A 1930s terrace is completely transformed into an urban idyll with a stepped extension towards its adjacent canal.
There is a historic tendency in Ireland, especially along the aptly-named Wild Atlantic Way, to create homes that hunker down and shelter its occupants from rushing waters and whipping winds. Thankfully, we’re gradually returning from whence we came, drawn back down to the water’s edge and its gurgling ebb and flow. That return was the challenge set to LiD Architects in extending this Galway canal house.
The original footprint was a dark 1930s terrace and a concrete wall separated the house from the adjacent waterway. “The client required additional social spaces and a new kitchen, but really it was about reorientating the entire house towards the canal,” says LiD’s Dougal Sheridan.
Removing the entire back wall of the original home and placing a “telescopic” extension was only the beginning. “We also excavated down, re-adjusting the spatial approach so the new building would become a set of platforms weaving down towards the canal,” explains Dougal.
Two large windows were placed into the back wall, one indoor and one outdoor, and each level is designed to draw the eye to the waters beyond. “The steps create a visual connection, even from the existing building, through the extension, to the canal.” The resulting low-lying building feels like it’s flowing directly into the canal itself. “The client wanted that connection to the water, but I don’t think they anticipated we’d get quite that close,” he laughs.
The nature of the excavation meant that a number of the existing walls had to become retaining or party walls, but rather than fight this industrial element, both architect and client embraced it, leaving the in-situ concrete exposed throughout. “It’s the language of civil engineering, rather than domestic construction,” explains Dougal, “and we really liked the idea of relating the build to the water architecture and infrastructure of the canal.”
The robustness of the concrete, in walls, ceilings and surfaces, gives the new space a sense of solidity and, oddly, of comfort. Warmed by the red brick flooring and sequins of sunshine as they dance off the canal outside, the extension spaces feel at once airy and snug.
The roof continues the angular concrete lines, enclosing a living roof. The textured planting creates a visual from the upper levels of a garden sloping into the canal beyond, almost completely hiding the extension from view. “It also adds to the strength of the building beneath it,” says Dougal.
The red brick floor delineates the beginning of the new build at the edge of the original house and is carried right through the extension and courtyard. “Part of the brief was to develop a social area, without it becoming one big cavernous space and we wanted to incorporate the courtyard into that,” he continues. “So just like the bi-fold doors in the kitchen open up completely, the continuation of the red brick makes the indoor and outdoor spaces ambiguous.” Even the hob, placed on the central kitchen island and set in concrete, can be accessed from either side of the counter to create an indoor-outdoor kitchen.
It might be considered a risk to include such a large outdoor area in an Irish climate but it’s something LiD has always been interested in. As Dougal insists, “it’s all about how to orientate it”. A six-foot concrete overhang with a floating window allows light to pour in and an outdoor fireplace completely blurs the distinction between the two spaces. “It’s really very protected.”
Creating these separate yet connected spaces was another element of the brief. “As is often the case with extended family configurations, you want areas where people can gather together in privacy, while also being aware of others in the house. It’s creating intimate spaces of scale in a larger social space.” None of the rooms here are large in scale, but each is visually linked to both the canal and the other sub spaces.
While the requirement was to create a social family home, the new space completely reverses the building’s orientation back towards the waterway, which occupies so much of the city’s space and history. As Dougal emphasises, “The design of the extension is quite specific, it comes out of the location and the orientation of what it is to be in Galway.”