Prosperous, Co Kildare
Steven Connolly and Gráinne Daly of Dot Architecture and Alan Connolly of Dathanna Architecture
2008 - 2010
Photographs copyright Paul Tierney, courtesy of the architects
In August 2008 three unprecedented flash floods in quick succession left a 1980s bungalow in rural Kildare under one metre of water. The owners, devastated by the loss of their home, decided to radically remodel the house for different needs a generation on, while also making it safe from possible future floods. They had three young architects in the family to whom they could entrust the task.
Raising the existing floor level was essential to minimise the dwelling’s vulnerability. Another wish was to preserve the mature, 25-year-old landscape setting. The solution was to create an elevated, gravelled plinth on which to site the new house, raised above the gardens, back and front. The original raft foundations were reused to minimise costs, while the architects, in a critique of the traditional Irish bungalow, also sought to eliminate the dark central corridor typical of the type.
External walls were cut down to cill level, back-filled, and used as retaining walls to create a new raised ground floor level, 1.2m above the original. Salvaged building material was re-used as fill. A lower ground floor level was retained by tanking the long bedroom leg of the original ground floor. New accommodation for cooking and dining was added behind.
Three dark, enigmatic, cuboid forms, topped by roofs with interesting ‘hats’, sit tight on the site, connected by a wide hall which acts as a hinge in the plan. Each is set apart by their functions of sleeping, living and dining, the latter pair essentially each a single room with clever subtleties added. Bedrooms are half-up and half-down: three below and two above – all of them double bedrooms so the grown-up family can stay over – as well as a study. The upper spaces are all top-lit, internally, from a long bright skylight, a broad ‘light chimney’, with a cut in the floor that also illuminates the lower passageway.
The scale of the new dwelling is deceptive, appearing at first glance as a bungalow, then unfolding internally to disclose the two floors held within the long sleeping block and unexpected 4m-high, pyramidal ceiling heights elsewhere. “We wanted to create a hard object within a soft, crunchy, porous landscape, and to manipulate the scale,” says Steven Connolly. “The form was important. We wanted a hard crust and soft, white, reflective spaces inside.
“We squeezed the first floor in,“ he says. “The upper bedroom floor is supported on cranked steel beams. The whole house is built on a steel frame with a few cranked beams. The frame went up in three days. The chimney and roof lights, too, are framed out in steel, and drained by internal gutters within the depth of the cut-roof rafters. The windows are deliberately big – 1.5m x 2.25m, with 185mm Iroko styles. A smaller frame would have changed the proportion of the windows. Many of the windows are also doors.”
What about the colour? “That was the hardest decision,” he says. “Mum wanted white. Dad said, ‘Ye guys know what’ll work.’ It’s a self-coloured render with mica, a little fleck of it, included – like a mirror ball. It’s a custom colour, based on lots of samples we ordered. We wanted a dark colour to enhance the landscape, to feel grounded within it.”
The fibre cement roof plays an important role in the definition of scale in this dwelling, creating a heavy, monolithic cap to the rendered base. Because the roof slopes are at different pitches, every slate had to be hand-trimmed to ensure the datum lines ran through across the different slopes while also maintaining the required minimum weatherproofing head lap. This is not hard to do, but needs forethought. The hip lines are deliberately expressed to achieve a seamless roof surface with a concealed counter-flashing, while gutters are recessed and downpipes enclosed within the external walls.
Minimalistic. Monolithic. Magic.