Open Architects

Open Architects - Press Articles

26th November 2015

The Irish Times - A Social Housing Solution for the People

Our Home-Grown Home project, a collaboration between Dominic Stevens & Open Architects is featured in the Irish Times. See project details here

Written by Deirdre McQuillan

Architect Dominic Stevens is about to embark on a social housing scheme in Dublin, the first of its kind in Ireland, that will be driven by the needs of people, and not the market
"Housing is my passion,” says Dominic Stevens, the Leitrim-based Irish architect whose views on the subject mark him out as an individual thinker and creator, an outsider strongly influenced by five years working in Berlin in the 1990s and by the ideas of the self-build guru, the Swiss modernist architect Walter Segal.
“Housing,” Stevens says, “should not be a form of consumption directed by the market, but directed by people and their places to live”. With this in mind, he is shortly to embark on a proposed social housing project with a Dublin local authority which will be the first of its kind in Ireland, a “road map that others can follow”, he says. “It will build on all the practice-based research that I have been doing since Berlin and what I have always wanted to do.”
The Berlin experience made a major impact. “I was designing housing with people who came from a long tradition of good design. I learnt the whole culture of the ground-up approach to urban design which was fresh and exciting.
“Housing standards there are very strict and families stay in [rented] housing for their lives whereas here in Ireland [renting] housing is seen as a stepping stone to owning your own.
“Developers here are looking for margins that are too high. In Europe there is a greater long-term investment in making high rises that families will want to live in for a long time . . . and if we did this in Dublin, it would be a great place to live in 20 years time.”
Ground-up approach
The proposed social housing scheme with a local authority (in collaboration with Open Architects), costing €350,000 and due to begin in spring, consists of five adjoining houses, one for his client (a Dublin professional), three for homeless people on the housing list and one which will be sold back at cost to the council.
The two-storey houses are oriented towards the view so back gardens are south-facing and their positioning recreates a sense of a cul de sac. Inside, the kitchen, dining and livingroom area can be reorganised in different ways to suit the needs of the occupants.
“Kitchens used to be things out the back and that was the woman’s domain. Generations of students that I teach [in DIT] grew up in a house with a family room. The extended kitchen/living/family room is an area that places a woman in the centre of the house so the feminist movement has undeniably changed the Irish-built environment,” he says.
The construction will involve forming a housing co-operative with a protective covenant preventing them being sold in two years’ time.
The designs are based on Segal’s timber frame with up-to-date regulations and a foreman contractor funded from a local training unit will be appointed and unemployed building skills put to use.
“It is a social project that empowers people and the by-product is a house. It is not about making somebody money. It is like a mini private/public partnership removing housing from the market,” he says.
Stevens’s work has attracted international attention in other ways, most particularly for his award-winning Mimetic House, built in a field in Dromahair for the artists Grace Weir and Joe Walker which has featured in many architectural magazine and books worldwide. This extraordinary building, covered on all sides by semi-reflective solar glass, seems to disappear into the landscape, its name chosen to mean mimicking its surroundings.
The idea grew out of a conversation with the couple who wanted something contemporary on a tight budget, and the design was inspired by Stevens’ visit to a retrospective in Paris of Dan Graham, the US artist famous for his mirrored pavilions. What was originally intended to be a holiday house eventually became a family home.
“They moved in and never moved out again,” says Stevens. “It has captured people’s imagination.” A UK couple now want to build something similar in the Cotswolds on a larger scale and there has been interest from further afield.
Irish cottage
Another building that drew a lot of reaction is his low-cost €25,000 version of an Irish cottage, which took him 50 days to build over a two-year period with help from family, friends and neighbours, replicating in a modern way the “vernacular” tradition, ie using simple technology and local materials.
He has had requests from as far as New Zealand, Greece and Spain as well as the Isle of Skye for details. In another innovative step, the plans are freely available online, though they need to be “translated” by local architects, he says.
Other notable and distinctive projects include the In Between House, an artist’s studio in Leitrim which won an AAI award and the “Hidden House”, both in the west of Ireland.
His biggest commission to date has been the Coastguard Station in Doolin (in collaboration with Dorman Architects) for the Department of Transport, a dramatic linear structure reflecting sea and light “a poem to the landscape” but also a utilitarian building geared to the demands of coastal emergencies.
Stevens founded his practice in 1995 after five years in Berlin. From Dún Laoghaire and an urban background, he started making furniture after his father gave him a catalogue of the designs of Gerrit Rietveld, the Dutch furniture designer and architect.
“I like technical drawing and making models. I love people places. Architecture has so much to do with people and what they do in places. You are making places for them to do the stuff they like to do. My mother was a marriage counsellor and as an architect you are also dealing with people and relationships and making people’s lives better.”
Steven’s views and conceptual thinking on landscape will be the subject of his forthcoming solo exhibition Works by Nature and Man, a series of installations and videos at the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray opening on December 4th
15th May 2011

The Sunday Business Post

Top tips to consider when Extending your home! Last weeks Sunday business article featuring ten tips from Open Architects in Donnybrook.


You are slowly out growing your current home, whether it be that you require more bedrooms, or you would like a home office or perhaps an extra room downstairs for use as a playroom for the children. You may have brought your house as a ‘starter’ home with plans to move in a few years when you have a young family. But now, as is the same for many people, you can’t move as the market isn’t favourable right now. So you feel stuck in your house and begin to feel the walls encroaching in on top of you. The best solution for this is to extend. We talked with Claire McManus from Open Architects in Donnybrook who specialises in extensions. She shared with us her top ten tips on where to begin when extending your current home.


  1. You can extend your house by up to forty square metres without planning permission, subject to a number of conditions including extension height, location and garden size. If you need planning permission, there will be a twelve week application process with your local county council.
  2. An important consideration in designing an extension is the impact it will have on the existing house, particularly the room next to the extension. A room that once had windows to the garden can become a dark ‘corridor’ room, so be clear about the room’s new function and how it will be lit.
  3. Single Storey extensions off a two storey house are usually limited in height to the bottom of the first floor window sill. A flat roof is a great way to maximise the height allowable. Flat roofs have a reputation for leaking, however modern construction techniques have overcome this. Ensure the roof structure is insulated to avoid cracking caused by the expansion and contraction of the surface material.
  4. The amount of light coming in a window is proportional to the amount of sky you can see through the glass – regardless of the orientation. This means that high windows allow a lot more light than low ones.
  5. If your garden is lower than your house, consider building your extension at garden level. This will allow a better connection between inside and out as well as the potential to add more height to your ceiling.
  6. As your design takes shape, show your proposals to your neighbours. Give them an opportunity to voice any concerns they have about the impact of your extension or its construction. The earlier you try to address any issues, the less impact they will have on your design, costs and timeline.
  7. If building on your boundary, try to obtain written agreement from your neighbour to build a shared party wall. They can use this if they every extend, and avoid the problem of two walls with a gap between, which is a waste of space and can lead to damp and other problems. Seek legal advice.
  8. Invest in a Bill of Quantites. Drawn up by a quantity surveyor, this document breaks down the cost of your extension to the last brick, and is invaluable for comparing builders’ quotes, and for costing any changes you make once contracts are signed.
  9. Sign a standard RIAI building contract with your builder. This contract is designed to protect you through the building process. For example a retention fund of 5% of the contract sum is kept for a period of up to one year after works are complete. The builder is paid this amount after this period ends and once all defects have been remedied by him.
  10. Ask your architect for card or 3D models to help describe your design. Extensions can be expensive and disruptive, make sure you understand and love its design before construction begins.

Claire can be reached on 01 6689477 or She is offering a free 15min phone consultation with anyone who rings up mentioning this article. So don’t despair when you’re thinking about the size of your house, instead think of the potential that extending could unleash in your home.


24th November 2010

Self Build Magazine

28th October 2010

The Irish Times


HOW can you get buyers to see the potential in your home if you don’t have the spare cash to realise that potential? That’s the conundrum architect Claire McManus set out to solve when she established a new service for sellers.
“Even though people are generally advised to spend a bit of money doing their houses up before bringing them to market,” says McManus, of Open Architects, “they can’t always afford it. We can reveal the full potential of a house or apartment so that buyers can see how it could be achieved.” Virtually speaking that is.
Open Architects will provide before and after 3D images of a property, highlighting possible structural and decorative changes. Owners also receive estimates for the work involved and an outline timeframe from planning to completion. This can then be displayed along with the property as an added inducement to would-be buyers.
The cost: €500, with an additional €2,000 if the property gets sold. McManus set up Open Architects in 2005 with Majella Stack. They specialise in renovations and extensions, working country-wide. Recent projects include a house in Rathfarnham and one at the Ecovillage in Cloughjordan.
“This project makes use of current technology, but takes it a step further,” says McManus, who came up with the idea while househunting herself. “Most people use internet searches when buying, and you’ll see architects’ drawings and models on the pages of sites such as This is the next stage.”
Existing small rooms can be shown knocked through, dark kitchens can be seen to benefit from light-filled extensions, or completely refitted, and interiors can be utterly re-imagined.
McManus remembers viewing one Dublin home, and being shown a similar house a few doors down, which had had a lot of work done to it and had sold at a premium price. “Often an estate agent will tell you there’s development potential in a house. Sometimes they’re wrong, but often there’s even more potential than they can see.” The service benefits the owner, as it can help to make the house more saleable, but, as McManus says, “the real benefit is for the buyer, who acquires a house with the preliminary design work and costings already done”.
26th February 2009

Image Interiors

Summer 2009