Anchored in Irish Housing Tradition

  • Steve Larkin

    Press/Media: Expert Comment


    Anchored in Irish Housing Tradition, Bogwest. text Emmet Scanlon

    Steve Larkins house resonates with its surroundings and tectonically celebrates domestic life.

    Architecture is in danger of being marginalized again; it is seen not just as a luxury we might do without in times of austerity, but as something we must dispose of, linked as it is to the socially and economically destructive construction industry.

    Yet in the middle of nowhere, where many people live in Ireland, under a wet-grey sky near the south-east corner of the country sits this grey-black house by Steve Larkin, an in situ cast concrete and lime-plaster home, firmly anchored in the middle of an ordinary field on existing golden stone walls. This is a house loved into existence by private heroes, proving that private clients have become serious ambassadors for, and sponsors of, contemporary Irish architecture.


    One enters the house around the back via a courtyard contained by the existing stone wall and a new cast concrete wall, which creates shelter from the wind and rain. Moving through a deep, thick threshold, a result of the accumulation of stone walls, structural walls and a further depth for built-in storage, one enters a space which works like a corridor in plan but is stretched in its horizontal and vertical dimension – a first clue to this architect's skill with interior scale. The space is brightly lit from above and feels like a grand, social entrance hall, lined in scented Douglas-fir veneer panels on one side and grey painted storage on the other, the sand-blasted concrete frame structure being clearly expressed throughout. Behind the wood-panelled lining are bedrooms, two of which have shutters that open the rooms to the skylight, allowing occupants to playfully communicate with the hallway. This lining is also thick enough to give the impression that the bedrooms are set deep within the house; on the ground floor looking toward the access road they feel protected and private. A step up to a window ledge to exit the bedrooms onto individual patios with an orchard beyond also makes the rooms feel sensually secluded.


    Upstairs, the house is one room and many rooms, intimate yet expansive as huge timber windows frame views to the local and distant landscapes, while cabinets and furniture scale the space for domestic life. An exposed concrete structure of deep beams allows a free span and a sense of intense openness and engagement with the landscape and weather in every direction. The structure supports two skylights, or oculi, which draw light deep into the house. The scaling of the space is very sophisticated. Here, ordinary life is both celebrated and offered up to the gods, yet remains contained and low-key under this dramatic, ethereal ceiling.


    The work of Steve Larkin is, much like this concrete house on stone walls, anchored in a long tradition of the best of Irish architecture, namely an ambition for all building to resonate with site, place and people, allied with a deep interest in material, craft and assembly. Larkin, however, is part of a group which is extending this position, reflecting an emerging desire to thoroughly abstract, compose and tectonically express the elements of domestic life, but not at the expense of pretending that life doesn't actually exist. This house, which won the Irish Architecture Award for 'Best House 2012', is now enthusiastically occupied with wet clothes, books, guitars and drum kits, and Larkin's built architecture supports and welcomes this in a mature, confident and robust way. In fact, the house is better and more complex in real life than in photographs, and really appears to be thriving on the diet of reality it receives from its occupants. This is the austere, simply radical new version of an old position that Irish architecture now seems to be occupying – at its best when it is at its apparently messy and aesthetically compromised worst.

    Period01 Sept 2012

    Media coverage


    Media coverage

    • TitleAnchored in Irish Housing Tradition
      PersonsSteve Larkin