This is a most unusual farmhouse by Irish standards. “The client wanted to come back into the farm, to build a house in the landscape,” says O’Brien. “That takes a rare farmer, because it means if you want to sell one or the other, you can’t. It’s very counterintuitive. The driveway is almost 1km long. But they wanted to be secluded within the rolling hills, with a view over the land. Our discussions were about the translation of farmyards and other things we both liked from our rural backgrounds.”
Placed on a south-facing slope, the house is square in plan – approximately 12m x 12m – and deliberately unharmonious. “I worry that architecture is too readily reduced to consumable imagery,” says O’Brien, “and that architects are beholden to a stiff beauty – a pale, washed-out minimalism of surface-thin materiality and retentive restraint. I have a careless mind and, in any case, careful, tasteful work is beyond me. But if the house appears half-finished, it is also so that it remains open to multiple interpretations.” At different moments in this undulating landscape it gives the impression of leaning in, of heading off, sometimes in motion on a heavy sea, at other times resting at anchor.
“I like awkward absurd things,” says O’Brien. Hence, although square in plan, the farmhouse offers four differing figurative elevations. The eccentric location of the rectangular chimney ensures that the pyramidal roof alters the character of each elevation. A massive Douglas fir box gutter is propped along its length by vertical fins at regular centres. At the north-east corner these timbers form a portico. To the south, the eaves is extended 1.1m from the wall to shade and shelter the patio. This in turn necessitates the large timber braces that are irregularly set out to either side of the first floor windows.
Although it is immaculately made, O’Brien insists that this project “is not beholden to an ideology of craft. It is not about the landscape. It is not about truth.And not expressly about materiality. It uses readily available un-precious materials, such as fair-faced block, fibre cement slates, and concrete not overly specified. It deploys these ‘agricultural’ materials unapologetically and seeks to thwart aesthetic convention,” he says.
Genius finds its own way.