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Urban rationale: these new municipal offices for a small Irish town meld old and new elements into a highly civilized yet clearly modern urban presence.

Like Bucholz McEvoy's building in Limerick (p58), these new civic offices in Tubbercurry form part of Ireland's ongoing programme of municipal reorganization that has generated a wave of distinctive new architecture. McCullough Mulvin's project provides public services for the county of Sligo in the remote north-west of Ireland and a new civic focus for the little town of Tubbercurry. Though small, the new building combines a range of municipal, judicial and educational functions, with offices for the local authority and health board, as well as a library and courtroom for the district council.

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Unlike the Limerick project, which had to contend with a featureless edge condition, here the context is clearly urban, with a site on a side street near the town square. Originally it was occupied by houses, two of which were retained and incorporated into the new scheme. Though the houses were typically modest in scale and lightly imprinted on the ground, they had large gardens running in long, linear plots back from the street. Luxuriant and overgrown, these generous fingers of green space were a surprising manifestation of rus in urbe.

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McCullough Mulvin saw the project as an opportunity to explore modern notions of urbanity in a small Irish town. The main facade both addresses and forms part of the street, nuzzling up to the two retained houses, but its abstract geometry and increase in scale clearly denote a civic rather than domestic character. Echoing the form of the original plots, the plan opens out to the real into a series of long narrow fingers and inviting exploration deep into the building. Activities are arranged around a linear central hall, its sawtooth roof supported by slim, square section columns. The library is placed on one side, separated only by a glazed screen to demystify its presence, with offices on the other side. To the rear is the local council chamber which is visible from the street. The building is publicly permeable, penetrated by a number of through routes from front to back set between grids of structure and screens; a ramp from the side car park is also threaded through a narrow throat of space in the lobby.

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Conceptually, the building can be read as a man-made landscape enveloped by a single undulating zinc roof like the horizon line. This datum is interrupted at intervals by cuts and folds to form rooflights, with circular apertures punched into the library volume. The ground floor is a unifying geological strata, with dark limestone paving bearing the imprints of thousands of fossils, and the main street frontage is clad in undressed grey limestone laid in a random rubble pattern. The rustication forms a romantic foil to the building's essentially rational spirit of lucid geometry, muted colour and calm, luminous spaces. This is highly thoughtful architecture that despite the provincial nature of its setting makes a point of being decent, modern and civilized. C. S.

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Article Details
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Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:May 1, 2004
Words:512
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