Wednesday 4 November 2009

Opus Awards: design is good for the bottom line

BUILDINGS THAT fit well into their surroundings and have made the most of awkward sites dominate those which have won awards this year in the 10th annual Opus Architecture and Construction Awards.

Each is also a striking building, including Cork County Library by Shay Cleary Architects and BAM Contracting which the judges said “responds to the 16-storey county hall in an apparently effortless solution creating a strong sense of its own place”.

Also among the winners are two Garda stations: one in Leixlip by O’Briain Beary architects and Sorenson construction (highly commended); and the other in Irishtown, Dublin by OPW Architectural Services and Merrion Construction. Both have arresting designs and fit neatly into their sites. Leixlip, said the judges, “makes a bold civic gesture on an almost impossible site” while the judges said of the Irishtown Garda station: “The more we looked at the site context, the strict Garda requirements, the landscape planting and the detailed design, the more we appreciated the subtly and sophistication of the design.”

These awards, in which the judges visit the buildings, show how architects can take what could be mundane structures and make them special.

The Thomond Park stadium by Murray O’Laoire Architects and AFL Architects with contractor PJ Hegarty and Sons, which won an award, has a long arch rainbow truss “which gives civic presence” indicating how we like our stadia to do something spectacular to the skyline nowadays whereas before a stadium was often just a functional space.

Another form of theatre that won a “highly commended” is the extension to the Gate Theatre by Scott Tallon Walker and MP Construction on a “very difficult and restricted site”.

Other award winners illustrate how schemes can be used to create places in themselves. These include Kilcronan infill housing in Clondalkin by Gerry Cahill Architects and WF Rowley Building Contractors (commended) where “clever and creative design has transformed a blighted open space”; housing in Enniskerry by Sean Harrington Architects and Twin Builders Ltd (commended) which “gives a sense of place to people rather than cars”; and sheltered housing in Malahide by Paul Keogh Architects and McCabe Builders (highly commended) where “site landscaping is effective and the communal building is just right”. Two other award winning housing schemes have been credited with contributing to the cityscape with the Alto Vetro tower in the Dublin docklands by Shay Cleary Architects and Construction Management Partnership offering a “clarity of architectural thinking and urban design ambition” and the York Street housing by Sean Harrington Architects and Michael McNamara and Co working “on many different levels, simultaneously from urban design to quality apartment design”.

Award winners have also shown how to combine old and new, like the conversion of Rush Library by McCullough Mulvin Architects and Dunwoody and Dobson Ltd (highly commended) in which “new insertions are skilfully made that transform old things into new things such that the new composite is richer and deeper that either would be standing alone”.

The restoration and extension of a library building in Abbeyleix by De Blacam and Meagher Architects and Frank C Murray and Sons Construction was praised for achieving a “snug fit between old and new”. Library use has increased nine-fold here since the renovation – good architecture can really add value.

This year’s lifetime achievement award went to Des McMahon of Gilroy McMahon Architects whose practice has worked on the conversion of Collins Barracks, the extension to the Hugh Lane Gallery and Croke Park (with HOK and Lobb Partnership).

The judges said of McMahon: “He is personable, persuasive and culturally committed from architecture to art to Tyrone football.”

Irish Times

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