Murphy Beach House

I bumped into a family friend at a wedding last August and we spoke about a project he is pursuing. The project is a beach house located on a coastal site, formerly occupied by a chapel and which still bears some chapel ruins beneath the surface. He had a scheme drawn up by a local engineers’ practice and asked me to take a look to see what I thought of it. attached is the feedback letter I sent to him in October;

Hi Eamonn,

I appreciate your interest in hearing my thoughts on your Rosslare project. Sorry it’s taken so long to reply, I am quite busy these days and have not had much spare time, and I wanted to give you a considered response. I had a look at the plans you sent through and I’d like to offer the following critique of them;

Firstly and generally, I think the overall feel of house is charming, and it seems to have all the constituent elements of a fine holiday home. I think in particular the two upper bedroom suites are generous and would be successful spaces if realised. I think the plans have been composed with many good ideas in mind, but would also say that those ideas are not fully ripe yet, and the design would benefit greatly from some critical analysis, to develop those good ideas fully and rethink the more flawed aspects. I think the site is one in a million and deserves excellent architecture, and if a bit more adventurous thought is invested in the design before you pursue planning it would be of great benefit to the end product.

X:_Projects (DATA)MMORRISSEY, Dan(Al Uisce)Mary Morrissey 07

Ground floor:

  1. The entrance process (street to front door) has not been considered fully. The main flaw is that the entrance is located in a shadowy undercroft space beneath the main house. This obscures the entrance from the street, creating confusion on how to get into the house, and provides cover for intruders breaking into the property. It may also attract loiterers etc. and may be intimidating when approaching the house at night. If the main entrance is intended to be via the external stairway on the south east corner of the property, there is a conflict as the lower ground door is nearer the steps to the street. Also by entering at the upper level you would bypass the hall and cloakroom provided at lower level. There should be one clear main entry point which should be well lit, visible and inviting.
  2. The plan at lower ground level is arranged as a square. This is a mistake; arranging the rooms in this way causes the shadowy undercroft to exist by not ‘filling’ the lower ground space. The rooms closest the bank will receive no sunlight. One way to correct this would be to arrange the accommodation as a shallow strip across the front of the building rather than a deep square, with the remainder of the space behind filled in with earth. This would give all rooms access to sunlight and views, do away with the undercroft, and bring the entrance to light.
  3. A smaller point; storage rooms where possible should be accessed from the wide face of the enclosure rather than the narrow as shown in your plan. A narrow and deep cupboard will only be used to an arm’s depth, with the space behind becoming a dump.
X:_Projects (DATA)MMORRISSEY, Dan(Al Uisce)Mary Morrissey 07 

First floor:

  1. The main WC on the upper floor is accessed directly from the kitchen/living/dining area. This is a mistake, as generally you would want to keep WC separate to food preparation areas, and allow privacy to users of the WC by having it accessed from a secondary area such as the stair landing. To correct this, the WC and kitchen should switch position to allow the WC to be accessed via a new door to the stair landing.
  2. I would question the plan arrangement. It is currently laid out to be symmetrical which does have some merit, but is flawed for for a couple of reasons; firstly it would be better for the living area to be immediately adjacent to main outdoor deck to allow connection and spill-out during the day. Secondly it would be nice to be able to access the bedrooms via the landing rather than have to pass through the living area, to create a noise and privacy buffer between the communal and private areas of the house. I would switch the south bedroom with the living room to solve this. Incidentally this may also solve the next point;
  3. The best view (south-east to the harbour/ watching the liners come and go) is blocked by a solid corner. You could consider a corner window here to open up the view from inside.
  4. The plan lacks windows! There are no windows to the ensuite WCs, the shower rooms, or the kitchen. I would challenge this. In fact with a house like this in a location like this I would be inclined to have the enclosure almost entirely glazed, only having opaque walls where strictly necessary, to make the most of the views.
  5. Again a smaller point, in the suites I would consider switching the closet with the bathtub (a standalone/claw-foot type) to allow greater wall-space for closets at the back, and celebrate the bath as a luxury rather than tuck it away behind the sinks at the back. With a bit of rearrangement this could be done.

X:_Projects (DATA)MMORRISSEY, Dan(Al Uisce)Mary Morrissey 07

X:_Projects (DATA)MMORRISSEY, Dan(Al Uisce)Mary Morrissey 07

Opportunities:

I think one of the most interesting features of your site (apart from the magnificent views and context) is what remains of the chapel. This is ignored in the current proposal which I think is missing a trick. A different approach might be to acknowledge the history of the site through aspects of the new design. In this way your proposal could be seen as a continuation of what has gone before rather than something entirely new (which may help with the planners) and also the house would have an extra element of interest to it, a story to tell. The following link is to an example of a coastal house in Cork by Niall McLaughlin Architects, which uses an existing traditional farm house as a starting point, then adds a fantastic glazed extension to it, produce a sheltered courtyard. You could imagine doing something similarly nuanced on your site, using the old ruins as a foil for something really modern:

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The other big opportunity I see is to do something really interesting in section. The current design is arguably quite a traditional two-storey house and is quite independent of the dunes that surround it. There is scope to do something much more contextual here by responding to and working with the slope of the dunes rather than keeping separate from it; by staggering the section it could become for instance a stepped roof garden arrangement, or perhaps by embedding into the upper dunes you could have direct street access from the upper story via a roof deck. A good local precedent for this would be the Strand House by O’Donnell Tuomey Architects (near Brady’s pub). 

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I have taken the liberty to download most of the relevant planning applications for houses in the Doogan’s Warren locality since ~2007 – you can also access them at the above link if you don’t already have them. Of particular interest may be the folder named ‘Seana and Roddy Stafford’. their proposal for a 325m2 mansion on a site between Kellys Hotel and the old Martel site was designed by De Blacam Meagher, a terrific Irish practice. It was refused, but there could be lessons to learn upon inspection.

Thats it for now, I hope i have been useful and let me know what you think of my critique in your own time.

Best,

Karl

K.

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