Crawford Art Gallery

Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, Ireland by Erick van Egeraat, 2000

Brick, and other modular, masonry units, such as cinder block, are commonly used, and thought of, in orthogonal applications, naturally following from their rectangular shape. Even in Erich Mendelsohn's Einstein Tower the plastic form, made in brick due to cost constraints, is painted to resemble the desired material of concrete. But at the addition to the Crawford Art Gallery, in Cork, Ireland, Dutch architect Erick van Egeraat uses brick in a new, novel way, wrapping the two existing portions in a undulating curve of matching brick. The architect adopted the thin-joint mortar system, in which bricks are glued together creating a superior bond, to achieve the aesthetic intention.

With the two existing structures (the Customs House dating from 1724 and the Crawford School of Art addition from 1884) clad in brick, the Crawford Art Gallery is an inadvertent symbol of the mercantile relationship between the Irish and the Dutch. As brick is not a material readily used in Cork, the origins of the two early designs indicates a Dutch presence. This consideration makes Egeraat (who won a competition for the Art Gallery in 1996) a sensible choice to design the addition that would stitch these older buildings together. His refreshing approach to the exterior helps to express the complex of brick-clad pieces as a time line, each built approximately 100 years apart.

Inside, the building makes good on its promise from outside, with curved walls and ceiling planes shaped to bring natural light into the two floors of galleries. An interior stair (image on previous page) also incorporates a piece of site-specific art by Corban Walker: fiber-optic lighting that extends below the stairs to animate the ascent and descent through the spaces. It is refreshing to see art that both extends from and changes its context, here in an interdependent play of surface and light.

The thin-joint mortar system used by Erick van Egeraat in his design for the Crawford Art Gallery was developed in response to his, and other Dutch architects, desire to extend the aesthetic possibilities of brick. By giving the material the ability to bend and curve over a relatively small area, the system enables architects to design buildings that are integrated into their context but go beyond mere imitation (much like Walker's artwork).