A rich cultural and natural environment was used to influence the design of a family dwelling in rural County Derry. Located on the periphery of Park village the land is surrounded by panoramic views of the Sperrin mountains and is adjacent a neolithic wedge tomb. Further along Tireighter Road, a Clachan (a small village) is located displaying elements of the traditional rural settlement such as clustered lime washed gables and boundary walls.
When Garbhan Doran of Broadstone Architects was approached by his lifelong friends, he was only too happy to design this rather unique house for a family of six. “The clients moved into the house in August 2016 and all work on the house was just finished. I got involved with this project as the clients are actually old friends of mine from Derry. We first looked at different sites in 2008 and they were living very close to where they are living now previously,” said Garbhan Doran.
“The clients and I were looking at sites around the golf course they own and there was a couple of sites available but there were issues with planning permission apart from the site which we chose and it had spectacular views as well as being close to the village. “The design process didn’t begin until 2011/2012 and then we had to wait for planning permission to come through. Building a new build in the country side is always a little bit more difficult. Once the permission came through, we had to go through the construction details and go to tender followed by bringing the budget down as I had originally came in too high (with the price),” added Mr Doran.
“Working on this project for my friends actually worked out quite well. They placed big trust in us and vice versa. It was a very easy process and they made it that way for us. Everyone involved in the project made it very easy and we also had a fantastic builder working along side us,” explained Garbhan. “Jude McCloskey (builder) was very honest and up front with us from when he won the tender. He has an excellent eye for detail. His honesty and sincerity throughout the project was what was appreciated the most throughout this project. We were expecting an eight to nine month build but he told us that it would take 12 to 14 months as the work was going on throughout the winter months. He managed expectations very well. “There were a few delays but they weren’t extraordinary delays in terms of a domestic build. The project progressed nicely and some of the weather did hold it up. It was a great project to work with Jude on. Work began on site in March or April of 2015,” he added.
“The site slopes down so as much as the building looks settled into the site, there was a lot of work in not just design but also in construction to get that to settle in so there is a lot of ground work down on the retaining walls. The house is largely single storey and there are three blocks and only one of those blocks is two storey at the lowest part and that is to allow it sink into the land. There are a lot of retaining walls there to allow that to happen. We also had a very good grounds-work guy and that’s down to Jude. “The biggest delays largely were down to the weather. We had to do a lot of excavation not just for the grounds-work but also for the drainage because the house is down at a lower level but it also has to come out at a higher level to some degree so we had to dig down to get the fall along a 100 metre lane way. There was a lot of digging done at a time when the weather wasn’t so great,” explained Mr Doran.
Due to the building’s exposure in the landscape its form conveys a strong image of shelter as illustrated by the hollowing out of the main entrance opening within the gable walls where rainwater from the flat roofs cascade through the canopy against a corten steel tile. Two of the three central entrance stacks are internal and external light-wells whilst the third is a chimney for the living room stove. The two stairwells within the connecting spaces between the blocks allow for vistas from the entrance hall to the surrounding landscape and mountain range.
Materiality references dense massing of the wedge tomb, thick white gable walls of the Clachan and tall chimneys of Tamnagh Lodge. The building orientation which is similar to the wedge shaped tomb, provides a blank North façade with extending walls for privacy to where the house opens up to the South and West.
“The site has a huge influence to do with the design of the house, it was one of those designs that came a little bit more easily than others as we had a strong influence. The actual boundary of the site isn’t huge and that is something that reduces options in some respects,” said Garbhan. “The house is adjacent to three or four houses in an estate so we wanted to try and not restrict their view. This pushed us to having a design of the central roof being in the centre so it didn’t overshadow views and that it only overshadowed its own views and that led to a centrally pitched design where we took off one segment for the court yard at the front as well as breaking up the other three.
“There were a lot of factors that influenced the design of the house and that helps whenever you have those types of restrictions because it forces you down certain routes,” stated Mr Doran. The new dwelling form of three distinct but inter-connecting blocks references the three primary standing stones of the nearby burial chamber entrance. Similar to the Clachan each building bears a relationship with the other through proportional increase in scale whilst clustered buildings step down the site via central circulation. In this regard a local Palladian styled dwelling, Tamnagh Lodge, prompted reference to Palladian villas in how a centrally lit entrance hall and circulation might work, accessing bedroom, living and kitchen on upper, middle and lower floor plates respectively.
The client’s requirements in accommodation and budget required efficient floor plans and careful sighting of the building. A central entrance access allows economic circulation and distinct vistas through the stairwells and beyond. The reduced daylight penetration often encountered with central access is addressed here through light-wells in the form of chimney stacks exhibiting a relationship between the building blocks and providing reference to the nearby neolithic burial tomb structure.
“The views are so spectacular that when you walked into the house, we wanted to captivate them. The three blocks are broken up and as you circulate around the house the circulation takes you down and around the three areas and the kitchen and living areas which are in the lowest part of the house,” revealed Garbhan.
“The house is under 250 square metres so the house is spacious but at the same time it isn’t enormous. There are several breakout areas for the children; there is one for the children, there is a games room and there is also a huge living room and then there are four bedrooms.” The budget required economy of material specification and detail whereby external insulation provides robust weather proofing but also expresses the ring beam and post structure required for the long span low pitched roofs, The relief panels created by this structure are regularised to carve simple elevations alluding to the simple post and beam structure displayed in the nearby burial chamber. A limited palette of materials emphasises simplicity of building form against a scenic backdrop. White render, mill finish aluminium and dark joinery are detailed to accentuate this form through concealed parapet gutters, mitred slate roof hips and recessed eaves cappings.
“There is a solid block on the flat with ring beams because there is a low pitch roof. The two blocks that are single storey have large concrete ring beams to hold the roof in and then the two storey block has two concrete ring beams at both levels,” said Mr Doran.
“The insulation comprises of a solid concrete block with external insulation and that has worked out very well, PW Thermal Building Solutions did the internal insulation and we also used Soprema products that allowed us to get the sort of monolithic look.” “There was a Power Wall system 3 used in the house with an acrylic finish,” said Tom Naughton of PW Thermal Building Solutions. “Brendan Donaghy carried out the work on the project and we’re his supplier. We inspected his work on a number of occassions throughout this project. The house is fabulous. We have worked on a lot of different projects with Garbhan but this house is really unique,” added Mr Naughton.
“The man that worked the toughest on this is Brendan Donaghy, to carry out the work and finish it up there when you are basically on the North coast the weather is a huge factor in trying to get these coats on. The acrylic finished coat is a self-coloured render so the clients pick the colour before the project goes to site and then we mix the colour in the factory,” he explained. “The house doesn’t require paint as the coloured render is basically trowelled on to the walls. It is very labour intensive,” concluded Tom Naughton.
Passive stack ventilation is incorporated through the open plan nature of the building and a mechanically opening roof-light within a light-well stack located centrally in plan availing of cross ventilation, buoyancy and the Venturi effect. When temperatures do not permit the opening of the ventilation stack background ventilation requirements are met through mechanical positive input ventilation systems to avoid air leakages attributed to wall vents.
“The clients have to hardly ever turn the heating on because the air-tightness is superb,” enthused Garbhan.
As to his final thoughts on the project and those involved with the project? “This was one of those jobs that was a pleasure to work on. Everyone involved in the project provided further layers of skill in a collaboration that made the process easier and ultimately better. From the assistance of MKA Planning at pre-planning stage to Foyle Consulting Engineers through the construction stages the job was ably handled,” said Garbhan.
“Key to the entire process were the clients, Pádraig & Bernadette Ó’Mianáin, originally from the City, whose imagination, co-operation and ambition, not to mention patience, saw the delivery of the original concept to completion. Close friends of the clients and local residents, Patsy & Josephine Conway, were of huge help in the process and were involved from the outset. The builder, Jude McCloskey of Macan Developments, a master craftsman who with his skilled sub-contractors deftly handled all difficult issues on site and produced a very high level of finish. Of course the site itself is a rare gem that we don’t always get to work with and the photographer Aidan Monaghan exceeded all expectations in how he managed to capture the essence of the building and its striking context,” concluded a very happy Garbhan Doran.