Maeve counihan

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volumes and overlapping space

Maeve Counihan // Reflective Portfolio Module

Maeve Counihan


Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan. - Eliel Saarinen

As a student of UCD, context is hugely important to my work and often plays a large role in my designs. Learning from precedents, learning from the vernacular, and learning from the surrounding city or landscape is how I research a project and creating appropriate, contextual architecture is always an objective. Thorough site investigations have been the primary task in all of my design projects, encompassing the building of accurate site models, scaled drawings and material studies. When strangers start acting like neighbors... communities are reinvigorated. -Ralph Nader

Architecture is non-exclusive. It should be inviting and assuring. The ‘melting pot’ is a metaphor I often refer to in my work, I like the idea of spaces accommodating many functions and features, allowing people who might not ordinarily occupy the same building to meet, either accidentally or on purpose. Aforementioned site investigations also allow me time to get a sense of the social condition of a site and its area before judging how issues might be alleviated or particular strengths reinforced. This could be the opening up or replication of a route, injection of quality public space or highlighting of a view or aspect. Strategic planning and spatial organisation are the key stages during which I work on this intention, using blocks and colours to arrange space, before refining the plan through sketch and overlay. I think that the ideal space must contain elements of magic, serenity, sorcery and mystery. -Luis Barragan

Luis Barragan has long been one of my favourite architects. His work encompasses much of what I believe good architecture to be - simple, pure, and functional spaces with intense, magical features, making powerful experience. On a personal level I try to include some of these qualities in my work, sometimes from the outset – with the determination of a clear concept and aspiration for the design, manifested in small block models and sketches made in the first week or so of a project. On a smaller scale, materiality is an important part of this intention - how surfaces are formed, construction is finished and how spaces literally feel all contribute to the comfort of the end-user. In my work this is determined through large scale drawings, atmospheric renders and models which can be photographed from an occupant’s point of view.



Year 5. Theatre and the City A School for Architecture Part 1 Part 2 Dissertation

Year 4. A Monument to Colour Sustainable Studio How We Live Now Technology and Culture Space and Presence


THEATRE AND THE CITY Thesis / Year 5, Semester 2.

Architecturally, the theatre has also seen some milestones passing. Originally situated in the old Mechanics Institute building, which had also been a music hall / theatre, these premises burned down in 1951 and while the theatre moved location for a period of 15 years, it reopened on Lower Abbey Street in 1966, in a building designed by Michael Scott. There was some criticism of the new building however, particularly in relation to the dominating effect of the blank, brick elevations and their lack of engagement with the street life. A portico, designed by Mc Cullough Mulvin, was added to the West façade in 2008 in an attempt to counteract these issues, opening up the foyer and the bar area to the city.

“Among the many things we ask of the theatre is that it should take us out of ourselves; also to restore us to ourselves. The theatre is a gymnasium of the imagination, a boxing ring of ideas, a social laboratory, a historical panorama; it is a forum, an arena, an altar and a brothel.” Simon Callow The Abbey is Ireland’s National Theatre and has been since its foundation in 1904. It is deeply embedded in Irish history, tradition and culture, unsurprising when you consider the primary instigators of its conception – WB Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory. This close relationship with poets and writers has been consistent throughout the life of the Abbey so far, its role, as current CEO Fiach Mac Conghail believes, being to tell our stories, the stories of Irish society and history, through theatre. Such participation in the development of the country’s psyche, from post independence Ireland till now, is hugely evident in the plays it has housed over the years, ranging from Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, to the recent phenomenon that is Panti Bliss.

theatre and the city

Recently, the Abbey has acquired the site to the south of the existing premises, spanning the distance between the theatre and the River Liffey. This thesis offers an opportunity to imagine the development of our national theatre on this site before the actual plans have been decided – a significant civic project by itself, made even more exciting when the complexity and drama of any theatre project are considered.


SECRET THEATRE Primer Project A 50 seat theatre, located above the heads of pedestrians passing down Johnson’s Court, a tiny alley off Dublin’s Grafton street. This project was completed in anticipation of the thesis and in response to the following quote concerning two of the Abbey Theatre’s foudning members; “I want to create for myself,” WB Yeats wrote in a famous letter to Lady Gregory, “an unpopular theatre and an audience like a secret society where admission is by favour and never to many – an audience of fifty, a room worthy of it (some great dining room or drawing room), half a dozen young men and women who can dance and speak verse or play drum and flute and zither…in most towns one can find fifty people for whom one need not build all on observation and sympathy, because they read poetry for their pleasure and understand the traditional language of passion…” To make this theatre possible, he said, “instead of advertisements in the press, I need a hostess…” This project is the product of many ideas about spaces from which one can observe, or spaces where one can be observed, and how the two might be combined.

2 3 theatre and the city

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The Theatre of St. Stepen’s Green 2.

The City as Audience 3.

The City as Theatre


I choose this thesis topic, ‘Theatre and the City’, because of an interest in and admiration of, not just theatre itself, but of the arts in general - of cultural buildings and their influence on the experience of the city. I wanted to create a project which could embody my preconceptions of theatre buidings as places of energy, intensity and creativity, using these qualities to enliven the area. Abbey Street could be seen to be socially difficult, but it is culturally significant and is rich with the character of old Dublin. It provided the perfect opportunity to study street life - how it might be created and then subsequently enjoyed.

After studying several theatre precedents, perhaps Siza’s theatre in Barcelona being the most influential, I became intrigued with the idea of volumes overlapping and interlocking. Playing with these volumes later developed into a layering technique which became the primary concept of the design. Studying Terragni’s Casa del Fascio and Zumthor’s Housing for the elderly in Chur, all the time experimenting with colour and perception, eventually led me to my finished scheme. A module of 1,550m taken from the existing theatre’s structure and visible on the brick panelled facade, provided a basis for structure and glazing frames throughout.

I also knew that I wanted to work more with the existing fabric of the city, keeping it’s form, rhythm and pattern, for that reason I set myself the limitation of retaining the existing Old Abbey Street laneway as a starting point for the project. This ended up being a driving point for the scheme.


final scheme, first floor plan 2.

interim scheme, sectional model through large and rehearsal space 3.

model photo showing social spaces 1

theatre and the city






volumes and overlapping space


theatre and the city


interim scheme, entrance space axonomoteric 2.

final scheme, section through medium theatre 3.

final scheme, section through central circulation route 4.

final scheme, section through large and studio theatre

theatre and the city



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theatre and the city

A SCHOOL FOR ARCHITECTURE Comprehensive Design Project / Year 5, Semester 1.

The design I inherited for the second stage of the project consisted of two elongalted buildings which spanned the length of the site.

This project is entitled ‘A School for Architecture’ and involved designing a new building for the Richview Campus which would include additional facilities such as purpose built lecture halls, exhibition space and new student studios.

I maintained this initial strategy and then developed it with the major alteration being the materiality. When developing this design, I looked at a lot of Japanese architecture, consequently opting for a light, airy atmosphere through the introduction of a steel frame, polycarbonate walls and aluminium screens. This was a move away from the brick and concrete of the original design. The breakthrough point of this scheme was creation of a three prong structural column which ran throughout the scheme and turned, like a windmill, with each kink of the plan.

The project was divided into two stages - the first, a strategic and conceptual stage, completed as an individual so as to pin down a design intent. The second stage was completed as part of a group, encompassing four students in total whose interim projects displayed similar traits. The second stage also required us to delve deeper into the ‘comprehensive’ aspect of the project, focusing on structure, detail and regulation.


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6 5 1.

1:1 model of structural column 2.

ground floor plan 3.

a school for architecture

birdseye view 4.

view from ‘street’ 5.

1:50 model 6.

part plan / section / elevation study of envelope



a school for architecture


final model 2.

final model 3.

sectional perspective showing atmosphere and envelope build-up


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A previous semester in Australia, where I opted to work as part of a ‘Sustainable Studio’, had left me heavily influenced by modern timber construction, as well as being granted a deeper appreciation for the value of trees. This influence can be seen in my work during part 1 of ‘A School for Architecture’. There are two semi-mature trees on the Richview Site and these determined my building area, resulting in a skewed plan.

a school for architecture

I looked at a lot of Nordic architecture for this project, particulary the work of Sverre Fehn and the more contemporary Jenson + Skodvin and these inspired the heavy timber construction, swinging off a concrete core. The design intent is most effectively executed in the studios on the upper floor of the building, flanked by massive timber trusses projecting students out amongst the trees.


DESIGNING SENSATION: THE CONTROL OF COLOUR EXPERIENCE Dissertation / Year 5, Semester 1. Abstract Humans perceive colour in two different ways. The first, as a characteristic of an object or thing. In this sense it is an ever-present element of our environment. In our building materials, our food, in nature and in manufactured items; there are colours constantly surrounding us. We register these colours - they inform us of the time of day, of what season we are in, they even advise us to be enticed or deterred but ultimately, they are a response to our memory and experiences rather than how they appear at that time. The second means by which we perceive colour, a concept decidedly less considered, is as ‘a separate sensory phenomenon’. This is the reaction to colour that we experience, and is a response to the colour itself without having any relationship

with the object to which it is attached. It is this element of colour perception that is the more influential to our enjoyment of a particularly coloured space or object. The sensation of colour is the reason why it is so universally enjoyed in nature and why, when used correctly can be so compelling in art and architecture. It is easy to identify the successful use of colour - it is a phenomenon internationally recognised at the exhibitions of James Turrell and consistently referred to in the architecture of Luis Barragan. What is more difficult, on the other hand, is to understand why these instances are so effective and how they might be integrated more frequently into the spaces we inhabit.

A MONUMENT TO COLOUR Work completed as part of international exchange / Year 4, Semester 2.



1. section through stairway 2. view towards monument

dissertation / a monument to colour

Architectural development of a place can often work to drastically improve the organisation, efficiency and functionality of that space - however, it often has the disadvantage of diminishing atmosphere, at least temporarily. There is a raised plaza in one of the busiest parts of the University of Sydney, off which spans a footbridge over a busy road (bringing students to the old part of the campus), a library, a huge administration building, several restaurants, and a brand new student accommodation. The plaza is effective and huge effort has been put in to encourage movement, activity and general bustle. On the other hand, there is a definite ‘newness’ about the space, something I experienced most whilst climbing the concrete stairs to the space, enclosed at either side by more grey wall and finished underfoot with a stone paving. When faced with the task of creating a monument to whatever I wished, and locating it anywhere in the world, I decided to create something which would be, untraditionally contextual for this type of architecture and dedicating it to something which is so often used to celebrate other things, but less often appreciated as a separate entity, and of great value by itself – colour. 13

SUSTAINABLE STUDIO Studio work completed as part of international exchange / Year 4, Semester 2.

As part of the MArch programme, I had the opportunity to study in the University of Sydney, Australia. While there, I took part in one of the available Masters design programmes, ‘Sustainable Studio’.

Something which aided the project greatly, and probably my favourite thing about USyd, were the facilities. There was a full timber workshop, metalastics lab, several digital fabrication machines (3d printing, powder printing, CNC routers, numerous laser cutters). I also completed two additional modules - a parametric design class and an art module about material process. For these there were full computer labs with all programme suites available to the students as well as work rooms dedicated solely to ceramics, pottery, soldering, etc. This meant that we were able to quickly construct accurate models and then constantly test them with the studio’s sun emulator heliodon.

The studio was run in conjunction with Arup’s Sydney office and the aim was to research and subsequently design with the latest timber construction technology. We had some really great lectures and tutorials in this regard. What became more interesting to me, and to another student in my group who was an exchange student from England, was the variation in focus in terms of the technology aspect of the project. Instead of concentrating on heat retention and water proofing, we now had to think a lot more about heat prevention and the unwanted aspect of solar gain. This resulted in us making a project which experimented with different types of screening and shading, including the study and preservation of existing trees on the site for our advantage.

In a wider context, we realised that our building was situated in an area that in recent years had become a lot more diverse than it might have once been, or what the current community amenities catered for. Therefore, we wanted to create a new, unintimidating city route which would become a space for the ALL of the residents, old and new - a melting pot of sorts that was open, functional, and most of all, well loved and therefore maintained by its users.


final model 2.

sustainable studio

testing different shading options at different times of the year 3.

view of the centre’s ‘garden’



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sustainable studio

HOW WE LIVE NOW Housing Project / Year 4, Semester 1.

choosen site, which triggered my response to this project.

The current housing crisis is provoking much discussion in the architectural world, not least forming the base of the studio project ‘How We Love Now’, completed in the first stage of the MArch programme. The government were estimating a need for 22,000 new homes in Dublin and our brief was to react to this provocation, thinking about ‘How we live now’ and how we might live in the future? Our site was the dublin docklands in it’s entirety and I choose to focus on an area to the south of the river, somewhere between the historic centre of dublin city and the newly developed docklands centre - grand canal docks. It is home to a longstanding community of inner city dwellers but has become forgotten and neglected between two bustling hubs.

Pearse Street Flats present an intimidating front; long, closed facades punctuated by narrow entrances at awkward intervals. But once inside, the flats unfurl; a theatre of open balconies and circulation - insisting on sociability between residents and encouraging a sense of ownership and security for those who belong. I designed a compact, urban project which attempts to borrow aspects of 1930 Dublin’s social housing schemes, updating and integrating them to make modern inner city living a collective, safe, and enjoyable option for all demographic. Narrow balconies extend into generous terraces and a modular floor plan means that this scheme could grow with a family, as well as being adaptable to similar sites around the city.

how we live now

It is the prevalence of 1930’s social housing developments in this part of Dublin, in particular the Pearse Street flats, adjacent to my


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how we live now


Model development 2.

Early render of scheme 3.

Axonomentric of final scheme


TECHNOLOGY AND CULTURE Designing ‘The Mayfly’ / Year 4, Semester 1.

sail : kevlar, easy to roll up and light weight


spars : carbon fibre foils: fibreglass/ timber Daggerboard chosen over centreboard for speed Plywood/Fiberglass ruddar & daggerboard -easier to repair than carbon

Technology and Culture

Sailing has always been a huge part of my life, ever since I was a very small child. For this reason, it was a very welcome surprise upon beginning the MArch Programme, to discover that I could complete a module that combined two great interests of mine – boats and architecture!

to learn from experience, sailing in Dun Laoighre and Lough Derg, visiting boat building workshops and even controlling model boats. This kind of study, the study of curves, balance, material and not least, construction, was hugely educational, allowing us to think about design in a way that was abstracted from a building, causing us to re-evaluate our idea of construction and architecture, culminating in the design of a boat but also being brought forward to our design projects.

This class involved learning about how boats are made and discovering how various alterations to this process can impact on the performance of the vessel in water. We were given the opportunity


SPACE AND PRESENCE Building a Camera / Year 4, Semester 1.

learn, not only the basics of photography, but the mechanics and specifics of a camera. We designed the camera for portraiture and these are some of the results.

Space and Presence

As part of this module, we worked to design and build a camera using a large reconnaissance lens provided by our tutor, Stephen Tierney. As someone whose photography skills barely surpassed the use of instagram filters, this was an incredible opportunity to


R.P.M. 2016 School of Architecture, Planning + Environmental Policy, U.C.D. w: t: @UCD_MArch

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