Skylon isn’t just a hotel along the northern route into Dublin. It’s also a pop up restaurant along Southbank London which for now has popped out of its usual home on the third floor of Royal Festival Hall right onto the terrace along the embankment. The sharp lines and abstract planes of this mid 20th century Grade I Listed Corbu-on-Söderström building are strengthened by a cobalt blue sky. Part of the D+D restaurant group, alfresco Skylon is all about informal European plates, people watching and soaking up those Vitamin D rays.
Dr McCormick said in 1978, “I like to go and absorb the characteristics of the site, to steep myself in the quality and the character of the place and pick up some element which will give me a clue for the building.” The rugged landscape was clearly the clue to designing St Michael’s.
In place of the traditional cruciform layout, St Michael’s is an innovative fan shape, physically drawing the congregation together into one democratic space. The architect was particularly adept at capturing light in unexpected ways. Cue an idiosyncratic wall-to-window ratio and relationship. For example, a cluster of small windows filled with stained glass by artist Helen Moloney on the northeast elevation contrasts with great expanses of white rendered wall on the south elevation.
The single storey flat roofed residence next door to the church is surely by Liam McCormick as well. Its simple form and punched window openings, a reinterpretation of the vernacular cottage, would make a good prototype for contemporary dwellings. In the early 21st century MacGabhann Architects are keeping the torch lit | carrying the mantle | upholding the tradition of thoughtful design in County Donegal.
The paradox. His architecture is so legible yet he defies classification. His work is half a century old yet timeless. His influence is widespread although he wasn’t especially prolific. His oeuvre is so Italian but he still inspired a generation of Irish architects. His personal rhetoric has universal relevance. Born in 1906, Carlo Scarpa lived, studied and worked in and around Venice all his life. Two of his projects in Verona, though, demonstrate his true brilliance. One, an augmentation of a bank. The other, a reawakening of a castle museum. Both reveal his sensitivity towards materials and textures as well as his ability to create memorable forms and spaces. It’s time to place him in the pantheon.
Of Banca Popolare, Carlo’s 1970s block is contextual in massing if not design. Or at least not detail. He was clearly unafraid of decoration. At a 1973 lecture, Carlo argued, “Why gilding? Gilding is not done in order to waste or squander money. For that matter, we wear rings of gold, not iron. Gold shines also in the dark, even in pitch darkness, if there is the slightest ray of light… So you go for precious metal, for what is rightly called tinsel. But if the form is good, if the objective results are developed in such a way that there is nothing to object to critically, this works to the advantage of the end result.” The gilding on Banca Popolare is subtly applied to just the base and capitals of the clerestory columns.
Stepping back into Piazza Nogara, taking in the full breadth of the building, it becomes apparent that Carlo is really presenting a reinvention of the palazzo façade. Looking beyond the vitrine windows and Frank Lloyd Wright style oeils de boeuf, the elevational plane is classically divided into a base, middle and clerestory. The bold proportions and monumental scale may channel Charles Rennie Mackintosh but little wonder Anne Davey Orr, former Publisher and Editor of Ulster Architect, remarks, “I’m sure Carlo Scarpa was influenced by his 16th century Venetian predecessor Andrea Palladio.” Banca Popolare is both emphatic and empathetic. And more contextual than it would first seem.
One motif that Carlo made his own is what could be called a “strings course” – parallel stepped lines, when sectioned forming ziggurats. It pops up everywhere in a multiplicity of forms: coffer, cornice, cutaway, parapet, plinth, porch. At Banca, he employs the motif as a giant T shaped corbel, aesthetically, if not functionally, supporting the vitrine windows.
“Thus his first major project was the castle at Verona,” explains conservation architect John O’Connell who is busy working in Beijing, London, Paris and Ireland. “It was very badly bombed by the Allies! He applied his very severe and practical approach whereby ‘The past is the past and if it has disappeared can now be rebuilt’. All or most museums of the western world have been inspired by his work but in particular this project. Carlo was the master of the whole museum world post World War II. He’d a very rigorous approach towards presentation and conservation employing simple and very high quality interventions.” Carlo’s new building elements assimilated in the architecture of Castelvecchio may have mellowed with age, but they still represent a revolution in the perception and display of artworks. His use of polished concrete for interiors is a forerunner to the early 21st century popularity of this material.
King Vittorio Emanuele III opened the 14th century castle turned museum in 1926. But it wasn’t until half a century later that the building’s potential was truly realised. While other Modernists jettisoned the past, Carlo’s work from the postwar era to the late 1970s venerated and transformed it. And Castelvecchio was no exception. He maintained the structure’s original integrity whilst developing an unfolding sequence of spaces and voids and vistas and objects, ceaselessly theatrical, masterful, virtuosic, populated with asymmetric incident. There’s an endless play between past and present, architecture and art.
Historical and aesthetic clarity is achieved through the coexistence of overlaying fragments of construction, selective excavation and creative demolition. This approach reaches a climax in the setting of the statue of Cangrande I Delia Scala. Frank Lloyd Wright’s “destruction of the room as a box” is taken to its ultimate conclusion. Who else but Carlo Scarpa would envisage “construction of the void as a gallery”? Demolishing the end bay of the Napoleonic wing in the courtyard, he dissolves corners to position the statue on a cantilevered platform. This complex spatial organisation thrillingly delivers visibility above and below ramparts and across and around boardwalks. Such movement – there is nothing static about Cangrande on his horse. The outer Roman tiles on the roof above are pared back to expose an underlay of green copper. Implied delamination of existing solid form leads to a richly layered materiality throughout the building.
“Stones at the top of the building can continue upwards a little, and I would like them to vibrate in the light of the sky,” Carlo lectured. “Then the sky can enter in so many ways and I would almost obtain a ‘quivering of form’, like the Ancients. And so, with a sunset grey or red, whatever it will be, I will feel their light penetrating within. In this case, the reference is to Andrea Palladio who laid his stones at a distance of two and a half or three centimetres with gaps remaining. This is what I discovered one day and what caused me to explain, ‘Good Lord, how beautiful, how expressive it is, what meaning it gives!’” An exaggeration of this effect is the medieval butterfly parapet of Castelvecchio which carves the sunrise grey or blue over Verona.
John recalls, “He enjoyed a small but very high status practice and would have met all the ‘Stars’ from Le Corbusier to Louis Kahn.” Early on in his career John met Louis, describing him as charming, self effacing, very humble. “Carlo was Professor of Architecture in Venice. This role allowed him to think everything out first, to distil ideas through academia. There is a distinct geometry to his work. He was the successor to Josef Hoffmann.”
Pantheon placement continuing, “Carlo’s pupil Gae Aulenti was a superb architect. Her greatest work is the Quai D’Orsay in Paris. Some say she was appointed because her views on life were in line with the then President Mitterrand. It is excellent – well conceived and executed. The National Art Museum project in Barcelona is commanding but weak in parts. Not her fault as the building is a late 19th century bombastic structure and the collections are mixed or of varied quality! A must, and to be seen.”
How would John O’Connell sum up Carlo Scarpa? “He sought and I believe achieved a way of detailing and using modern materials so that they conveyed the value and spiritual quality one finds in Italy with the sense of craftmanship so vital and valued in the heroic architecture of Europe from Ancient Greek times to the pre industrial world.” International architect Alfred Cochrane, currently hot in demand from Beirut to Rome, is another admirer: “Carlo Scarpa! A genius! A god in the Seventies architecture firmament.” Pantheon placement complete.
Buenos Aires is sometimes compared to Paris, a touch tenuously at times, but together they’ve had a similarly lucky escape. Le Corbusier planned to bulldoze both cities to create modernist utopias. Thankfully, his plans ended up in the dustbin. Instead of the French connection, we’d like to compare Buenos Aires to Savannah. Wait – there are plenty of things in common, honest. Well, ok, four. Firstly, splendid isolation of the geographical kind. One is encircled by Pampas; the other, swamps. Secondly, they’re both laid out like chessboards, streets intersecting at right angles to define square blocks between them. Thirdly, they both have a Pink House. Only Buenos Aires’ is called Casa Rosado. Fourthly, cemeteries top the tourist trail. Recoleta in BA, Bonaventure in SA. Cities of the dead. Theme parks of morbidity. Celebratory sepulchres. Legends written in stone. Recoleta Cemetery, like Buenos Aires, sprawls rather than soars: a linear visual feast of marble mausolea. A labyrinthic architectural encyclopaedia of ways to be buried. A necropolis within the metropolis. Drop dead gorgeous.
Once the orchard of the adjoining startlingly white Basílica Nuestra Señora del Pilar, the land was designated the city’s first public cemetery in 1822. Two women cry out from the immortalised myriad: one so famous she has a musical named after her; the other, a more intimate tale to tell. The understated yet much sought after tomb of Evita (Eva Perón née Duarte), mother of the nation. And that of the beloved daughter of Porteños, Liliana Crociati. She died in an avalanche on her honeymoon in Austria in 1970. Her parents reconstructed her bedroom in an art nouveau gothic grave. A bronze statue of Liliana in her wedding dress, with her beloved pet dog by her side, guards the entrance. Nostalgia as an art form. Evita’s darling poodle was called Canela. So brief a dream.
“The rich man in his castle; the poor man at his gate; God made them high and lowly; and ordered their estate…” penned Mrs Alexander wistfully gazing beyond the river running by, through the tall trees in the green wood to the purple headed Benbulben, Europe’s only table top mountain. Little did the Bishop of Derry and Archbishop of Armagh’s wife know her hymn, first published in 1848 to raise dosh for deaf mutes (stolen children), would be an early victim of political correctness. Her Anglo Irish outlook on social immobility grated with later sensibilities so the third verse about a destined housing hierarchy disappeared. Being about Markree Castle the poor man really didn’t have too bad a time at the Francis Goodwin designed Gothic gatelodge, a piece of castle itself. Fortunately Once in Royal David’s City remains intact. The name of the castle has evolved over the last five centuries from Mercury, Marcia, Markea, Markrea and finally to Markree.
Cecil Frances Alexander wasn’t the only guest to wax lyrical. William Butler Yeats recalled, “We have always looked on the Coopers and Markree Castle as greater than the Royal Family and Buckingham Palace.” He wrote in Running to Paradise, “Poor men have grown to be rich men; and rich men grown to be poor again.” Nowt so queer as fate. Once owned by the McDonagh clan, in 1666 the land was presented to Edward Cooper, a Cromwellian soldier from Norfolk, as a reward for his role in the Siege of Limerick. Defeated Irish chieftain Conor O’Brien’s widow Red Mary married Coronet Cooper and her two sons took the surname of their stepfather. Later, the Coopers opposed the Act of Union so no dukedom, earldom or even baronetcy was bestowed upon them. A fiefdom of 36,000 acres, generating an annual income of £10,000 by 1758, must have acted as some comfort. Any doubts of lineage and loyalty are dispelled by the stained glass window of the staircase hall. Twenty generations of Coopers are iconised between Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The enlargement and embellishment of the house finally ended five years shy of the 20th century, commemorated in the date stone over the dining room French doors. In 1902 Bryan Cooper sold 30,000 acres under the Land Acts, at the same closing the basement. A seven year Indian summer was over. Benign decline in line with the times had begun.
“Markree was occupied by the Free State troops during the Civil War causing damage,” Charles reveals. “Bryan Cooper’s eldest son Francis retired in 1930 and by 1950 the family had retreated to the east wing leaving the rest of the castle empty. The majority of the remaining contents were sold off. In 1988 my older brother put Markree on the market. I’ve worked in the hotel industry at home and abroad since I was 16. My wife Mary and I decided to buy Markree with the help of large bank loans and investments from family and friends. We converted it into a country house hotel. Most of the interior needed to be restored. The roof was completely refurbished due to extensive dry rot. My daughter Patricia now manages the hotel.” The top lit billiard room suspended over the porte cochère where nothing stirs remains untouched, resembling Féau & Cie’s Parisian workshop on Rue Poncelet, fit for St Simeon Stylites (“I want to be alone.”) The family live in converted and extended castellated estate buildings. Somewhere between the castle and the gate.
Phew. Still no modern wing repro’d up to the nines. Markree remains 100 percent castle. For Pringle clad budding Rory McIlroys there are six golf courses in driving range, so to speak, for afternoon tee. Thankfully, the castle has stuck to what it does best, afternoon tea. Sleek and new golf courses: once the delight of the Irish economy; now the bane of the Irish demesne. The early 17th century siege wall of a fortress built by the McDonaghs was uncovered in the basement during restoration work. But the sash windows of the basement hold more of a clue to the current building’s true origins. Hard as it is to believe, Markree is or rather was a five bay 18th century house with a three bay breakfront façade and one bay on either side of a garden front bow. So far, so Georgian. That’s till Francis Johnston came on the scene. Joshua Cooper commissioned the architect of Charleville Forest and Killeen Castle to engulf and transform the house into a castle of the early medieval revival symmetrical kind. Not content, in 1866 his son Edward Cooper employed the Edinburgh architect James Maitland Wardrop to continue the transformation, dropping a consonant from gothick to gothic in the process. Wardrop’s output includes the Jacobaronial Kinnordy Castle and Lochinch Castle, part Balmoral part Glamis (drop the second vowel to pronounce correctly).
The result? An encyclopaedic use of castellation, a visual feast, a rare explosion, a gallant gallimaufry. Here goes. Archivolts; bartizans; batement windows (no that’s not a typo); batters; colonettes; conical roofs; crenellations; flying buttresses and octahedral roofs (witch’s hat type, keep up); foiled quarters; battlemented servants’ quarters; machiolation; parapets; skew tables (no not sure either); six minarets crowning the billiard room, demarking a mecca of pleasure; strapwork; tracery; transoms and mullions; vaults and voussoirs. An encyclopaedic mind is required to imbue these words with meaning. Back to the late and last Knight of Glin who, ever wearing his erudition lightly, inn quotable resonant lucidity observed in his latter years, “Markree Castle, an 18th century house transformed into a castle, leaves in no doubt the competence, richness and variety of Irish country house architecture as a whole.”
It may have taken a medley of architects, but oh boy, is the approach to the inner sanctums of the castle processional. Little wonder W B Yeats considered Markree regal. A sumptuous sequence of artistic compositions begins with the grand sweep of the staircase, tipping the ground at basement level before rising in steep ascent to the piano nobile. The double height staircase hall leads to a small hallway on one level. To one side, a cast iron radiator has been recast as a sarcophagus. This accordion-like alternating suppression and expansion of space heightens (yes pun) the sense of ancestral occasion, frozen music, a monument of its own magnificence. Tahdah! Into the double height staircase hall. Things simply can’t get any more exciting, can they? Oh yes – the triple height galleried hall. Francis Johnston at his hammerbeam roofed best. Each generation made their mark on Markree and, unabashed by eclecticism, untroubled by budget, unhindered by neighbours, unperturbed by vacillation, the twinned fruity Corinthian columns and compartmentalised ceiling of the adjoining cushioned sitting room render it neoclassical. Great rooms, beautiful lofty things, where travelled men, women and little childer find content or joy in excited reverie.
The dining room is a suite of three spaces good enough for Grace of Monaco to wander through. Calm hues of hammered gold, fleshy pink, off white and pale duck egg blue do little to dampen the Continental exuberance of the gold enamelled and mirrored interior installed by Edward Cooper in the 1830s. The result? An encyclopaedic use of applied decoration, a visual feast, a rare explosion, a gallant gallimaufry. Here goes. Acanthus leaves; beading; borders; bows; cornicing; coronets; crowns; egg and dart; festoons; flowers; friezes; fruit; heraldry; masks; mouldings; panels; pilasters; plaques; well fed putti – angels in the architecture; ribbons; rosettes; scrolls; shields; swags; tails; wreaths and reeds. Time for dinner amidst the surrounds of this visual feast. Courgette, mushroom and garlic amuse bouche. Whiskey bread. Ardsalagh goats’ cheese mousse with beetroot textures and lemon basil pesto. Buttermilk onion rings, always onion rings. Cockles from the sands of Lissadell, buttered samphire, cauliflower purée and sauce vierge. Pistachio (flavour of the moment) and olive oil cake, roasted strawberries and rhubarb sorbet. It’s a riot of colour and taste, Jackson Pollock in an Irish country garden.
Double doors sliding into the thickness of the dividing walls in the dining room are panelled like geometric jigsaws. Circles and squares, quadrant pieces and segmental cutouts. Jib doors allow the dado rail to continue uninterrupted. The French doors open onto an external staircase leading down to two acres of formal gardens rich in memory glorified, silent in the breathless starlit air. The staircase was the last addition to Markree and it sure did go out with a bang. It firmly belongs to the Belfast Castle outdoor staircase school of “more is more”. A piece of architecture itself, a central bay containing an unglazed Tudorbethan window is looped in the loops as they turn and turn in wildering whirls. Dartboard windows flank each side of the staircase at basement level.
In Ephemera W B Yeats ponders, “‘Ah do not mourn,’ he said; ‘That we are tired, for other loves await us; hate on and love through unrepining hours. Before us lies eternity; our souls are love, and a continual farewell.’” Markree, now old and grey, exudes an air of permanence in an ephemeral age. Centuries of building, from castle to house to castle to hotel, have merged into authenticity, melded by the patina of age: one form hewn from rock, one colour, one character, one craft, oneness. (1) The staircase hall remains just that. (2) Sinéad O’Connor (Sinéad O’Connor is the new Sinéad O’Connor) can still be taken to church in the traditional sanctity of the velvet curtained chapel. (3) The kitchen has been promoted to adjoin the new dining room. (4) The dining room rebranded the Knockmuldowney Restaurant was the drawing room. (5) The library stocks fewer books as the sitting room. (6) The same ghosts peer over the galleried hall to the family portraits below. (7) Drinks continue to be served in the sitting room now it’s a bar. And don’t forget the porte cochère, still there, it’s found a humbler use as a smoking room. These days it’s more upper case Regal. At the extremity of the garden front, just before the lowest wing tapers into the garden wall, a gothic arched outbuilding is now the stately home of two cats.
All 32 bedrooms are decorated in vibrant shades and furnished with dark Victorian pieces – such antique joy. The six largest are individually named. On the second floor, The Mrs Alexander Room is 370 square feet, the size of a one bedroom flat in London. It would give Temple House’s Half Acre Bedroom a run for its money. Also on the second floor, The Charles Kingsley Room has two great windows open to the south. The second floor W B Yeats Room is a hexagonal shape, pushing into the garden front bow window. Further along the garden front second floor corridor is The Bryan Cooper Room. On the first floor, The Coronet Cooper Room over the bar has a rectangular bay window and is accessed via its own serpentine stairs sliced through the thickness of the internal wall. The Johnny Cash Room (the singer stayed here in the 1990s) over the dining room is semicircular shaped. It too has its own stairs sliced through the wall.
An illuminated address presented by the tenants of Markree to Charles Cooper’s great uncle when he attained his majority hangs in the bar. It harks back to a more hat tugging, reverential era, reflecting a social order recognisable to Mrs Alexander: “Address and presentation to Edward Francis P Cooper Esq, Markree Castle, 1933. We the undersigned employees on your estate beg your acceptance of our best congratulations on the attainment of your majority and we wish you long and happy enjoyment of the position you now occupy as owner of the Markree property. We are all aware of the interest you take in Markree, and as most of us experienced very great kindness at the hand of your late father Major B R Cooper, than whom no better employer could be. We have every confidence in thinking that you will be equally good and feel that it will be a similar pleasure to serve you. We take this opportunity of expressing our deep appreciation of the many acts of kindness that we have already received from yourself and every member of your family. In commemoration of this occasion and a slight token of our feelings, we trust you will accept this small gift that we now offer with our best wishes for your welfare in the future, at the same time hoping you will be long spared to spend many happy days at Markree.” In September 2014, Markree Castle was advertised for sale in Country Life for sale for €3,125,000.
And the winner is… The Audi Urban Future Award 2012 ceremony was held with great aplomb in Istanbul amidst the frenzy of its first Design Biennale. A Champagne fuelled boat party breezily sailed past the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and Ottoman palaces, glistening in the last days of summer; past the cliff faces of flats clinging onto narrow streets with lingering cats on every corner, resplendent in the heat; en route to a manmade island on the Bosphorus. Architecture’s answer to the Oscars, Audi knows how to throw a party.
Earlier on dry land, Lavender’s Blue enjoyed the Adhocracy exhibition of the Istanbul Biennale. Curated by Milan based architect and Domus editor in chief Joseph Grima, it was held in the historic Galata Greek School. Adhocracy celebrated the move from bureaucracy to innovation. An emphasis of process over product was another theme. Oh brave new world! Our favourite of the 60 projects was a model of an oh so contemporary villa. A pure distillation of Manser meets Meier. So relevant. So now. Who’s the architect? Some young Turk from the Golden Horn who knows his Golden Ratio?
Er, no. It’s a 1:333 scale remake of self taught Italian architect Giancarlo de Carlo’s villa for the Villaggio Matteotti exhibition. Dated 1970. “Architecture is too important to leave to the architects,” he once quipped. “Thus with the rise of middle class professionalism, architecture was driven into the realm of specialisation, where only the problems of ‘how’ were relevant, as the problems of ‘why’ were assumed to have been resolved once and for all.” Process versus product again. De Carlo cites the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul as one of only a few buildings which possess perfect elegance and the power to enthral everybody.
Back to the party. Five hipper than thou architectural practices were invited to compete for the prestigious €100,000 prize. Each represented their home megalopolis. A 2030 vision (2020 vision plus 10?) or urban mobility anchored in its locale yet capable of global application set the scene.
Each of the architects examined mobility as a broad spectrum embracing not just transportation and accessibility but also connectivity, energy, the environment and economics. The brief included the role of the car in wider urban mobility.
Audi Urban Future Initiative, a powerhouse of thinking on future mobility, was launched in 2010. It aims to influence the transition towards a new era of mobility. A multifaceted programme establishes the dialogue between the interconnectedness of mobility, architecture and urban development. The Audi Urban Future Award, one of the Initiative’s facets, addresses a pivotal period in the evolution of the 21st century metropolis. The next 18 years – a time for cities to grow and grow up.
The goal of the 2012 Award is to stimulate the development of proposals that identify opportunities for sustainable transformative interventions in each of the five metropolises. A wide range of questions are addressed. What kinds of paradigm shifts need to take place? Who or what drives change? What technological innovations will play a role? How can existing infrastructure be adapted to a rapidly evolving urbanscape? What new infrastructure needs to be designed to increase sustainability?
The architects’ Vorsprung durch Technik was as dynamic as the new Audi A8. Coordinated human interaction maintains the economic miracle of Mumbai. Pearl River Delta is deconstructed and reconstructed. In Boswash the American dream is reinvented. São Paulo dances to the rhythm of newfound energy. Citizens reclaim the streets in Istanbul.
Despite the disparity of the five regions, common threads emerge. Space is an extremely scarce resource in megacities. The automobile must be adapted to deal with it efficiently. As housing becomes more expensive, sharing transport economically gains appeal. Seamless intermodal mobility is the sustainable future.
Lights, cameras, action! Americans Höweler + Yoon scooped the prize. Their ambitious architecture and planning idea ‘Shareway’, revolutionising the commute, won over the hearts and minds of the jury. At its core is a merging of private and public transport by a mobility platform. This holistically combines existing infrastructure with intelligent traffic flows and networks.
A new social consensus is heralded. A community focus takes priority over individual ownership. It means reorganising and integrating all modes of transport, yes even the Audi (or any other car), in an optimised high technology constantly flowing mobility aorta. The ‘Bundle’ is born. Over three million people can be connected between the ‘burbs and the ‘bright lights’ via the Bundle.
A superhub located in Newark, New Jersey, displaces New York City as the capital of Boswash. Prepare for the battle of the housewives. Prada handbags at dawn. Even more fundamentally in a material world, ownership is traded for sharing. Höweler + Yoon’s new American Dream is of freedom and opportunity. Urban shape is transformed and access to mobility is the ultimate metric of city living.
Urban theorist John Thackara, chair of the interdisciplinary jury of the Audi Urban Future Award 2012, explains the choice of winner. “In our view Höweler + Yoon implemented the task most concretely. They included a high potential for implementation of ideas, at least in part, and in the competitive set timescale to 2030. The jury appreciated the thorough analysis of the social and economic context. Their concept includes both social and technical innovation on a system wide level. The jury was also impressed by the architectural quality of the implementation.”
The car shaped the city. Now it’s the turn of the city to shape the car. Corbu’s machine for living has gone mobile (Vers Une Architecture est maintenant Vers la Mode de Vie). Over to the winners for the last words: “This has been a privilege and an incredible journey. Research in our own backyard! The issues are bigger than architecture. This initiative has the potential to actually move forward with realistic ideas discourse between city planning, architecture and automotive technology. All these factors are important for a deeper understanding of design.”