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Front of house: T O B Architect, Ireland

Inspired by a Neoclassical folly in the suburbs of Dublin, T O B Architect’s Killan farmhouse in the Irish countryside adds to a growing portfolio of subtly subversive domestic architecture 

T O B Architect has been shortlisted for the AR Emerging Architecture awards 2018

In the 18th century, the Scottish-Swedish architect William Chambers built a perfect Neoclassical folly in the gardens of Marino House; not in Mediterranean Italy, but on the north-eastern outskirts of Dublin. But what appears a simple, single-room casino (the diminutive form of casa, or a small house, rather than a tacky gambling establishment), just 15m square and with a single window on each facade, is in fact a complex illusion disguising three floors and 16 rooms. 

The Casino at Marino is one of the most significant Neoclassical buildings in Ireland, based on the symmetrical Greek cross plan of Palladio’s Villa Rotonda, similarly situated on a hilltop with each of the four elevations commanding views of, and from, the surrounding landscape. The Casino may appear as an exotic alien in Dublin’s suburbs, but T O B Architect’s reimagination of this Italianate émigré in the rolling green townlands of County Cavan, 100km north of the city, feels distinctly at home. 

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Source: Aisling McCoy

The Killan house learns most from the Casino’s basement plan, where the rigid formal order of the upper floors is indiscriminately pushed, pulled and adjusted to best fit the requirements of the servants who inhabited it. The house is a compact 12m square like its predecessor, and the overarching tripartite grid inspired by the Casino’s rigid Neoclassical symmetry is subverted and pliant to accommodate domestic life. The eastern corner is clipped to shelter the front entrance, and walls pulled back and forward to accommodate storage alcoves, benches or recessed doors.

T O B Architect’s founder Thomas O’Brien is originally from a small town in Tipperary, and is now based in Dublin following his architectural training at UCD. The influence of O’Brien’s previous colleague Tomás de Paor is clearly visible in the Killan house’s gently hipped slate roof, determinedly off-centre; its solidity and stoicism, its quiet eccentricity. ‘I’d admit I try to make “awkward” looking buildings, free of being too tasteful,’ O’Brien confesses. ‘It is best when the facade is a surprise.’ The sober grey concrete block exterior is embellished solely by an almost sculpturally oversized Douglas fir gutter supported by a striation of timber batons, the overhanging eaves that shade the southern elevation propped by cross-braced timbers. 

Tob drawings

Tob drawings

Click to download

The Killan house is ‘deliberately unharmonious’, appearing almost half-finished, as if the joiners and bricklayers could return, tools in hand, any minute. Indeed, the house is a work in progress, to be joined by further outbuildings as budget allows, but the effect is also deliberate to ‘remain open to multiple interpretations’, like a ruin-in-waiting.

The Killan house is the natural progression from a portfolio of small but consistently ambitious work, from a thatched folly overlooking the sea on the northern coast of Ireland, to a series of quietly subversive domestic projects such as the compellingly ad hoc corrugated steel and timber extension to the K&K House and beautiful aesthetic economy of the delicately trussed Knockraha house in County Cork.

‘Ireland is a new country and an architectural culture distinct to Ireland is still a relatively young idea,’ O’Brien explains. ‘There are some internationally celebrated firms such as Grafton Architects, but they are relatively unknown among the general population. Architecture as a commonly understood cultural subject is still in its infancy.’

A mc 0516 print

Killan Farmhouse by T O B Architect

Source: Aisling McCoy

Architect: T O B Architect

Photographs: Aisling McCoy

This piece is featured in AR November issue on Emerging Architecture and the Netherlands – click here to purchase your copy today

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