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Sky Arc House

Budget and Brief

Budget €130,000 Approx. Area of addition 46m2. Completed 2017

In the 1990’s, new housing estates were deliberately plain and repetitive. This went beyond the conservatism of the property developers who commissioned the designs; during a time of immense social change, they represented “neutral territory”, to help house buyers imagine new lifestyles and buy into new communities outside our old cities and towns. But what if you longed for permanence, individuality and a sense of continuity? As a couple putting down roots in a new town, our clients not only wanted to personalize a standard house design but sought architecture with a sense of meaning, gravity and place. 

This brief speaks to the most ancient, primal drivers for architecture, and we looked to the universal sources of meaning which unite all cultures: the lines of north and south, the long arc of the sun’s path and the use of organisational geometry to ground your home in the landscape against the majestic backdrop of the ever-changing Irish sky.    

A Search for Suburban Soul

Generic house designs and standardised street patterns defined Irish housing for decades. Standardisation made planning and construction cheaper, but when selling homes in new neighbourhoods in a period of great social and economic change, it also placed each newcomer on equal footing; leaving behind local history, personal backgrounds, and even the memory of agricultural landscapes that may have existed there before. A new brand house was a clean slate, perhaps even a chance to reinvent yourself.

On the outskirts of a provincial town, the site is visually disconnected from the rich green tapestry of County Meath farmland which extends out beyond this housing estate. It is built on land once used as landfill, now remade to imitate formal parkland. The wide streets are interspersed with green spaces and studded with small trees. 

A Meaningful Life Experience

When our clients approached us they had just decided this house would be their long term home, but they still felt strong affinity to their old neighbourhoods in South Dublin and Skerries where their extended family and friends lived. It was clear they hoped the construction process would be a meaningful life experience which would bind them to their local community. Like any complex home renovation, this home represented a profound achievement form them in simple financial terms, but rather than seeking a status symbol, our clients had a sense of values they wished to enshrine in the design of their home: family, good living, and the particular satisfaction of a living in a carefully refined space.  

Functional Brief

Both clients commuted for work to the city every day. They imagined the new space as a special venue for large family gatherings, and hoped that a great space for parties would act as a magnet for many generations of their extended families. The clients sought a sharp architectural aesthetic, using a palette of contemporary materials such as white render, zinc sheet metal roofing and stone paving.

On a day to day level, the space would provide luxurious kitchen, living and dining spaces, and a robust utility space. For entertaining, the living spaces interconnect, and there is a large amount of free floor space for mingling, which merges with the partly covered outdoor space.  One of the clients works from home in an IT role, and needed a dedicated space for a powerful computer. The compact work space conceals office clutter, but still feels connected to the main heart of the house.

Site Strategy

The original home was located in the middle of a rectangular plot, which created narrow unusable spaces on either site of the house. The living spaces were originally disconnected from the garden with a poorly built utility room extension enjoying the best sunlight and view of the garden. Our site strategy was to stress the longest diagonal view through the garden to make the garden feel bigger and to open the rear of the house to address the garden and the southern sky.

By pushing all new building into one corner of the site we absorbed a disused alley space. We removed the original kitchen and utility annex and formalised the form of the garden with a simple planting layout and hard landscaping.

We added 49 square meters of new space, but because of our site strategy the garden effectively remains as long and as wide as before.   

Design Philosophy

Our starting point for this design process was highly abstract. We used a variety of tools and media to explore ideas of place, and how they take architectural form. While the architectural expression of the building is crisp contemporary and restrained, the generative geometry aims to connect the inhabitants to the changing seasons with primal generative lines striking out to the dawn sun, the setting sun, and the line of true south.

From outside, the building has a crisp white and grey appearance, and inside the underside of the roof is expressed as a sculptural element differentiating the various zones in this largely open plan space. This overhead sculpture is washed with morning light at dawn, and the vertical walls of the pre-existing first floor are used as reflectors to attenuate strong afternoon sun. 

Construction Challenge

The roof was originally designed to appear like a thin undulating layer of sheet zinc, almost like a metal film, folded and detailed to achieve very sharp edges at the eaves, and roof window reveals. To achieve the shape however, our structural engineers Doherty Finnegan Kelly created a prefabricated steel frame, which positioned steel beams at the defining edges of the roof form.

This added a sense of weight to the sheet metal roof, and gave a “factory made” quality to the complex form. Rather than seeming to be a folded metal foil, the roof edges are massive, giving the space a subterranean “Newgrange” quality.       

Ecological Strategy

Overall, the total quantity of glazing is not excessive in this south facing home, so shafts of direct light are selected for dramatic effect. The structure was insulated to a very high standard, and the project included additional insulation for the existing structure.

The diffuse glow of the overcast sky will deliver a consistent level of light in the space, without overheating, but on the rare occasions that the sky is clear, the roof windows will deliver dramatic shafts of light in specific locations, which change through the day, and through the seasons.

Design Process 

The form celebrates the atmosphere created by the four main types of direct natural light in our climate. We included cuts in the roof form for each of these, and chose to reflect the light into the space, diffuse it into a large area or allow it to dramatically illuminate stark white walls and ceilings.  

  1. Low morning sun from the east which reaches deep into the kitchen where it hits a white “diffuser” wall.
  2. High but powerful afternoon sun penetrates only the perimeter of the living space under the carefully positioned roof overhang. The dark mat floor finishes limit internal reflection to accentuate this effect.   
  3. Low evening sun from the west, reaches deep into the space through the large south- west facing concertina doors.

We hope our clients continue to enjoy their home for many years to come.


Architects: Diarmuid Kelly, Cassia Souza,

Main Contractor: Karl Strong Construction Ltd. www.ksc.ie

Consulting Engineers: Doherty Finnegan Kelly, Drogheda. www.dfk.ie


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