No.1 Castle Street: Nice Gaff

Many Dubliners have a distant, childhood memory of a visit to the Dublinia experience. Mine are mostly olafactorial; hempy and smoky and clouded by murky visions of wattle and mud homesteads and unwashed peasants. Just around the corner, bringing timber joinery and Dublin gaffs into the present day in luxurious style is No.1 Castle Street by de Blacam and Meagher Architects.

A late 20th Century addition to the Dublin streetscape, this building was actually an extensive remodelling and extension to a 1960s concrete framed structure, originally set back from Castle Street to allow for a road widening scheme that never came to pass. Commercial units occupy lower floors with a single two-storey apartment above, made manifest on the corner by an iconic, projecting timber and glass window box.

Otherwise ordinary parts of building; a corner, a beam, a shutter are carefully detailed and elaborated. Building elements, heretofore neglected in most of Dublin’s modern architecture as channels for creativity, become expressive parts of a cohesive whole, celebrating the act of construction. Iridescent, metal framed cubes hanging above the corner entrance like munificent mini-gibbets. Stand on the corner outside The Lord Edward and the check the alignment of the chunky copper soffit with the rotund dome of City Hall, bringing different levels of this unusually hilly part of Dublin together.

Windows above are set deep and sometimes obliquely into the brick wall like the embrassured reveals of an archer's window while subtle castellated reliefs etched into the brick catch the afternoon sun. The highlight of the building, literally, is the corner window of the penthouse poised like some taut, upright trebuchet coiled to spring into action. This is an architecture dependent not solely on its own formal gestures for its liveliness but also on those glimpses of the sky viewed through the penthouse and on the diurnal use of the blinds and elaborate shutters by its occupants.

I first met Gordon Campbell, the original owner of the penthouse, when he was planning the planting of 7,000 oaks in Uisneach. Linking up with Shelley Sacks of the Social Sculpture Research Unit in Oxford - a collaborator of Beuys and creator of 'Landing Strip for Souls', the project's HQ was the apartment itself. It became a launch pad for numerous discussions about the positive potential of trees in our society and exploring integrative ways of living in the world.

Gordon's interests extended to all things sensual. Music played a vital backdrop to one lunch I enjoyed there with Gordon offering up exotic scents for us to test, the dining table lit by an intricate arrangement of windows and garden terraces in three directions. Gordon's extensive library and art work found a pleasant home there too, largely lit as it was from the north facing corner window. My memory of Gordon, who passed away last June, is like that of the apartment, one of public generosity, personal sensitivity, delight and conviviality.

Published in Totally Dublin : Design Issue March 2014