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AAI Awards 2009

3 Houses, Cong

The site for these houses, in a coniferous forest of 150 acres planted over fifty years by the clients’ family, has a southerly aspect overlooking Lough Corrib.

The clients are sisters.  They came to us separately and one after another.  Their brief was to be sited beside each other, to be concealed from one another, and to incorporate the wonderful views in the design of the houses.  A network of towpaths was requested to link the houses, and their children.

Each house (titled by the initial of its client) is placed according to the contours of its site.  The houses are angled parallel to the contours and sit into them.  The form of each house is generated by those contours, integrating it with the ground.

The pitched-roof section is integral to the design.  It runs parallel with the slope of the site and reduces the scale.  It gives a variety and generosity of height in the upper-level rooms.  It enables a clerestory-window arrangement at its higher side and frames the views at its lower side.  This frame is accentuated by the overhanging eaves.

The use of natural light is also integral to the project.  The southerly face of each house is very open.  Small windows are made through the north walls.  Clerestory windows allow light in from above.  Solar-gain and thermal mass are maximised.

The materials used are stone, timber and copper.  The heavy north walls are made with a local Silurian limestone in random-rubble courses.  The timber panels and windows are made and framed in iroko on the lighter south side.  Glulam timbers are used to order the spaces and relate to the rhythm of the trees outside.  The roofs are finished in untreated copper seamed sheeting.  The houses were built by a local builder with a tradition and passion for the craft of making.  The project took nine years to complete.


PAPA: I thought, what a great commission – three houses for three sisters.

KOIVISTO: Has everybody read the text?

WANG: It’s really quite a funny story. These three sisters came to the architect, one after another. Their brief was to be sited beside each other, but also to be concealed from one another.

KOIVISTO: I must say, I completely overlooked this project the first time around; the second time I looked, I thought it was kind of well done; and then the third time I thought that I really like this project.  It’s very low-key architecture, visually and every other way, but I like it.

PAPA: They are really more like lodges in their design and setting.  The actual spaces don’t look that domestic; they are more like settings for a shooting party, or maybe a James Bond villain’s lair.

ROBINSON: I think this could be beautiful, given its setting by Lough Corrib.  I’m sure that’s an absolutely lovely site, and they seem to be very sensitively patched into the woodland there.

KOIVISTO: They are real family houses.  Look at the large seating areas and dining tables for everyone to gather around. I would like to feel that my grandchildren could inherit these houses!

WANG: I don’t think they spared any expense, either on the buildings or on the panelling. I mean you look at the details, the wood...

PAPA: The panelling is fantastic.

KOIVISTO: To me there’s a certain timeless quality to this architecture. I can’t help it. I really like it.

HASSETT: Yes there is a timeless quality to it. They don’t look like houses to me, though. They look more like a retreat centre, or something of that nature.

ROBINSON: They are just like modern lodges in a woodland setting should be.

KOIVISTO: It took nine years to make the project, by the way.

WANG: Maybe the sisters never agreed.