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Placing Architecture

By Patti O’Neill. Limerick: A.K. Ilen Company. 2008. 64pp.

‘Placing Architecture’ is a good theme for any architect; and perhaps especially so for a young architect such as Patti O’Neill who appears, in this the first publication of her work, to be both observant and inventive.

‘Placing Architecture’ is a good theme for any architect; and perhaps especially so for a young architect such as Patti O’Neill who appears, in this the first publication of her work, to be both observant and inventive. If ‘placing’ suggests action, it also triggers hints of Heidegger and Bachelard and - as with much of the best recent architecture from Ireland - a phenomenological approach to construction.’Dune Landscape’ originated with childhood trips to Sylt and subsequent research on that island notable for its imperilled sandy coastline. O’Neill is fascinated by this sense of transformation. Her initial studies transform into paintings where solid colour zones meet along wave-like edges and are indented by smaller rectilinear elements. O’ Neill next developed a repertoire of plywood maquettes; then made paintings of these sculptures ‘seen from the inside, stretched and torn apart’. Finally she envisages these forms in specific locations on Sylt: a beach, a longitudinal dune, and, for a complex proposal with walls and floor of blue opaque glass, a conical dune.

‘Desertscape’ began with O’Neill’s participation in a ballooning fiesta in Albuquerque and her observation of the vast desert landscape from the air. Paintings of topography and of light evolve into wood frame devices skinned in red film and activated by slide projectors. These abstract light machines lead in turn to a proposal for a 35-metre-high tower of load-bearing coloured glass with folded internal layers to evoke the sedimentation of geology and register the transition of the sun above.

‘Boglands’ started with expressionistic paintings of intertwining forms that led to reliefs and further sketches and, then, the architectural design of O’Neill’s Bog-Bubble, ‘an accessible, translucent, double-membrane pneumatic structure’ embedded in peat. Pneumatic technology, she writes, ‘will literally push the water away’ and create ‘new fluid forms that differ from conventional geometry.’

O’Neill’s design evolution is certainly eye-catching, and her placement of architecture’s users in sand, desert air, and bog potentially remarkable. While her espousal of building in harmony with nature is not particularly radical, her personal methodology esults in buildings that resist with unusual character a world keen on homogeneity and the squandering of precious resources.

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