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Pastoral idyll: A carefully crafted retreat on a river estuary on the west coast of Ireland provides contemplative calm.

The small building, christened the Think Tank by its owner, is a day house for reading and contemplation and was designed by Philip Gumuchdjian for a filmmaker. Isolated from the main house further inland, it stands on a stone plinth set into the tidal waters of the River Ilen, near Skibbereen in County Cork. At first glance it looks like a regular box of wood and glass with a wooden roof folded over the frame, but it is more complex. Gumuchdjian's sensitivity to context and purpose, his feeling for materials and attention to detail has transformed what could have been a modest riverside retreat into an architectural essay, exquisitely worked in miniature. Its absorption into the shallow rolling countryside has been quietly achieved through scale, form and material which together evoke memories of familiar boathouses and pastoral structures like wooden barns and cow-sheds. Its refinement however, and the shifting play of the opaque and transparent, suggests descent from the traditional Japanese house. With ce dar decking forming terraces on west and south and a long pontoon into the river, the building faces west across the river under the canopy of its oversailing roof. Red cedar, here too, has been used as a covering. Requiring no artificial preservative, the wood weathers naturally and turning silver with age will merge into water and sky.

Apart from the west gabled wall which is fully glazed with sheets of glass butt-jointed with translucent mastic, walls are of glass panels framed with stainless steel, their transparency modified in places by cedar louvres. Gumuchdjian plays subtle games with the screens, directing perceptions of the building and its relationship with the exterior. The screening arrangement is asymmetrical so that the opaque/transparent patterns of north and south walls are different and degrees of privacy and transparency shift as you move about the building. On the sunnier south side, sheltered from the gales that sweep in from the Atlantic, the central panels are sliding glass doors onto the terrace and a newly made freshwater pond. On the north, the most easterly panel is clear and frames the river's curve. As you enter the house from this end your eye quickly registers this glimpse before being drawn down to the gable end and grander prospect.

Considering the refinement of structure and detailing, it is interesting to learn that the house was put together by local builders. The roof is supported by a frame composed of iroko beams and rafters on steel columns in iroko casing so that the structural confines of the interior -- a single volume -- are strongly articulated. At the back eastern end of the room, a free-standing structure provides a kitchen from which an elegant stainless-steel chimney rises through the roof. Painted with a pale wash and exposed on all sides to the elements, the interior suggests both the solidity and vulnerability of boats. P.M.
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Article Details
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Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 1, 2002
Previous Article:Frames of the forest: A house drawn from early modernist essays stands in woodland in the west country, an integral part of the English landscape.
Next Article:Set dressing: Transformed through a series of dramatic yet demountable new elements, this 1930s film studio is now a lively temporary workplace.

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