Mardyke, Cork City
180 sq m 91,940 sq ft)
HIDING almost in plain sight is this Cork home of utter architectural distinction called Folding House.
It’s a home with its quality barely glimpsed, most of it enveloped in a sharp, angled shape, an urban oasis of tranquillity, Zen-like calm, and complete city living convenience, on the tree-lined and lovely Mardyke “where we sported and played, ‘neath each green leafy shade....”
And, it’s not just anyone waxing lyrical about Folding House: that’s also the rousing, swelling chorus judgment of none other than the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, who adjudged the hide-out home set directly opposite Fitzgerald’s Park and UCC’s Mardyke sports complex to be their stand-out, House of the Year in its Irish Architecture awards for 2016.
Then, the following year, this house made the short list for the more international 2017 Mies van der Rohe European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture as a suitable nod towards the quality of design and siting by Irish firm A2 Architects. (A2 have just repeated this RIAI/Mies double act in 2020 and 2021 for a house on Sky Road in Clifden, Galway. Quality as they say, will out.)
Now, this absolute one-off home with its origami-like creases and folds, commissioned as a trade-down home by a near-retired design savvy couple with Limerick and Cork roots has come up for sale.
They reckon “we have one more house left in us,” and they are narrowing down options for yet one more adventure in architecture and design.
To use a card game analogy, they say they had “the choice to stick, or to twist.”
Twist it is. Contemporary to its core but without fuss or frills, twisted and cranked Folding House is up for the taking, and what they next build, and where, is all in the air. It could be city, it could be country — it just has to be special.
Irish Examiner ‘Property & Home’ met them exactly 12 years ago when they had a cool take on a dormer design for sale in Monkstown Demesne, with their interiors graced by modern photography and graphic art, and some classics of 20th furniture too.
There, in that calming harbour setting, they had come across architect Peter Carroll of A2 when they commissioned him to design an extension for them on their last house set in Monkstown’s woodland, a home called Fox Wood.
They sold that demesne-set Fox Wood before building any extension. Instead, they used A2 for a site that had been sticking on the open market in Cork, for well over a year, in such an exceptional setting, the back garden of an older property on the Western Road, a site 400 metres from UCC, right on the Mardyke... but no one else had seemed to have seen the potential now so fully realised.
What they might do next is as yet undecided — but the certainty is they will use the same architect, they say, committed and keen to go, wherever.
Folding House comes to market with estate agent Lawrence Sweeney of Savills, with a €795,000 price guide. But, the truth is, it’s so singular in its quality, so rare in its assertion of uncompromising architecture, so special in its Mardyke sporting mecca setting and just so damn lovely and liveable in too, that it just needs the right buyer and bidder(s) to pounce and put a personal, appreciative value on it.
Leaving aside for a moment the obvious, the award-winning design and the kudos of the RIA making it a House of the Year, just consider these plus points in its favour.
It’s set on the Mardyke, about 1.5kms from Washington Street, a stroll on the flat into and out of Cork’s city centre.
Notably, Savills’ sales brochure lists a number of services on its doorstep, and measures them in metres, not miles. Fitzgerald’s Park is 40 metres away, the Mardyke Arena 70 metres.
A bus stop serving myriad routes is 120 metres away; UCC’s campus is 400 metres with some more of Cork’s best contemporary architecture on its grounds such as the Glucksman Gallery, with its own shades of Folding House. That’s entirely unexpected as this house’s lead designer Peter Carroll of A2 Architects had previously worked with the Glucksman gallery’s designers O’Donnell + Tuomey.
The just-expanded Bon Secours Hospital and its enlarged consultant base is 950 metres off, while the CUH is put at 1.4kms... so, a mile, more or less?
Under a kilometre away are the Lee Fields and the Kingsley Hotel, while tech giant Apple has its European HQ 2.3kms away at elevated Hollyhill, where it employs 5,000.
So, city and institutions are all at the feet of urban Folding House: extraordinary that only now are a few more similar back garden/mews sites on the Mardyke getting picked up for individual homes, and this home is, still, the ultimate outlier.
From within, there’s no mistaking the location from one aspect, at the first floor living room and its large, full-width angled balcony. It peers through mature, chunky tree trunks to the immaculate GAA playing pitch of UCC’s Mardyke Arena complex, with a swimming pool, gym, running track and performance labs plus a whole plethora of sports facilities just across the cul de sac road.
Past that pitch, the view from the first floor perch, looking north, includes the reinstalled Daly’s Bridge, or the Shakey Bridge, a Cork icon now fully refreshed and with a renewed bounce in its pedestrian suspension bridge step.
Then, seen just to the right, is Fitzgerald’s Park, a civic amenity par excellence with museum, café, riverside walks and playground, a green urban lung and a life-saver for Cork’s citizenry during Covid-19 lockdowns, upgraded with near-prescience just in time to do the city some serious service.
Just further along, on the city side of the public park, is Sunday’s Well Tennis Club, with squash courts for the fit, and its snooker tables and bar/restaurant, for the more sedentary.
Next up is Cork County Cricket Club, Munster’s finest and a feature here on the Mardyke for the past 150 years. Does it get any more genteel?
Coming in to bat on the creases of Folding House, there’s not a point, principal or feature that hasn’t been considered and teased out, and delivered on, with its design by and large dictated by the deep, and relatively narrow shape of its urban site, walled-in on all sides.
Rather than try to get a front door at the front, for example, A2’s lead architect and director Peter Carroll instead decided to place the main entrance around to the side, putting a ground floor master bedroom with en suite to the front, with the main, elevated and aloof living room and balcony directly over it.
But, so as not to have a long, narrow side passage to the entrance and to create bit more welcoming exterior space to the entry, he took the brave step to cut an angled chunk out of the building itself, sort of like a gathered-in or cinched waist feature in a designer garment.
That step, then, dictated much of the internal configuration and odd but visually effective layouts, sharp, angular (there’s hardly a square or rectangular room in the whole 1,940 sq ft two-storey home) spaces, and crisp, low key, almost gallery-like finishes.
That side cut-out isn’t anything you’d notice from the tiny, intriguing glimpse you do get of the house from the Mardkye or park, screened as it is by a high, impassive boundary wall, with electric access gate for cars (two off-street parking spaces) and stolid pedestrian gate, with side sandblasted glass panel.
The cut-out, sharp slice or bite out of the long eastern façade not only made this house utterly distinctive and one-off (the architects used the word ‘cranked,’ for this twist, and clearly not in a perjorative sense) also supplied the descriptor name for Folding House, which also carries the slightly more mundane surrounding Cork city address 35 Mardyke Walk.
At ground, it has a lofty double height hall at its core, flooded with light from a large glazed section in the low-pitch membrane-skinned roof.
That big glass expanse in the room of the landing/hall’s void is divided into six or seven section by deep vertical support baffles, with light and shade and shadow playing down the unadorned stairwell, with plain, rendered thick baluster which reaches a broad curve by the time it opens to the first floor main living room. A side landing leads to the first floor’s two back bedrooms, bathroom and small, south-aspected cut-out balcony..like a sneaky smoker’s den.
It’s little coincidence that there’s quite the gallery feel to the spaces, with white walls, and mix of glazing, including sandblasted large panes for diffused light, and the utmost privacy. The upstairs thus has two of the three bedrooms, a main bathroom with glass ceiling/panel over the shower for an almost blinding amount of white light, side landing, void and main angled living room with large sliding door to the sit-out balcony surveying passers-by on the Mardyke, or hurlers and footballers on the pitch beyond.
The owners give credit to the architect for holding the line on the balcony, fringed externally in galvanise RSJ steel: they didn’t think they wanted or needed it, didn’t think they’d use it. With such views to hand from inside, and as equally from outside (c’mon the Shakey Bridge? What’s not to like?) they went along with it, grateful in hindsight.
In fact, they say they give a simple brief to A2, initially asking for a two-bed, but ending up with three-bed home (they use one bedroom as a home office/design space) and hardly a tweak was made to Peter Carroll’s first sketches.
The builders were from West Cork, Goleen Construction, and it took over a year from start to finish, with lots of steel used in the construction due to the relative complexity of the design, voids and non-rectangular nature of outline and floorplan.
It’s aged exceptionally well: it is less than a decade old, after all, but it’s still utterly fresh and enthralling to the eye.
Much of the glazing, in sleek, slender aluminium profile frames, is floor-to-ceiling, and there’s a bit more height than standard in the room, with long internal sightlines in the main core and living spaces, while bedrooms are naturally more compact and private, both den and zen-like.
Flooring is narrow-strip maple (even on the stairs, supported on a steel frame), salvaged from a dancehall in Manchester, the occupants were told at the time of construction. Heating is gas-fired, delivered underfloor, on both levels, with a heat recovery/mechanical ventilation system for efficiency and good air quality.
Kitchen units in a long, linear stretch and in the island unit are simple, sleek dark and capacious, topped with grained white Carrera marble, and there’s a neat utility/pantry off the kitchen/sitting room also.
Externally, there’s a good balance of ground to go with this as a city home, with a public park and sporting amenities with a stone’s throw, or a discus, or a Frisbee’s toss away. There’s paved and gravel paths, ground concrete terraces and paths too (sort of like polished concrete, only less finished with the aggregate and colouring all evident. One raised section to the south has polished limestone sections, in a sort of shades of grey Mondrian grid layout.
Landscaping, which is completely on point with the architecture, includes many ferns, and Japanese maples and acers with some bamboo (it’s not rampant). Overall maintenance levels are pretty minimal; no beds to weed or grass to cut; no timber cladding, just robust, all-weather glass and simple, dark-painted render sections in an adept solid and void balance, almost all of it virtually unnoticed by the woman on the street or the man on the Marydyke.
Listing out the rooms and accommodation makes Folding House sound almost conventional: three bedrooms, one en suite with dressing room/walk-in-robe; main shower/bathroom; living room; kitchen/dining/sitting room; guest WC; hall; balcony and sheltered external balcony plus niche roof terrace, as well as rear enclosed garden, off-street parking and side access passage, all-in-all, a walled in urban retreat.
Unconventional, without being radical. It’s site specific, but more than that. It has edge and attitude, angles and twists, it’s crinkly architectural origami, made into just what it is: It’s Folding House. Lucky the person who wraps it up.