The home of the architect who created a new street in one of the oldest parts of Dublin
Peter Carroll is a Limerick-city man to the core but he enjoys the fact that he has been instrumental in creating a whole new street in one of the oldest parts of Dublin. Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin
Every city has streets with unusual names, names whose meanings often get lost in the mists of time. For example, who knows the true meaning of the name behind, say, Misery Hill, or Cuckoo Lane, which are both in Dublin?
Peter Carroll lives on a street with an unusual name and he does know the story behind it, but then he was instrumental in giving it its official title.
Lucky Lane was just another nameless place in Dublin 7 until Peter and his friends decided to build their homes on it and, as he describes it, to "put order on a place that was previously a backland". To come up with a name, he canvassed some older locals and asked if they had any stories. "We found out from some of the older ladies that it used to be called Lucky Lane," the 40-something architect explains. "There was a cattle mart nearby and the farmers used to park their trailers in the lane. The cows would be sold at the mart, the farmers would come back fairly tipsy to the lane, fall in cow dung and lose the coins from their pockets. A few days later, the kids would find their shillings," he says.
Luck is something Peter has enjoyed his share of too, particularly in his career, though it's obvious that hard work also played a part.
Though Peter is well versed in Dublin city lore, he actually hails from Limerick city. "I'm very proud of being from Limerick; it's one of those places in Ireland that tends to be overlooked," he says, adding that he's the course director in the University of Limerick's School of Architecture.
The second eldest of a family of four, he says architecture, which he's passionate about, was an obvious career for him. "I never did art at school, I never did drawing, but I was creative. I was always making things. I would be happy playing with the box rather than the toy," he reminisces, adding that when he came to Dublin to study in the late 1980s, architecture wasn't a popular choice, as Ireland was in recession. "It was 1989; all the quays were derelict. It was a vocation more than a profession, like becoming a priest," Peter says.
He says he was lucky in the quality of people who tutored him in UCD, and two of them, Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey of O'Donnell + Tuomey, also gave him his first job after leaving college, giving him the opportunity to work on fascinating projects, including the Lewis Glucksman Gallery in Cork.
After seven years with O'Donnell + Tuomey, Peter went to Madrid and spent three years with Rafael Moneo, a top Spanish architect - there, too, he worked on cutting-edge projects.
He enjoyed his time there and says he learned a lot, including how to be more assertive. "In general, I would be reticent, but you have to bend and adapt. There, you have to raise your voice to be heard." However, in 2005, he decided to give Ireland a chance. "There was a hunger to come home and to take advantage of the upturn here. Caomhan [Murphy Leao], my friend, was in Sydney. We both decided to come home and we established our office, A2 Architects, in January 2005, and we've been going strong ever since," Peter notes.
Their projects have been many and varied and they've consistently won prizes for their work over the years, including best house, best house extension, best school and best public space. They've also been chosen to participate in Nine Lives, an exhibition at Kilkenny Arts Festival that looks at domestic space and showcases the work of a new, gifted generation of architects.
Peter is very vocal on the need to exploit the talents of new, young, up-and-coming architects. "I feel I'm not giving back as much as I could. I'm not talking about architecture for architects, it's about architecture for everyone, and I'm more interested in the social and cultural role that architects have to play, particularly in a growing and fairly young country," Peter says with passion. He adds: "Unfortunately, public commissions are rare; there's a slight mistrust of young architects and I think that's something that needs to be overcome. If you look to London with Boris Johnson, the mayor, there's a very strong culture of promoting young architects into the public domain."
He speaks passionately about the investment by the Government here in architectural education. "It's an expensive education, and having invested so much, you would like to think there would be a return investment by the architects into the public realm, particularly public housing schemes," Peter asserts.
Though his home on Lucky Lane is his own private commission, there was a public dimension, in that it has led to the creation of a new street.
Initially, Peter and two friends - Liz McLaren, a violinist with the RTE Symphony Orchestra, and Philip Crowe, another architect - joined forces to buy a large, old terraced house in the area. "We lived communally; it was one way to find a foothold in Dublin," Peter says. "We always knew we had the potential to develop the back garden. We knew that Dublin County Council were encouraging new development in a coherent fashion, and we felt there was an opportunity to add to the environment and build a new type of house, so we decided to go to all the neighbours to encourage them to apply for planning permission," Peter explains.
The planning permissions were given, and, so far, four houses have been built on the lane, two of which - including Peter's - were designed by Peter and Philip, with input from Liz. Peter's house is a masterclass in how to combine elegant design, economics and energy efficiency. "I fuel the house through an air-to-water heat pump. It basically takes the temperature of the outside air, and compresses it, backed up by a heat pump and mechanical heat recovery, so my energy bills for the year are between €500-€600," Peter notes.
It's a two-storey house, with the three bedrooms, two bathrooms and storage areas all on the ground floor, while above is the light-filled, open-plan kitchen/dining/living area with two spacious decks, accessed by sliding back the huge expanses of glass. "One deck gets the morning sun and one gets the evening sun; it's nice being up high and getting the view of the sky," Peter notes happily, adding that he never has to turn on the lights until 11 or 12 at night.
The house has a spare finish, but Peter, while constrained by costs - the total budget was €250,000 - put thought into every aspect. The walls are either exposed brick or concrete blocks, the floors are polished concrete, the ceilings are plain plaster and the floorboards are decking boards turned upside down.
Minimalist decor such as this doesn't appeal to everyone, but the combination of it and the fact that both doors can be pulled fully back make this a great space, even for entertaining. "When I open up both doors, I have a room of 18 metres by six metres - I've had many a good party here," Peter says with a laugh.
A2 Architects, see a2.ie
Kilkenny Arts Festival, see kilkennyarts.ie
Sunday Indo Life Magazine