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Competitions Archive

No. 16 Henrietta Street – Open Ideas Design Competition


  • Ali Grehan, City Architect, Dublin City Council
  • Gráinne Shaffrey, Shaffrey Associates Architects
  • Edward McParland, Trinity College Dublin
  • Eric Parry, Eric Parry Architects

79 entries were submitted. The assessors were impressed by the vigour and strength of many of the entries. The enormous amount of thought, consideration, effort and man-hours spent on such a modest one-stage competition is overwhelming and impressive.

It is noted that no one submission is considered a complete finished approach and there were reservations expressed about all of the design approaches. However, the assessors were particularly impressed by the number of approaches taken to consider the brief for the infill of this end-of-terrace site on Henrietta Street. The assessors summarised these approaches for discussion purposes as follows: the Polemic, the Monument, and the Void.

The assessors agreed that the site posed an enormous challenge given its narrowness and limited dimensions, its awkward topography, and the sensitive historic context of Henrietta street and in particular its relationship with No.15. At risk of stating the obvious, the more successful submissions worked with rather than against these limitations. Choice of material, scale and form are clearly fundamental in such a pivotal position within a strong physical context and the assessors’ views were affirmed, charmed, challenged and perplexed in turn by each approach.

The competition and the quality of submissions will hopefully re-invigorate a concern with new infill design in historic settings in Dublin City. This concern emerged in the early 1990s but has not been engaged with in recent times.

Assessment Criteria

  • Clarity of concept
  • Specificity to context
  • Scale and composition
  • Materials and making
  • 3-dimensional control
  • Sustainability and credibility of use
  • Resolution of threshold
  • Enduring quality of architecture

Ryan W. Kennihan Architects
WINNER: Ryan Kennihan, Ryan W. Kennihan Architects   

This entry was considered unanimously the most successful. It is distinguished by a number of factors outlined below.

The design is persuasive, optimistic, promising and sympathetic to the street. It responds excellently to the challenge of how to build in an historic setting. There is a beautiful resolution of form, context, and use, offering a positive contribution to Henrietta Street.

The design demonstrates strong 3-dimensional control. In every respect the side elevation and the negative corner are refinements of great beauty and it is vital in understanding the diverging treatments of the three facades.

The assessors were impressed in particular with the proposed use, which is appropriate to both the immediate and surrounding area. One of the concerns in the planning of this area is the loss of small work spaces even around Henrietta Lane. The loss of the repair workshop, joinery workshops changes this bigger context. Many submissions struggled with defining a use for the building. What was proposed as use in many instances in the competition (exhibition gallery, interpretive centre, library) is predictable, whereas here there is real thought given to the use which is site specific. Yet the design could be adapted to other uses.

The design derives great depth and beauty through articulation of the selected material – brick. The proposed use very successfully validates and informs the material. In form and scale the design offers respect to the original composition of the 1740s house and the street and offers vastly interesting things internally that a complete replication could never offer, and vastly interesting things to the side elevation.

The assessors had minor reservations regarding the resolution of the building at ground level but felt this could be reworked with no great difficulty. The elevation to Henrietta Street was debated also, the assessors feeling that there was not complete clarity of intent – If the structure is the aesthetic, as is suggested in the report, then what are the blind windows doing? - It is odd that they do not consider the blank windows a nod to its predecessor. It was noted also that this device, although common of its time, would not have been employed so expansively on such a significant elevation. Notwithstanding these reservations, the assessors concluded that this proposal has significant substance, beautifully executed.

HIGHLY COMMENDED: Lenzie O’Sullivan Architects
HIGHLY COMMENDED: Lenzie O’Sullivan Architects

The assessors considered this a clever design and beautifully worked through, demonstrating clarity and confidence. The architects appear to know precisely what they are doing. The slight corner set back is well-considered and resolved in a subdued manner. It is just cut back to allow for some shadowing where everything else is allowed to be flush.

The choice of material - wood – was handled skillfully. It is concerned with cabinetry, furniture and the smallness of scale.

In spirit it is almost like a Victorian end to the Georgian terrace and this contrast is done in a very real way. There is a lightness to it, where other entries have gone for robustness and solid masses.

The assessors remarked also on the restraint shown in plan - To put the stairs at the rear is very clever and very few entries have chosen to do this - and on the accomplished resolution of scale and form – It mediates successfully between the Georgian terrace and the new apartment block, though it is clearly of much higher quality to the latter. It steps down the language used before the Georgian terrace begins. It relates well to both.

Reservation was expressed regarding the ground floor treatment. The resonances of the shop front treatment at ground floor level evoke something non-domestic at a point where it becomes apposite to its use. However, the introduction of a shop front treatment to the ground floor onto Henrietta Street is not appropriate.

HIGHLY COMMENDED: O’Keeffe Architects
HIGHLY COMMENDED: O’Keeffe Architects

This design was admired as both interestingly ambiguous and evocative and familiar.

Executed in a challenging material given the context- weathering steel/’corten’ - it nevertheless does so with persuasive conviction. This design has a confidence that can be believed in. It was considered that, in the end, the weathering steel/’corten’ block feels alien and does not pay a homage.

The assessors were impressed with the treatment of the gable, the transition between scale of main house and mews and the control of plan section and massing while still delivering extensive accommodation on the site. The gabled side elevation is quite poignant. It is not a correct 18th century gable, but it is a correct corten steel gable.

If it was executed in brick it may not be as successful. The design is very pragmatic and well resolved. It fits a lot of accommodation into a very small site with surprising ease. It has been well worked through and provides some good spaces. In terms of section it was considered to be very well worked out. The composition, in its simplicity works brilliantly between sculpture and architecture. 

The following reservations were expressed regarding entrance and material. The deeply recessed entrance on the façade from the street is the one major flaw. It could be enclosed by glazing, which would work better for the street. On a practical level we do not know if the material will work. It is a staining material. This would have to be carefully detailed. The one great challenge with weathering steel is detailing the junctions with other materials

COMMENDED: Conor Moloney & Joost Beunderman
COMMENDED: Conor Moloney & Joost Beunderman

The proposal offers a temporary low cost public realm intervention as an intermediate solution for the gap site. This proposal if realised would reinvigorate a lost social activity associated with traditional Irish sporting and cultural life, which would be a very positive outcome.

Unfortunately the scale of the site would not accommodate the standard dimensions of a handball court. The idea is very commendable, but it has not been sufficiently considered from a design perspective, despite its temporary nature.

COMMENDED: Carr Cotter & Naessans
COMMENDED: Carr Cotter & Naessans

The assessors were very impressed by this design, which is very beautiful and well resolved. They were concerned however about the proposed use, which has impacted on the specificity of the scheme on Henrietta Street. The beautiful drawings for this entry may lead some to wonder why it was not more highly rated. The architects worked out a formal response to the brief and the site, handling it brilliantly. Everything was precisely considered. However, the use seems to have come after the design.

Its specificity as a building is very worked out but this sits unhappily in its context which is a fundamental flaw.

This design was deemed to score highly because of the way it seemed to have stuck to a very specific brief and solved it.

All the assessors were immensely impressed by the architectural quality of the design: It is a beautifully detailed, beautifully drawn and a very well mannered design. Equally impressive was the cleverly written report, which raises some interesting views about the permanence of what we build and where the city will be in the next century. The report supplied with it should be published in its own right!

The principal reservation about this design, despite its acknowledged sophistication, is the use:

It has that neutrality very appropriate to introduce the 18th century terraces. For all the splendour of the building itself, its use is alien to the street.

As an architectural design it is incredibly beautiful, but as a reality then it becomes questionable.

It is very clever, in that it makes a complex problem seem simple. What really lets this down is the use, which isn’t actually credible. It could be categorised as one of the ‘void’ or ‘non-building’ schemes. It could be a garden or a place for contemplation. They avoided that particular problem by devising a building that people would visit rarely.

COMMENDED: 4 Architecture
COMMENDED: 4 Architecture

The assessors felt that this design, one of a number of submissions using similar articulation and materials, was quite well executed and well thought out, introducing a book-end that responds to the elevation of the King’s Inns Library building. Despite these qualities the specificity of the design and its originality were questioned: It has clearly been carried out by a skilful architect. But is it memorable? It presses all the right buttons for what is fashionable at the moment. It does not put a foot wrong but this is not the message that should come out of this process. But, there is nothing new about the design.

Its elevation treatment was considered to be discordant: Of the façade and side elevation, it does not turn the corner, it is one. It is a wrap. The dissonance it introduces cannot be justified.

A great success in this design is its three-dimensionality, perhaps the most controlled in this regard of all the submissions.

COMMENDED:  Conroy Crowe Kelly

The assessors’ view of this submission was that it was very beautiful, rational and well thought out. It was also felt that what does not work is the entrance from the street.


  • Winner: Ryan W. Kennihan Architects
  • Highly Commended : Lenzie O’Sullivan & Associates
  • Highly Commended: O’Keeffe Architects
  • Commended: Conor Moloney & Joost Beunderman
  • Commended: Carr Cotter & Naessans
  • Commended: 4 Architecture
  • Commended: Conroy Crowe Kelly