“I think now that I don’t live in Dublin, I have a different relationship with the city’” says Jo Anne Butler, one half of the Westport-based design duo, Superfolk. “Generally when I think about somewhere that I’d like to be I think about a place that has peace and respite over space and I have this feeling about the Douglas Hyde Gallery (DHG) that if you’re in the city and it’s noisy and busy and crowded that it offers a respite from all of that.”
Established in 1978 and designed by Paul Koralek of the then London-based ABK Architects, the DHG remained the sole publically funded gallery dedicated to contemporary art in the Republic until IMMA opened its doors in 1990.
Its somewhat clandestine location and world-class programming under the directorship of the recently retired John Hutchinson makes this diminutive space a particularly rewarding discovery. Offering surprising tranquillity in the middle of the city where “there’s a few different reasons for that”, offers Butler: “One of the reasons is the entrance from Nassau Street amidst the hecticness of that piece of pathway and the narrowness with all of those bus stops; then there’s this hole punched through the railings. That traditionally was one long run of railings – a boundary wall where Trinity was kind of an oasis in the city.
Before the arts block was built you weren’t able to access the campus at all and you’d have to go right around to that big formal entrance at College Green. Trinity was very much this big green acre site, this big green generous site that wasn’t available or open to people to move through and so putting the opening on Nassau Street gave people the opportunity to pass through it. I think that as you’re walking along the street and it’s a bit chaotic that you just slip off to the side and the moment that you do you go through that dark and low passageway. The battens in the roof structure make the sound quieter and that encourages everybody to quieten down. Also, they move more slowly through it; it’s a pinch point.”
Having studied both fine art and architecture and having an interest in both, she continues, “I can’t think of another gallery of that scale and size that feels private and intimate and public at the same time; I love that you arrive in and it’s almost like you announce yourself to the art rather than the art announces itself to you.” Indeed, the original Gallery One (Gallery Two was completed in 2001 by McCullough Mulvin Architects) is approached from up high by a staircase that allows an entrance reminiscent of ‘Gone With the Wind’, or ‘Titanic’ or something like that. You arrive and look down upon the art, which is a really nice inverting of the normal.”
“I like that the gallery is held between this public front of the building and the more academic campus” Butler concludes, “so it’s kind of sitting on the fence. A lot of the newer architecture and design of gallery buildings in the 2000s placed this emphasis on a big glass window so that everything would be revealed before you had gone through the door – a bit like a fish tank. I think the idea behind it is that it would be a bit more accessible and that people would see the work and be compelled to pull in closer to it but I think that’s intimidating in its own way. With the DHG, pushing through that big heavy door and going into the gallery, that is your reward.”
Jo Anne Butler (MArch UCD 2013) is co-director of Superfolk, a design studio proudly based on the west coast of Ireland. The name Superfolk describes the braveness of hope for the future of our planet, paired with a huge respect for the intelligence of folk cultures. The studio produces furniture, homewares, pattern, print and textile alongside client based work in brand consultancy and interiors. Superfolk approaches design through a deep understanding of our materials, simplified ways of making and a mission to nurture love for our natural environment. superfolk.com
Words: Jeanette Farrell