Archive for the ‘Lifestyle’ Category

Refurbishment of existing dwelling Henry Street, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh

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The building was stripped back to its original 1974 timber frame which exposed the need for some bracing of the external walls.

The entire external wall is to be lined with plywood and reinsulated plasterboard is also to go on top of this.

Upper level stripped back

Upper level stripped back

Wall bracing and stud partitions

Wall bracing and stud partitions

The entire lower level was opened for development and is to accommodate 3 bedrooms and a bathroom.  Two of the bedrooms are to include ensuite shower rooms and dressing rooms.  The central area at the base of the stairs is to act as a “chill” area.  The chill area and the bedrooms are all to lead out onto the water’s edge.

Lower level stud work and stairwell

Lower level stud work and stairwell


Lower level

Lower level

The upper level is to feature an open plan kitchen, dining, living and study area with the master bedroom at the northern end and a utility at the southern gable.

The existing railings are badly rusted and are to be replaced with stainless steel and glass.  The walkway which forms a roof over the lower level is to be waterproofed and given a non slip coating.   It is hoped to fix the new railings on the outside of the concrete slab to maximise the area.

Existing External railing

Existing External railing


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Architects in Schools update

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We’re getting near to the end of our Architects in Schools programme now, and it’s good to see the Irish Architecture Foundation giving us and Loreto Community School in Milford a feature on their blog An exhibition of the student work (from all the Donegal schools taking part) will be launched in the Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny on 17th April, so after the Easter break the students will be full steam ahead getting their presentations ready.

The problem we set for the students was to develop the village of Milford in such a way that the fabric of the village would be strengthened and the community as a whole would benefit. This was to be achieved by designing facilities and spaces that would encourage people of all ages to meet and mix, while substantially improving the built environment in the village.

The focus was placed on the northern part of the village, where many buildings are in poor condition and where open space is available, and where there is an opportunity to strengthen links between the village and Loreto Community School.

Students were asked to choose from the following selection of building/environmental works:

  • a place for storytelling
  • a pop- up cinema
  • a play and leisure area, including rock face and allotment park
  • works to improve the public face of a building
  • an outdoor music/concert venue
  • a car workshop showcase
  • a dance studio
  • 2 new classrooms (one outdoor) to Loreto Community School
  • an outdoor pop- up performance space at Loreto Community School
  • any better idea.

Materials were to be everyday, recycled or recyclable, and local.

The results will be really interesting and well worth a look, and I’m delighted that the
students were able to follow a design process very similar to what they would go through as a student of architecture, or indeed as a working architect. Research, site selection, site analysis and the social implications of buildings are all areas that we discussed, before any design work took place. I think the students now have a very good idea of how the process works, and of what it’s like to work as part of a team in a creative enterprise.

The exhibition will run from the 17th to the 20th of April at the Regional Cultural Centre and it ties in with other design events taking place there at the same time, so why not pop in and see what you think?





Life as a student

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Student life…

For a while now, I’ve been working with Transition Year pupils at Loreto Community School, Milford as part of the National Architects in Schools Initiative, a programme admirably promoted by the Irish Architecture Foundation to give second level students a taste of what it’s like to work as an architect.

The programme is drawing to an end soon, with an exhibition of student work planned for the Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny on 17th April. The students are going to present their work to assorted guests, teachers and fellow pupils, so it’s a lot like life as a third- level architecture student where there are deadlines, presentations and the dreaded crit seemingly every other week.

A critique, or crit in short, is the focal point of work in the architecture studio, and it’s where students pin their project work up for discussion with tutors and fellow students. ‘Discussion’ is a loose term, as it’s more a mixture of parental advice and firing squad, in my memory mostly firing squad with the parental advice coming afterwards, if at all.

But back to the point. Several of the Loreto students have shown an interest in going on to study architecture at third level, and I’ve been asked quite a few times which Leaving Cert subjects would help most. In my day the best subjects to pick were Art and Physics and I’m sure that hasn’t changed much. In my wisdom I hadn’t studied either of them for the Leaving Cert, hence the firing squads but it’s not impossible to get through without those subjects.

For anybody thinking about studying architecture, it’s a long haul (5 years plus a year out in the middle, with another couple of years of work experience and exams afterwards before qualification as an architect) so it does require a pretty fierce commitment. Every architectural student knows about ‘all nighters’ where a looming project deadline means no sleep for a couple of nights and days. I look back with nostalgia on the hallucinations, dinners being cooked at 6 in the evening and again at 4 in the morning, slicing fingers (my own, mostly) with Stanley knives while making models and the sheer, unrelenting pressure for months on end. Still, I wouldn’t change it for anything because it was really satisfying and, to borrow Bono’s phrase, it changed the shape of my head. Perhaps it’s better if I let Transition Year students discover all that for themselves, though.

This short film by Arbuckle Industries is scarily close to my own experience in college, and I think it’s great viewing for any second- level student wondering what life as an architecture student is really like.

National Architects in Schools Initiative

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We’re delighted to say that since Christmas, we’ve been working with students at Loreto Community School in Milford as part of the National Architects in Schools Initiative.

The Initiative is run by the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF), and the idea is to give students hands- on design experience under the guidance of local architects.

The IAF is working in partnership with the national network of Teachers’ Education Centres to train and resource both architects and teachers. Five Education Centres, in Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Galway and Wexford, are acting as regional hubs for the initiative which takes place in 25 schools.

The programme allows us to steer the students as they analyse their built surroundings and identify areas that they would like to improve, and then to help them come up with imaginative suggestions and solutions.

It’s great to be involved, because I live locally, my wife is from Milford (and teaches in the school) and because our son is a first year student there. I’ve spoken to students in the school a few times in the past about a career in architecture, so I’m familiar enough with the place.

We’re working in the school with Transition Year students and their teacher Mr. Patrick Curley, and we began by asking the students to look at the village of Milford, and in particular how their school is located in relation to the village centre. Now we’re looking at ways of strengthening the links between the school and the centre, in the process developing ideas about how to regenerate disused buildings and spaces in and around Milford. I’m sure we can pull together a lot of good design ideas, and we’ll use the best of the school’s technology and art departments to demonstrate them.

Our role will be to provide the support that will allow the students to draw conclusions from their analysis, and to go on and design the kind of buildings and places they’d like to see in Milford. We hope that they let their imaginations run loose, and push the boundaries as much as they want. We won’t be telling them that their buildings won’t stand up or that they’d cost too much, because what we really want is to develop their vision and encourage their creativity. If they come up with ideas to generate a buzzing, vibrant, colourful Milford, then we’ll all have achieved something. Milford skatepark_edited-2

Ask yourself these 20 questions before you get started on your project!

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How much disruption can you tolerate to extend or renovate your home??

  1. Describe your current home. What do you like about it? What’s missing? What don’t you like? Do you want to change the space you have?
  2. Do you want to build a new home?
  3. Why do you want to build a house or add to or renovate your current home?
  4. What is your lifestyle? Are you at home a great deal? Do you work at home? Do you entertain often?
  5. How much time do you spend in the living areas, bedroom, kitchen, utility space etc.?
  6. How much time and energy are you willing to invest to maintain your home?
  7. If you are thinking of extending, what functions or activities will be housed in the new space?
  8. What kind of spaces do you need, e.g. bedrooms, bigger kitchen, family room, bathrooms, etc?
  9. How many of those spaces do you think you need?
  10. What do you think the extension/ renovation/ new home should look like?
  11. What do you envisage in your new home that your present home lacks?
  12. How much can you realistically afford to spend?
  13. How soon would you like to be settled into your new home or extension? Are there rigid time restraints?
  14. If you are thinking of building a home, do you have a site selected?
  15. Do you have strong ideas about design? What are your design preferences?
  16. Who will be the primary contact with the architect, contractor, and others involved in designing and building your project? (It is good to have one point of contact to prevent confusion and mixed messages)
  17. What qualities are you looking for in an architect?
  18. Is there anyone in the family with a disability or do you envisage staying in the house for a long time, mobility problems of aging may need to be addressed?
  19. Is sustainable development and increased energy efficiency of importance to you?
  20. How much disruption in your life can you tolerate to extend or renovate your home?

With thanks to The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI).

Thoughts on love, home, and the Tugendhat House

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Thoughts on love, home, and the Tugendhat House

I’ve often thought that the words ‘love’ and ‘home’ are the most powerful in the English language, and in my mind at least, they are almost interchangeable. The story of the Tugendhat House in Brno is a common one in pre- World War II central Europe- a wealthy Jewish industrialist hires a renowned architect to design a beautiful family home, but the rise of Hitler forces the family to leave in 1938. Afterwards the house was used by the Nazis and from 1945 by the Russians, and it then had a variety of uses under the local communist leadership until 1989. It was the setting for the talks that led to the formation of the separate Czech and Slovak States in 1993, so it is a building that is drenched in modern history. Tugendhat house 1

It’s also a building that photographs beautifully, thanks to architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s innovative use of space, light, technology and materials. It’s one of the high water marks of modern movement architecture, and I’ve been fascinated by it for a long time.

On Saturday, I went to see the film ‘Haus Tugendhat’ which was showing at the Lighthouse Cinema as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. I knew the story of the house, but what of the family? The film focuses on the children of Herr and Frau Tugendhat, and their memories of and current feelings towards the house.  The family first moved from Czechoslovakia to Switzerland, then Venezuela, then back to Switzerland again but there’s a sense that they are lost. Herr Tugendhat dies without ever seeing the house again, while Frau Tugendhat visits only once, thirty years after the first leaving. They seemed to accept the way things had turned out for them, but the children and grandchildren have a more complicated view of what happened. Some are indifferent, some are angry, and some are philosophical about the loss of the house. What is clear is that, 75 years on, the house continues to play a huge role in their lives.

As any Irish emigrant knows, home takes on a new meaning when seen from afar, especially when the leaving comes from necessity rather than from choice. For me, home represents the emotional pull of family and place, and my house is the centre of gravity, the centre of that pull.

I’ve thought for years that I’d like to visit the Tugendhat House, just fly to Vienna, take the train north to Brno, and afterwards on to Prague. Now, I’m not so sure. The house is an objet d’art, but on viewing this film it seems that for all its beauty and evocation of a turbulent time in European history, its soul has gone. The Tugendhat family do not believe they will ever get the house back in their ownership, and at the moment the house is open to a steady stream of visitors/voyeurs like me. The heartbeat of the house stopped in 1938, and I don’t want to go all the way there to feel that sense of emptiness. It brings home to me more than ever that we architects design buildings for people, for the families that occupy them and give them life, and not just to satisfy our own ego and our creative impulses.


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