Alice Casey and Cian Deegan of TAKA lead a pack of Irish-based architects who are all arguably cut from a very attractive architectural cloth. The story each tells is spun with his or her own pattern and yarn for sure, but there is an obvious consistency of architectural approach and tectonic departure, most clearly observed in their built work. (see the House by Steve Larkin featured in A10 # and interview with Clancy Moore A10 # who along with Ryan Kennihan make up this Irish pack of archi-hounds). TAKA’s particular cloth is a perhaps a sort of rough Donegal woollen tweed, spun with a delight in the pragmatic and the rational but shot through with some humour, much colour and the shiny threads of real-life.
2014 was a good year for TAKA, shortlisted for young architects of the year awards in Britain and Russia. 2014 saw also the completion of their largest building thus far, a 380m2, tailor-made clubhouse for the Merrion Cricket club in Dublin.
TAKA’s tightly cast concrete and flush brick pavilion occupies the footprint of an old clubhouse and its cranked form is determined by an echo of its predecessor and a number of pragmatic site conditions such as rights of way, world cup cricket pitch regulations, revenue generating car-parking and others. Casey talks about architecture in a refreshingly direct way – when explaining the building Alice, without complaining, just lists these and other obstacles such as a lean budget, an ambitious client and a six month construction programme to fit in with playing schedules casually, like these are the normal challenges architects encounter when designing and making buildings.
Of course this is true – every single project has a list of obstacles to overcome – but with TAKA there is an obvious delight in these, not that the architects seek them out or always want them necessarily, but once they exist in a project, TAKA are remarkably adept at using them as catalysts to make an architecture which becomes a three dimensional invitation for occupation and use. The pragmatic found in strategy becomes the pragmatic found in use. For example this entire site floods and has flooded to 1.7m above ground level as recently as 2010, so the building is designed inside and out to cope should this ever reoccur. The clubhouse is lifted off the ground on a concrete base by 600mm and the concrete rises up to 1.1m above ground level all around to both act as a dam but also works with what Alice calls “the leaning level” – the level at which people hang out of the windows and lean against the walls as they wander and move and wait and wait and wait for the sometimes six hour games to conclude.
I visited the building on a wet, windy day, out of season, with light falling and failing but the blue-grey timber boarded interior remained warm and collegiate, there is a relaxed relationship between inside and out, it already feels like the cricketers are proudly and enthusiastically using their new building. Like we saw with Larkin, TAKA also seek to design and control moments of connection to the building, designing these rooms not as a neutral backdrop to life but as an active participant in whatever goes on inside. So televisions and trophies are housed in a simple and simply beautiful and unique wood and glass cabinet, lighting is also simple but carefully considered and made by the architects. Canopies and covers make outside use easy and possible, the bar anchors activity, sitting in the centre of the plan, working hard, making a social heart. As you imagine the space in use, you expect a cricket ball to hit the concrete, to hear that thud, to see the building accept and resist such use in equal measure, which is perhaps how really good buildings should behave.
So much architecture is passive in its planning or assembly or aesthetic and very often architecture is designed to adopt a false neutrality, which results in the building not allowing for, (as designers might like you to believe), but really ignoring and resisting future use and occupation. Very often the messiness of life is one challenge and restriction too far for architects – dealing with floods is one thing, but people are another, altogether messier matter. Fairplay though, TAKA seem to know both how to live and how buildings should support life. Anything else we suppose, would just not be cricket.
Merrion Cricket Club, Dublin 4
Photographs courtesy of Alice Clancy and TAKA
This review was originally published in A10 in 2015