West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen, Co. Cork

The site, carved out of the intricate arrangement of lanes and alleyways in the heart of Skibbereen, suggests a proposal which uses the response to context as a primary design generator. The need to respond creatively to the particular and intimate setting in the interstices of the town is in tune with the clients requirements to make space for art in the community, while creating a significant landmark that will attract new users and visitors. We have proposed a passage, chiselled out of the urban block, linking Townshend Street across the Caol Stream to the car park. This is a public route, unified by stone flags that continue across the stream, and lit at night by tiny fibre optic lens set in the stone. The building occupies the whole site, offering a double height entrance hall at its heart, drawing visitors in from the car park and leading directly to the main public spaces. Like the traditional tower house, lifts stairs and services are wedged into the solid form of the building, out of which the main volumes making the public rooms are honed. Externally, as the building rises up, it becomes narrower as terraces and lightwells are made to bring light and air into this restricted site. Entering the building from the bridge, the craft/bookshop leads directly off the entrance hall. The information desk and lift are directly opposite the entrance and the main stairs allows immediate access to the floors above and allows visitors to enjoy the main hall, which itself may be used to display work and provide a gathering place.
The galleries are simple spaces with maximum wall area, facilitated by the clerestorey windows providing constant northlight to the rear walls of the galleries. The galleries may be used together or separately. On the first floor a viewing gallery wraps around the hall on the 3 sides, the south side being occupied by the workspace. This is a long room, the utility space with sinks and stores placed at one end. A continuous window with vertical louvres to deflect the midday and evening sun lights the space. This is at high level so that benches can be placed along this wall or walls used to display work in progress. The artists studios are placed on the north side of the building with windows looking east or west. Moving up the building, the performance space is placed above the hall and is also a double height volume with a balcony to the side.