The Atrium

Dining Hall, Trinity College, Dublin: De Blacam and Meagher

The interior of the Dining Hall at Trinity College in Dublin was severely damaged by fire in 1984. The exterior of the rather neat classical building built in 1760 by Hugh Darley survived relatively unscathed, and much of the panelled refectory was saved, but the atrium needed completely rebuilding. De Blacam and Meagher conducted the restoration work and also made two notable interventions. The first was the rather extraordinary decision to construct a full-sized replica of Adolf Loos’s Kartner Bar in the former Senior Common Room above the Dining Hall. The second was to insert a somewhat timeless structure to support and organise the atrium. This elegant three-storey timber installation is composed of an exposed frame, which supports a series of long screens. The sequence of balconies provides access to the different levels, while the long timber shutters can be closed to allow for privacy and acoustic control. The rhythm of the structure has a direct relationship with the size of the timber beams, which are necessarily large to accommodate the great span and the vast weight that they have to carry. The simplicity of the structure is complimented by the robustness of the elongated shutters, which are smooth on the atrium side and show the frame and diagonal bracing on the balcony side. The effect of the tall timber structure and randomly open shutters is quite dramatic, and somewhat reminiscent of Shakespearian performance spaces. The structural rhythm of the interior appears to be completely appropriate to the simple classical language of the building especially the open ceiling of the atrium.

From forthcoming ReReadings Volume 2

The Factory by Ricardo Bofill 1975




The Modernist adage that Form Follows Function does not generally apply to building reuse projects. The form of the building already exists; the spaces are defined, the walls are in position, the roof is place and the relationship between these elements and the immediate context has long been established. Of course it is possible to change all of this; walls can be demolished, new elements constructed and fresh relationships established, but, the essence of the building will still exist. The character of the place will still be present. This is the charm of the remodeled structure; it retains the character of the original programme and inhabitants, and combines this with the needs of the new users; thus adaptation is always a delicious compromise between the two.

The vast complex of a disused cement factory on the outskirts of Barcelona was in the early 1970s, converted into an office and a home for the architect Ricardo Bofill. This extraordinary and romantic project was the vision of the young architect who had not only grown up in the construction industry, but had come of age in a country just emerging from the oppressive years of the Franco regime. It was an extraordinary time in Barcelona, a city with a vivid and progressive attitude that had nurtured such artists as Gaudi, Picasso, Miro and Dali, but in that critical post-war period also saw the rise of Brutalism. So the sight of the almost surreal complex of concrete structures, did not daunt Bofill, but apparently actually filled him with a ridiculous kind of magical hope.

The uninhibited cement works was immediately adjacent to the site that the architect was constructing the Walden Seven housing complex at about the same time. This uncompromising multi-level building-city is candidly monumental; it contains 18 towers, 446 apartments, bars, shops and two swimming pools. It actually overshadows the factory and this contrast of scale between the two structures reinforces the sculptural quality of both.

The cement factory had been abandoned and was partially in ruins, and so the adaptation process began with further demolition. This removed much of the detritus and additions that had accumulated over the years since the original construction. This defined a series of distinct spaces, which were little more than cleaned, thus the memory of the structure’s former use, the industrial aesthetic and the spatial quality is preserved in the raw concrete walls. Small additions, such as new walls to complete spaces, openings to allow for light and access, and vast amounts of greenery completed the project. It then came to the problem of how to occupy this vast edifice; distinct spaces had evolved form the process, each had a particular and definite quality. The occupiers considered the nature of these new volumes while also contemplating the activities that would happen within them. Thus a symbiotic solution was reached; one which accentuated the conditions and character of the building while ensuring that the users completed tasks in the most sympathetic surroundings. So, for example, the original factory hall was transformed into the conference and exhibition room, and with reference to the ceiling height of over 10 meters, it is called “La Catedral”. Slightly distinct from the office in the upper part of the factory is Bofill’s own home. It has the same raw quality, but is a perfect cube with a series of arched windows. The decoration is sparse yet as equally uncompromising as the building; simple very long white curtains hang from the ceiling and the floor is made from untreated timber.

Bofill did not necessarily embark upon the process of remodelling the concrete factory with a preconceived idea of how the finished project would be; rather through a process of discovery and recognition he allowed the form of the building to evolve, and the manner in which it was occupied to emerge from that.

Extract from forthcoming ReReadings Volume 2



The Politics of the Piazza has been awarded an Outstanding Academic Title 2009 by Choice the leading source for library-relevant book reviews in the United States. In his review David H. Sachs of Kansas State University describes The Politics of the Piazza in the following terms.

The book features an introduction and 14 historically ordered chapters arranged into four sections. Canniffe discusses the social, political, and economic conditions surrounding some of the most important public urban spaces of each historical era, and explains how these forces influenced the formation and evolution of each piazza. The book is thoroughly researched, appropriately referenced, precisely written, highly reliable, and genuinely insightful.

And you can Read more books by us

A Harvard Colloquium


The last time Eamonn Canniffe (of CiA) was at Harvard, Peter Eisenman was a spring chicken. You can hear Eamonn speak about his current book at the De Bosis Colloquium in Italian Studies at the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures on 1st April. Details:

Manchester School of Architecture
The Politics of the Piazza. The History and Meaning of the Italian Square (Ashgate, 2008)

Wednesday, APRIL 1, 2009 from 4:00 to 6:00 PM Sever Hall, Room 203

From Acoustics to Zoomorphic

…via Fabio Novembre.


CiA staffer Sally Stone has, along with her perennial collaborator Graeme Brooker and newbie Michael Coates, produced The Visual Dictionary of Interior Architecture and Design. It’s a cutely packaged book that is intended to inform and inspire. And, of course, the pictures are more prominent than the words. Except, strangely, on the cover.

More CiA books

Interior Architecture: Context & Environment


CiA staffer Sally Stone and her co-author Graeme Brooker have just had their second book in the Basic Interior Architecture series published.

“Context & Environment” examines the ways in which elements based both inside and outside of the host building can influence and effect the interior space. The book proposes a method of interpretation, evaluation and utilisation of physical factors, such as light and orientation, the contextual issues of the urban form and the subject of sustainability, and their influences on the design of the interior and the remodelling of existing buildings.

Amazon link: Basics Interior Architecture: Context and Environment

Mapping architectural controversies of the recent past


Histories of the Immediate Present: Inventing Architectural Modernism by Anthony Vidler (MIT Press 2008)

Anthony Vidler’s elegantly slender volume in the ‘Writing Architecture’ Series presents a highly readable account of the archaeology of contemporary architectural theory. He discusses the work of four historians, Emil Kaufmann, Colin Rowe, Reyner Banham and Manfredo Tafuri, their thought, the context in which they worked and the influence they exerted on the practice of architectural history and design.

In many respects this is a finite field. All the subjects are dead, although a posthumous translation of Tafuri’s last work as ‘interpreting the Renaissance: Princes, Cities, Architects’ won the 2007 Sir Nikolaus Pevsner International Book Award for Architecture. However, their writings still resonate in the academy and less significantly in architectural practice. Kaufmann’s identification of ‘pavilion planning’ in the eighteenth century as symptomatic of modernity, might be contrasted with the complex autonomous language which was Rowe’s paradoxical legacy to contextualism. In turn Banham’s hymns of praise to technological determinism, although always attracted to counter trends, provided an academic backdrop for hi-tech, and Tafuri’s authoritative research in the Italian tradition was grounded in a thorough reading of its political and historical context.

Vidler ties these disparate individuals into an alternative narrative of mid-twentieth century architectural history. Arriving at a point when economic circumstances are likely to afford a prolonged pause for thought, it is a timely reminder of the difficult subterranean roots of post-modernism, often obscured by the blandness of late-capitalist late-modernism. The historian’s task is perhaps always to dig around in those roots, without necessarily knowing to what later interpretation that excavation might lead.

The cover illustration itself shows three significant figures in an ‘afterparty’ moment at the RIBA. On the left Reyner Banham, looking like a former wing commander and dressed incongruously in a dinner jacket, observes an exchange between two senior titans of British architectural history. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner draws languidly on a cigarette, while Sir John Summerson, dour in a three-piece Savile Row suit holds forth. The photograph captures as a metaphor the subjective basis of architectural history, Banham’s oedipal disputations, Pevsner’s outsider’s view and Summerson’s establishment gravitas, their different perspectives standing for the collection of interpretations which serves as the methodology of objective history.

The Politics of the Piazza


Eamonn Canniffe has written a new book entitled “The Politics of the Piazza: the history and meaning of the Italian square”. The book, which has been published by Ashgate has been described by Professor Nicholas Temple of Lincoln School of Architecture as making

an important contribution to our understanding of the changing political landscapes that have influenced public space in Italy. The study succeeds in both being a chronological survey, demonstrating a breadth of knowledge of critical developments from ancient Rome to the present, and a series of insightful case-studies.

The Politics of the Piazza: The History and Meaning of the Italian Square (Amazon link)

Ben Kelly: Off the peg


This month’s issue of AD Magazine, Interior Atmospheres, contains an article by CiA staffer Sally Stone with her regular co-author Graeme Brooker. The piece, entitled “Off the Peg: The Bespoke Interiors of Ben Kelly” was based upon an interview with the designer and discusses the qualities of the interiors that he creates.

In response to our opening discussion about the general perception of interiors practice and education, Kelly introduces himself as ‘an old fashioned interior designer’. He describes the subject as something that has integrity far beyond just surface consideration and he regards it as something that is ‘very close to architecture, but its not architecture’, that actually has little to do with surface treatment, but has its basis in the manipulation and control of space. He explains that the starting point for any project is in the analysis and understanding of the unique qualities of the existing space, and suggests that there is a resonating element that springs from the original building that is crucial for the development of the project. This interpretive attitude can be traced back to the work of the well known interior architect, Carlo Scarpa, although of course with vastly different visual results.

‘When I get the plan then this is when the project begins. We sit around the table and discuss what it’s telling us, what’s possible, what can we keep and what has to go,’ says Kelly. The site-specific qualities of the existing building that can be teased out and repossessed in the transformation of a space are one of the major sources of atmosphere in his work. It is from these readings that the process of organisation and assembly can begin. Kelly could be accused of not really doing very much; the basic spaces are relatively unaltered, many of the finishes are pre-existing and the new bits are very much the same as the old. He makes it look too easy. But that is exactly the point – he liberates the existing, not just in the way the space is exposed and manipulated, but also, and most importantly, the manner in which the new elements, insertions and materials echo the existing qualities.

Ben Kelly Design


Pictures: (Top) Ben Kelly in his studio, photo by Graeme Brooker; (Bottom) article page featuring The Hacienda, Manchester (now destroyed).