Friday, 26 October 2012

Ballynanty School by Andy Devane

Last weekend I headed south for the first edition of Open House Limerick, and it was great! Organised by a team assembled from Limerick City and County Councils, Limerick Regeneration and some local architects and historians, OHLimerick saw 60 events, including 37 building tours, occur over three days. As with any decent OH festival, the OHLimerick programme contained a great mix of buildings to visit, including buildings of historic significance, contemporary spaces, public and cultural buildings and beautiful private residences. While the programme was varied, there was a spotlight placed on the work of Limerick-born architect Andy Devane, with five of his buildings in the city on show.

Devane trained in Ireland in the 1940s but a number of his formative years as a young architect were spent working with Frank Lloyd Wright in Taliesin West. Frank Lloyd Wright's influence is clear in Devane's work, particularly in the way Devane employs multiple planes, organic motifs and texture. While at OHLimerick I visited two buildings by Devane - St. Lelia's Church and Ballynanty School. In particular Ballynanty School, opened in 1957, struck me with its generous use of space both inside and out, its maximising of light and its attention to detail. From low-relief patterns on the concrete exterior walls to the irregular cut-out shapes in the pillars of the shelters running along the yards, detailing is key in this building. Indoors, space, light and colour are of utmost importance, with a particular highlight being the repeating curved detail overhead in some of the corridors. Devane's attention to detail stretched to specifying colour use throughout the building, designing motifs on the terrazzo floors and even designing the furniture to be used in the school (since removed from the classrooms and piled outside, as pictured below).

My photos only capture a small amount of the building and its character, but hopefully you get a sense of what a great series of spaces he created in Ballynanty School, still much-used and much-loved by the community more than 50 years on. Looking at a building like this nowadays, when so much is designed to minimum standards and imaginative design of public buildings so often comes under fire (look no further than the UK government's recent ban on any sort of 'frills' in school design from here on in), it's hard to believe what great examples of school design we produced in Ireland half a century ago. There is much inspiration we could and should draw from Ballynanty and other schools now, let's hope that we do (and are allowed to) when designing Ireland's next generation of schools.