RIBA Stirling Prize 2005. The Lewis Glucksman Gallery by O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects sits by the River Lee in parkland belonging to University College Cork.
Situated by the university’s main entrance gates, it operates not only as a destination in its own right but as a gateway to the university. Just as importantly, it enhances the surrounding landscape, elegantly dissecting and framing views of the mature trees and, in turn, providing the parkland with an arresting, but wholly appropriate, focal point.
An outdoor stair leads to a limestone-clad podium, shaded by the overhang of the galleries above. This ‘promenade architecturale’ forms part of the pedestrian route to the university campus and creates a place of shelter within the park, as well as providing entry to the building itself. From the small entrance hall visitors can go downstairs to a café which opens onto the park, or upstairs to the galleries themselves. The main boomerang-shaped gallery spaces wrap around a core of close-control environmentally conditioned exhibition space. Services are routed in the thickness of the walls and floors. The galleries are clad in the sustainably sourced hardwood Angelim de Campagna, with galvanised steel bay windows positioned to take advantage of strategic views. These upper floors are supported on a concrete table structure which is cantilevered from columns in order to protect the root structure of the surrounding trees.
The architect’s intention is that the sawn limestone, galvanised steel and untreated timber will weather, so that the building takes on the colours of the surrounding landscape in time.
Piers Gough Look at the sexiness of that soffit - the smooth, smooth concrete of that great overhang. There’s a lot of Stirling in this building - the grand route through, the open joints. That two-thirds offset on the tiles is quite a thing.
Jack Pringle The inside is good - the quality of the workmanship and detailing is astounding. But the outside is what it’s really about. It sits beautifully within a hollow and beyond a line of trees. It makes perfect sense of the landscape - the trees act as a veil so it’s not in your face. You just see glimpses. The soffit and the external free columns are important; it’s like a dancer on points or a building in high heels. It’s got mass, but it’s got shape and is very elegant.
Joan Bakewell The vistas matter a lot. There’s something that’s aesthetically satisfying from almost any point of view. From the curator’s perspective, it makes sense that the interior is low-key. The last thing she wants to contend with is dramatic internal space. She wants neutral flexible spaces which don’t compete with the art.
Piers Gough It’s as much about looking out at the view as it is about looking at art. Who can blame them? It’s a beautiful view. I like the positioning of the shop. You’re not presented with it straight away. You get straight to the art, and that’s why you’re here. But I worry that those two boomerang-shaped galleries would become a little constraining after a while.
Isabel Allen I like the way you can arrive at the art obliquely. In rectilinear spaces you’re either in front of the art or you’re not, but here there’s a much more fluid relationship. If you look at the way the building sits in the landscape, the whole project is about setting up vistas in a highly picturesque way and I think it’s great that that’s been carried on inside as well as out.
Max Fordham I’m not sure about the light in the galleries. The tops of the picture frames cast a shadow and that’s because the light is only coming from one direction.
It should be coming from two directions. And the environmentally controlled gallery space is very small. If it weren’t for all that technology those small spaces could be opened up. I’ve just done a gallery in the Fitzwilliam Museum for very precious objects, and I’ve assumed that the moisture control can be achieved by a whole lot of fabrics and drapes and absorbent material in the room. It’s not that there’s anything wrong, it’s just that it would be nice if the default position wasn’t technological stuff, but if people could think a bit harder about natural solutions.
Piers Gough I really worry about that timber cladding, and how it will weather. There are often times in the office when we think ‘wood would be perfect’ but then we think ‘we can’t do it to them’ - we just don’t know what will happen in the future. Presumably it will all go a wonderful silver but do we really know?