An Gaeláras on Stirling Prize shortlist

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An Gaelaras is designed as a cultural centre to promote the use and enjoyment of the Irish language and its culture. Faced with an almost impossible landlocked site in a street of Georgian and Victorian terraces further compromised by a substation that occupies a third of the frontage, the architects have come up with an intriguing and intricate vortex plan that draws the visitor in and up the resulting dynamic multilevel building. With only one external elevation they have created three other facades internally. Lots of architects talk about creating ‘streets’; this one really is. The cranked space, top lit by a large steeply sloping rooflight, it is as if you are in a twisting mediaeval lane in the old city.

Shops, cafés, bars are all there and lead you through to a theatre. Above teaching and office spaces jostle for views, linked by a series of stairs, bridges and platforms that circle and cross the internal courtyard. The stairs appear and disappear as the route unfolds like an unpeeling orange, making visitors want to explore, drawing them up both visually and physically to the upper levels. The plan appears haphazard but in fact it fixes places and connections. Herein lies the success of An Gaelaras: in its ability to house all the different functions within spaces that have adequate light and views despite being inside a building with limited aspects and whose only elevations are the front and the fifth one: the roof.

The sense of the building as a sculptural intervention in a conventional street is enhanced by the use of beautiful board-marked concrete. In scale it respects its neighbours but materially it is very different and speaks of culture as something that is aspirational as well as communal. The concrete adds gravitas and allows for the use of cheaper materials elsewhere: plywood and painted plaster.

An Gaelaras is an innovative and vibrant building that embodies the celebration of Irish language and culture using a dynamic plan form to break down convention and enhance the sense of community. The organisation and the aesthetics complement one another to produce a rigorous piece of architecture that characterises the institution instead of merely reflecting the predilections of the architects.

from Stirling Prize judges’ citation