Teach Annie - May 2017

Teach Annie
Kincasslagh, West Donegal

MacGabhann Architects

2003 – 2006

Photographs – copyright Dennis Gilbert / VIEW Pictures

The owners had had a second home in this part of West Donegal since the 1960s and wanted to continue holidaying there with their children and grandchildren. Their property extended to include almost ten acres. This part of Donegal, one of the most densely populated rural landscapes in Europe, is characterised by a distinct development pattern, a loose network of clusters and single houses or farms. This site was no different. The existing clachan or compound of dwellings, where the earliest building dates from the late 1800s, had expanded over the years. Now the owners gave their old house to one of the family members and built a new one for themselves, with enough space to accommodate visitors, children and grandchildren.

Although the house itself still forms part of the existing cluster, striving to be a good neighbour, it breaks slightly away from the group, turning towards the sea. The owners wanted it to be closer to the water’s edge. “We walked the site together,” says Tarla MacGabhann. “It was a typically windy Donegal day. We gravitated under hillocks, over towards the beach. We all wanted to maintain the view. Not so much to look out, but we also shared an instinct about protection – to be a little more towards the top of the hill so you can see who is coming at you. We selected a place, nestled into a hillock, with a panoramic view from west to east, out to sea and back across the Derryveagh Mountains.

“When you are operating in the landscape, you have very little to respond to,” says MacGabhann. “Liam McCormick understood that. That’s why so many of his great buildings are sculptural: to work from all sides, a bit like a lighthouse. They have to be seen. We didn’t want that here, not to that extant, but the house is visible from many places. When we are designing in the landscape we don’t consider the red line of the property boundary, because the building sits in a much bigger context, within the broader Donegal landscape – the headland and the islands.

“The plan goes into a Y shape to negotiate the hill,” he says. “It’s like you get down on your hunkers, and then nudge your head forward to get views out. Once you find your position, it’s clear what to do. You can imagine it as if we got a currach and turned it upside down for shelter, and added a little flip-up roof for views out. The Douglas fir-lined belvedere was not part of the brief but it became one of their favourite rooms. It takes advantage of views you wouldn’t normally get from a bungalow. It’s not a public space within the house. Access to it is by way of a kind of secret stairs. The grandchildren go up there to play.

“All of our clients look for a fireplace,” he says. “The hearth is the destination within the house. If you feature it internally, it is only sensible to express the chimney externally as well. And it adds to the metaphor. If the belvedere may be likened to the bridge of a trawler, then the chimney is its mast or funnel. There are old stone beacons around the coast, and they are the most solid constructions in the locality. That’s where its heaviness or solidness comes from.

“Of course the form is also inspired by the profile of Mount Errigal,” adds MacGabhann. “And the roof is the same colour as the mountain. We chose the colour for the basaltic colour of the local rocks, to tie the house into the landscape. The walls are wet-dashed, which is typical of coastal areas, because it dries quickly in the wind. We liked the corrugated sheeting for that reason too: it also has a large surface area. At the eaves, with their wide overhangs, rainwater drains straight off the roof, without any gutters or downpipes. Lastly, it is a largish house, so the big scale of the corrugations worked well with that. You read it from a long distance, it is not a drive-by house.”