The weekend of 17th-19th Oct saw the 2014 installment of Open House Dublin (OHD), a glorious, weekend-long annual celebration of architecture in the capital, and across the wider Dublin area, now in its 9th year.
It’s always a privilege to visit great architecture and great buildings, particularly those not usually open to the public. But even more of a treat to be shown around them by architects, owners and other experts and enthusiasts. This has become my favourite weekend of the entire year. This year I experienced it from both sides, so to speak, spending Saturday leading a couple of tours for OHD, then on Sunday, back as regular visitor myself, following other guides. My own Saturday tours were 2 walks focusing on historic architecture and changes in the old city centre from the late 1600s to mid-1700s (a crucial period in the development of Dublin) around the Castle area, and specifically the transition from the dense warren-like mass of a typical medieval city, to an early modern, Enlightenment street-scape, framed with Georgian architecture.
Everyone works voluntarily on OHD in order to keep all the tours free, so we had quite big groups. The visitors who attended seemed to enjoy and get a lot out of it, which of course is always a relief.
But on Sunday it was also wonderful to be a regular visitor myself, (enjoying other people do the talking!) I managed, just about, to squeeze three separate, excellent tours in this afternoon, all in the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown (DLR) area, the area I grew up.
My mum, who still lives locally, joined me for the first two. We started at a private house between Dalkey and Killiney, re-designed by a young architect for his own parents. The house, no Gatsby type mansion, was medium-sized but enjoyed a superb, highly fortunate location, looking south-west to the old Dalkey hillside quarry on one side and North East over Dun Laoighaire and Dublin Bay on the other. Jealousy-inducing views as you can imagine, but still in fact a fairly small site that presented its own peculiar challenges for re-design. Our guide had dealt with these impressively well.
But the next tour, and standout highlight of the day was the huge new public library, that now towers over the seafront of Dun Laoghaire itself: called the lexicon.
This is the biggest public building project undertaken in the DLR area for over a hundred years, and (my mother would not forgive me for not mentioning) has not been financed or completed without a degree of dissent and controversy- something like €39 million spent – in a town suffering from housing shortage and depressed retail sector- on this library, with its children’s reading and art rooms, meeting areas, café and a small theatre, all housed in one huge wedge shaped building, perched on an extraordinary site.
I’m just a simple art historian- not an architectural critic at all- happy enough speaking about historic architecture from the medieval period up to about the 1950s, but badly out of my depth on contemporary architecture. So I won’t try. Far better anyway to let this amazing new building speak for itself. Whatever about external consideration, this new library triumphs as a piece of architectural design.
Savour, and behold, the new DRL lexicon public library…
Along with smaller more intimate reading, study and meeting spaces, in many parts of this building is a great sense of scale and of spectacle.
the entire landscape around the library has been reshaped and re-landscaped. The hope is that this will provide a new route through the town and towards the seaside and the adjoining park.
Senior architect for DLR, Bob Hannan, shows visitors around today.
Obviously in public buildings, durability of materials is a key concern. It’s early days, but aesthetically at least the mix of warm timbers and concrete is highly successful.
I loved the see-through views and the reveals of different angles and views.
In such a favoured location, framing the amazing views around the town and the coast was naturally a priority, while at the same time keeping enough space for the many thousands of books and for reading spaces. Again, the architects seem to have got the balance right. Here, below, looking SE, towards Sandycove and the iconic 40 Foot
Regular readers of this blog will already know of a general enthusiasm for maps. No surprise then, even in a building full of wonderful details and materials, this map in poured, molded concrete, of DL harbo,r was a special pleasure today.
Above; a deeply, deeply unsuccessful attempt to use the panorama view on a smartphone, to capture the real panorama around DL harbour and some of the library itself.
Below: the library also houses within its huge interior, a small theatre, with retractable, flexible seating (above, left) for 80-90 people.
Below: there are also exhibition spaces. Below, art by Wendy Judge, and below that, by Gary Coyle.
Above, notes books, from artist Gary Coyle, documenting is daily swims in the nearby 40 Foot.
Below: this house below will be converted into craft studios and craft exhibition and retail space. The house also has a symbolic importance. It is fro this building that Marconi sent his first telegraph signals.
Below, the cafe, looking out onto the same lawn.
Well done to the design team at DRL and well done OHD for coordinating such amazing events together again this year. Happy birthday also, to one architect friend of mine. Regards from Dublin!
Thanks for reading everyone.