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Passage House

A collaboration between O’Donnell + Tuomey and Joseph Walsh Studio, Passage House is an experimental structure, a demonstration of local skills, constructed by craftspeople in locally sourced materials - stone, timber and thatch.

This is not a conventional building. It’s an open air pavilion, the first in a planned series of rambling houses, each one intended as a built experiment in design and materials. Rambling houses were found in old Irish villages, gathering places for music and story-telling, places open to the passer-by.

51°45'50.1"N 8°27'05.7"W
End Year:

This project aimed to:

- investigate, by means of a built experiment, how contemporary design and traditional materials could be combined to make something meaningful and innovative;

- explore, in the crossover between craft and design, how non-skilled and highly skilled craftspeople could collaborate in a working experiment, all of us learning by doing;

- demonstrate, in an outdoor pavilion in rural Cork setting, how something new and engaging could be made from natural materials and traditional technologies.

We worked from initial sketches into a series of scale models and then on to full-scale mock-ups of junctions that were tested in the workshop. The timber-to-stone connection plates were forged by a local blacksmith. There were no contract documents, no technical specifications, no detailed working drawings.

We wanted to celebrate the capacity of local craftsmanship and to test our own understanding, stretching the limits of traditional construction. We wanted to make a contemporary pavilion, a tribute to vernacular architecture, a completely new thing made by hand and using the old ways of working. Most of the details were worked out on site together with the workmen; builders, carpenters and thatchers.

The stone flagged floor and solid stone piers, monolithic orthostats imagined as standing stones and sitting stones, were taken from a nearby quarry. The drystone field walls were quarried out of the local ground, 500 metres from the building site. Vertically laid dry-stacked stonework patterns were adapted from local estuarial boundary walls. Stonemasons came from neighbouring locations and specialist conservation masons from County Donegal.

Timber-to-stone connection plates were forged by local blacksmith Mark Keeling, Clonakilty. The ironwork was formed to suit the shape and geometry of the Douglas Fir upright posts.

The structural timber is Irish-grown Douglas Fir, supplied by Sheehan Sawmills in Ballyporeen, County Tipperary. The transition between the floating roof and the supporting monolithic orthostats was resolved by noticing the stiffness given by the double-gunwales of a traditional Connemara canvas currach. The roof structure was imagined as an upturned boat.

All the timber connections were developed in the workshop, with input from Japanese master-joiner Kei Watanabe from Gifu Academy of Forest Science and Culture, a specialist in traditional Japanese construction technology. He flew in from Japan for 12 days to work with local carpenters and joiners, testing and developing dowel-jointed dry connections, relying on hidden locks, tension and friction for structural stability.

Reeds for thatching were cut in January 2022 from the shallow waters of the Shannon. Teams of skilled thatchers came from neighbouring townlands in County Cork and from County Wexford. We wanted sharp outlines and clean cut ridgelines, hard edges as a visual counterpoint to the inherent soft texture of the natural material.

The Passage House has no doors or windows. Just a stone floor dug into the ground, a timber skeletal bone structure like an upturned boat and a thatched roof that appears to be floating in air.

It’s a place of passage, located at a point of convergence, on the path between Joseph Walsh’s design studio and production workshop, a place of pause, a shelter to stand in out of the rain, to slow down and admire the folding landscape of fields and hedges.


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