“We just took the single-storey form of the farmyard,” he says, acknowledging that he was also thinking of the courtyard houses of Eduardo Souto de Moura. “Then we considered how the house would be made, seeking a deep link to the building culture there.” All of the builders were local, coordinated by the client’s brother as main contractor. “We wanted to bring out what they are good at, things that are inherent there, what materials are available to them, their knowledge base in terms of construction.
“The sheds were of rubble with concrete on top. So our ring beam binds it all together too. The timber roof just sits on top. The lime-washed blockwork walls are dumb in a way but the roof is very rich and articulated. Our thermally broken ring beam could do more than hold loose rubble together, so there are no collar ties on the rafters, which are unbraced, as the ring beam absorbs the thrust. It also collects and channels the rainwater. We wanted to pour the concrete in lifts, like the old walls, but our engineer said no, that we wouldn’t be able to control cracking. So I just gave the dimensions of the board marks and left it pretty loose. The joint lines are rough – there are splinters in them from the rough-cut boards.
“The crisp form of the gables is important, however. The contour profile, how it meets the sky. That needed to be really crisp and ordered, where the rest is rough. Even if the budget permitted, I wouldn’t have used natural slates. Fibre cement suits the outline of the form and makes it sharp, knife-edged,” he says.
“I was interested in the idea of making something striking. One way, within a familiar language, is to put weight or height on the corner.” From the courtyard the concrete forms look demure. From outside, however, the striking fins of gables and chimneys look positively stately, with some echoes of the nearby handball alley (while simultaneously, in one of the photographs, there is even a hint of the exoticism of Luis Barragán’s majestic equine villas). “That’s the point of engaging with the local building culture,” says Kennihan, “to draw these kinds of things out. The reverberations exist not where you planned it. You arrive at something not ordinary but somehow still familiar, ultra-modern but yet something that could always have been there.
“Inside the walls is a refined, crisp zone, a sort of order in the wild,” he says. Metaphorically, the courtyard lawn replaces the farmyard of yore, the surrounding wild meadows the farm of his client’s childhood. The Leagaun House walks a fine line between informal architecture and the formal – the Palladian influence on Georgian country houses or the formality of two-storey cottages, symmetrically fronted and with tall windows and a cornice, for example. “It’s not the same as the humble vernacular,” he says. “It’s aspiring to high architecture. The colonnade blows that line of the humble vernacular. When the glass wall is opened up, the threshold is beyond. It makes for a deep shadow, a deeper connection with the outside.”
As the architect’s website puts it, by conversing with familiar types in this way, one can create an affecting architecture without the need for spectacle, allowing buildings to participate in a cultural continuity, expanding upon, and engaging in discourse with, the existing fabric rather than insistently standing apart from it.