“Because these were holiday homes, intended for short occupancy, the separation of public and private areas could be slightly different from normal,” says Horan. “We could allow for a level of interaction between occupants that couldn’t exist in suburbia. The outdoor spaces are layered – private, less private and the communal area – with the motor car kept out of sight, at the edges of the site, so the sense of isolation is not disturbed.”
The architectural forms are essentially traditional, to relate to the housing patterns already on the island, but were partly inspired by a cluster of holiday cottages Horan had designed in the mid-’80s at Colla Pier in Schull, Co Cork. “They were the precursor,” he says, “a contemporary take on the vernacular – white walls, steeply pitched roofs with asymmetric gables, and grouped following the contours.
“We developed that idea further at Arranmore, using a simple palette of few materials – white walls, blue-black fibre-cement slated roofs, timber windows and terracotta floors – to develop a particular architectural language. We wanted to use these traditional elements in a contemporary way, with clean lines, without overhangs or projections, fascias or bargeboards – all of which required careful consideration of the detailing, particularly for such an exposed site.”
Crisp aluminium slate trims, commonly used throughout the west of Ireland, facilitated the sharp but secure eaves detail. Perhaps the most striking architectural feature is the four-square window, an element of global interest to architects at the time, inspired in large part by the experiments of Aldo Rossi, in particular, but also others, including O M Ungers, Richard Meier and, in Ireland, Ronnie Tallon.
“We took a traditional vernacular element – the cottage window – and increased its proportions substantially to create a new effect and greatly enhance the interior light,” says Horan, “because traditional cottages tend to be a bit dark and holiday makers want to experience the relaxed openness associated with contemporary living.”
Horan, a Gaeilgeoir who gained his Irish on a more southerly Aran island, Inis Mór, recalls being a bit worried when the co-op informed the architects that the islanders would build the scheme themselves by direct labour under guidance from FÁS. “But they delivered magnificently,” he says. “The lines are perfect. It was an enjoyable experience. Above all, however, what shines through is the dignity of the vernacular – the dignity of the client – that sense of calm, the inherent wisdom of them knowing what to do on their own island.”