Armoured Longboat - Standing vigilant over a northern Fjord in Ireland, the Tuath na Mara Residence, by MacGabhann Architects appears solid as a rock. Zinc clad for resilience, the low slung house blends seamlessly into the heather-covered rocky landscape, its own seams, echoing the strata of surrounding rocks. Contrasting a well hunkered core, the roof line warps and twists upwards like wonderful grey weathered seaweed, revealing the surrounding views to the living areas.
The project's focus around the specifics of the site and putting the personal and particular experiences above the powerful and the public, seeks to create a mood which is meditative instead of tensing or relaxing.
The site is hidden from the public road and is accessed from high ground on the landward side where the first experience is of an elevated view of the site and the sea beyond. Therefore the importance of the roof, or fifth façade, dictated a metal zinc cladding which is suitable for both walls and roof. Said façade, mimicking the seaweed found on the shores beyond. The anthracite colour of the zinc makes the building camouflage itself into the heather landscape.
The roof of both living areas is flipped and directed in opposite directions and towards particular points in the landscape and sunlight. Both living areas are fully glazed, thus embracing nature and developing a conversation with it. By way of contrast the sloped slit windows of the bedrooms act as a counter point to the absolute horizontal of the ocean horizon.
In order to emphasise the fact that the owners were embarking on a holiday each time they entered the house, the step and entry ramp at the front door is disconnected from the building thus making the visitor step over a gap not unlike stepping from the static platform onto a passing train. Thus a physical step from the day to day life into this adventurous house.
The plan form was inspired by the traditional narrow cottage and is orientated towards warm southern sun. It contains three sleeping cells and auxiliary spaces in the middle with two living areas, one at each end, connected by a library. Glazing is relative to the function of the rooms, with the centre bedrooms and auxiliary spaces horizontally glazed with small landscape framing windows, while the end living areas are wide open to the surrounding views.
The roof rain water is drained by way of gargoyles making one aware of the elements even in the lightest of showers, thus reinforcing the connection between inhabitant and nature.
For us, ‘Tuath na Mara’ is wonderfully paradoxical: profoundly contextual and strikingly free-floating.
It is contextual in two senses: Firstly it speaks to the built experience of both our families, being the width of a house on the west coast that has been in the family for generations, and having the name and some of the shape of a house built by a Scottish grandparent (‘Tuath na Mara’ equally well in Scots and Irish Gaelic). Secondly it is rooted in the Donegal landscape, or more precisely in the inter-tidal seascape with which it shares its colour and, very nearly, its location. From the sea, it is virtually invisible.
But it is also free-floating, both in the way it sculpts light internally, and in the way its design is part of a cosmopolitan architectural conversation that is above national boundaries. This global-local interchange marks it out as capable of belonging only to the 21st century.
MacGabhann Architects have made, as the client describes, a wonderful modern escape. With integrated reference to vernacular buildings and the landscape, without compromising aesthetics and impressive modern design, I'm confident that this is not the last we'll hear from them in great residential design.
Project: Tuath Na Mara
Architect: MacGabhann Architects
Team Credits: Tarla MacGabhann, Antoin MacGabhann, Niels Merschbrock & Barry Maguire
Awards: Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, Public Choice Award
Best house 2008 Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, Irish Architecture Awards 2008
Photographic Credits: Dennis Gilbert - VIEW Pictures