The sport of hurling has been an integral part of Irish culture and identity for generations, from the mythical tales of Cú Chulainn to the modern day All Ireland Finals in Croke Park. The hurley has been the sole symbol of the sport, and continues to be made from its traditional, natural material – ash timber.
The craft of hurley making is essentially a cottage industry, kept alive by a scattered group of dedicated hurley makers around the country. Yet in recent times, it has come under increasing pressure from a number of adverse influences. I visited five hurley makers in the Munster region as part of my research, where they voiced their concerns.
Ash dieback disease has destroyed many ash crops in Ireland, with hurley makers subsequently suffering. As a result, new industries have begun experimenting with different types of materials, such as plastic and graphite, to produce innovative models. Even though this development is challenging the traditional method of hurley making, hurley makers are still unwilling to co-operate with each other for the survival of the industry. Each craftsman is trying to protect his own income.
RESPONSE & SITE
My response to this was to provide a flexible, community based workshop facility in my area of study for the year, Sunday’s Well in Cork city. This parish is steeped in hurling tradition, with the local hurling clubs St. Vincents and Na Piarsaigh symbolizing the heart of the community. The workshop would cater for hurley makers to teach their craft to the general public and offer apprenticeships to safeguard the future of ash hurley making. The facility would also incorporate a fabrication lab, equipped with the latest technological equipment such as 3D printers and laser cutters, for both the community and hurley makers alike to experiment with new methods and materials to make various objects, even hurleys. The future of hurley making may lie in a combination of both natural ash and synthetic materials.
Exhibition spaces, ancillary rooms facilitating the craft process and an outdoor hurling ball alley are also provided to encourage communal activity, through making hurleys and actually learning the skills of the game. The vision is that this typology may be recreated in many parts of the country.
The building is also designed with flexibility in mind, where the program may change over time to suit the communities needs. Indeed, the building is a metaphor for the craft itself – adaptability is key for its survival.
STRUCTURE & MATERIALITY
The building is designed as two interlocking components – the solid cast in situ concrete wings housing the ancillary and service areas anchor the flexible exhibition and workshop spaces to the retaining wall of the site. It is essentially like a dumbbell, with two heavy weights either side of a long hollow handle giving the building its form.
The “handle” uses a glulam structure to wrap around and enclose the workshop and exhibition spaces, freeing the interior from structural obstacles. The bending glulam laminates also mimic the flexible grain of the ash hurley, which is a distinctive characteristic of the object.
Weathered corten steel cladding evokes a sense of timelessness and defiance in the building, while it also suggests an industrious aspect of the buildings programme.