Materials continued ~ Rural Housing Book, please no brickwork…

Chapter 6a ~ Materials – Please no brickwork…

One of the materials picked out as unacceptable by Mayo County Council is brickwork, a completely common material throughout the UK but a rarity in traditional rural dwellings (brick is a more common wall material in urban areas such as Georgian Dublin). Again, we return to the concept of a buildings legibility where meanings (whether we want them to or not) are attached to buildings when viewed by different people.

The example below shows a small brick house for sale nearby; the intention I am sure was to transport a little bit of the UK to the west of Ireland, and many would say why not ? Again, I agree with the planners in that surely any new houses in Ireland should effectively ‘look Irish’ and that if you want to live in an English brick built house then perhaps you should move to Ireland.

Brick house

Use of brick in Irish rural houses...

One ‘meaning’ that someone could assign to this house is that it’s a quaint, brick cottage in the style of the small brick cottages in villages across the UK. An alternative meaning could be that it’s style is reminiscent of the small brick offices you see next to electricity sub-stations. The problem is the meanings, messages or signals the building is sending out are conflicting; it’s a brick house but it’s in Ireland, it’s a small, brick cottage but it has now discernable features to say that this house ‘is of Ireland’.

[Don’t get me started on the window or door design, or the roof eaves…]

Whilst working as an architect in the UK I designed and built many brick houses; some of them better than others and one of the key concerns when choosing a brick for the outside walls was choosing one that is similar in colour and texture to those in the locality. I can remember working with one architect in the 80’s where we took ten brick samples to site and they all looked practically the same to my young architects eye. The senior architect held each brick next to an adjacent wall and methodically eliminated and eventually chose the exact match for our new brickwork. But what do you do when there is no brickwork in the immediate vicinity – the answer is not to use brickwork!

The trick I’ve said throughout this series is that (generally) successful Irish housing is simple in concept and form and that this straightforwardness continues when choosing a buildings materials; you can’t go wrong with a simple nap/smooth plaster painted white for the walls.

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