary technology, such as insulated glass units. The courtyard mediates between interior and exterior, blurring the boundaries between and allowing each room to flow to the outside and grow in size. In time the house will change as the courtyard planting densifies, so that each courtyard forms a defined room in itself.
Although a somewhat unfamiliar presence in the Irish countryside, by deferring to the landscape in its scale and setting, this house is in fact more contextual than its neighbours. Highly controlled, it nonetheless avoids navel gazing by always looking outwards. It draws in the landscape and sky, allowing the architect to gaze at the stars from his bed.
July | 2009 | Ireland | Sarah Cremin