A Block in Temple Bar
Our design did not propose to contrast new with old, nor was it divided between historical conservation and contemporary design interventions. Rather, our intention was to make a case study of the codependent interaction of layers of time in the living present. Working slowly on this project, through the processes of research, survey, design, demolition, repair, reuse, building, and rebuilding, set us on a course by which we still steer today — the belief that the task of architecture is continuity and renewal.
While the Irish Film Centre was under construction, we worked together with a group of friends and colleagues, Group 91, on a cooperative competition entry for the Framework Development Plan for Temple Bar. This area of Dublin had been scheduled for demolition and comprehensive redevelopment, and the competition brief set out an alternative proposition for its regeneration as a cultural quarter.
In some ways the design of the film center as a "cultural cluster" served as a pilot project for the larger-scale urban development strategy. The projects proposed in the development plan, which was based on the consolidation of the existing character and the conservation of the urban fabric, included the National Photographic Archive and the Gallery of Photography on Meeting House Square.
Their pivotal location in Temple Bar suggested the need for both buildings to have a strong presence. The archive is a heavy structure packed with dark spaces for the conservation, storage, and exhibition of 250,000 light-sensitive glass plate negatives. Lecture rooms and studio spaces sit on top of the structural arch. The requirement to exclude daylight led to the heavily modeled facade, while the brickwork relates to the material quality of Dublin's buildings.
The gallery, which includes exhibition space, darkrooms, and a bookstore, is a north-facing building of white stone, with a large window in the front facade as its central organizing element. Hinged and sliding screens in the gallery spaces can be positioned to double the available wall-hanging space for larger exhibitions, making the rooms flexible for a varied program of changing exhibitions.
The large-scale "shutter-lens" window mechanism operates as a screen for films and photographs that are projected from the National Photographic Archive across the square. The two buildings are joined by a beam of light projected from a metal box in the archive to the window screen of the gallery.
The outdoor projections, which were inspired by Cinema Paradiso and by outdoor movie screenings we had seen in Venice and Barcelona, have become a regular part of summer nights in Temple Bar. Watching The Birds in the open air with seagulls wheeling overhead adds to the scary drama of Hitchcock's scenario.
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Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey established their partnership, O'Donnell + Tuomey Architects, in Dublin, Ireland, in 1988. The practice has developed an international reputation for cultural and educational buildings, including the Irish Film Centre, Ranelagh Multi Denominational School, and the Furniture College, Letterfrack. Their Lewis Glucksman Gallery was one of six buildings shortlisted for the 2005 RIBA Stirling Prize. They are currently engaged in the design of university buildings, schools, housing, and mixed-use buildings in Ireland and the Netherlands. Both partners are studio lecturers in University College Dublin and have taught at a number of schools of architecture in the United Kingdom and United States, including the Architectural Association School of Architecture, and Cambridge, Princeton, Harvard, and Syracuse Universities. The work of the partnership has been widely published and exhibited and has received many national and international awards.
This article is excerpted from O'Donnell + Tuomey: Selected Works by Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey, copyright © 2006, with permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press.