Interior Architects Foresee Birth of Yeats Centre


Interior Architecture students Foresee Birth of Yeats Centre

Architecture undergraduates at IT Sligo have come up with a vision of how a long-talked-about Yeats cultural centre for the town might look.

The students are on the BA (Hons) Interior Architecture course, Ireland’s only specialist graduate course that focuses on how old buildings can be transformed from a traditional use to a new purpose.

Their prototype designs, which went on display during the Yeats Festival, could well mark a significant step towards making reality many people’s hopes for a permanent exhibition space in celebration of Sligo’s links with the poet WB Yeats, his artist brother, Jack, and earlier generations of the Yeats family.


As a third-year academic exercise, the students were tasked by IT Sligo lecturer and architect, Bernadette Donohoe, to “re-imagine” how Pollexfen House, at the corner of Wine Street Adelaide Street, might be converted for use as a Yeats Cultural Centre.

The 19th century stone building was once owned by William Middleton, W.B. Yeats’s maternal grandfather, and William Middleton, Yeats’s great uncle. They were shipping agents. It is now owned by Mr Gerry McCanny, who operates his solicitor’s practice from the building.

The re-imagining was very much an “all hands on deck” project for undergraduates with diverse talents at IT Sligo.

Student teams in Quantity Surveying, Civil Engineering and Construction Project Management provided and costed the structural proposals of each Interior Architecture design while students in Tourism and Marketing produced feasibility studies and marketing options.

Interior Architecture students conducted a similar exercise three years ago when they “repurposed” the building by designing how it might serve as a Maritime Centre, commemorating Sligo port’s centuries-old trading heritage.

Lecturer Ms Donohoe, who is Chair of the Interior Architecture Programme at IT Sligo, said: “We have had great co-operation from Mr McCanny and are indebted to him for enabling the Interior Architecture students to use his building as a ‘drawing board’ on which to apply all their aesthetic and practical redesign skills.

“The Interior Architecture honours degree at IT Sligo, which just recently received professional validation by the Royal Institution of British Architects, is a growing demand specialism as society thinks more about how to find new uses for historic buildings rather than demolishing them.”

A judging panel, which included leading architects, chose a design by Sarah-Louise Emery (23), from Belturbet, Co Cavan, as their preferred interpretation. The students’ designs were displayed as part of an exhibition of Architecture and Design work at IT Sligo in the run–up to the Yeats Festival. Mr McCanny presented Sarah-Louise with an iPad.

For each student, the project involved much literary and historical research in addition to the practical aspects of devising their plans.

Sarah-Louise said that in her design she had attempted to imbue her approach to openness, light and access by drawing on the feelings of longing that Yeats had expressed in “The Lake Isle of Innishfree” and his sadness while in London at being away from Ireland and Sligo.

Mr McCanny said he was thrilled by the imaginative work of all the designs. “I was particularly impressed not just by their interpretation of the building but also the practical approach they all had in their designs, and how they were able to redefine the premises so creatively while retaining and respecting its historic landmark setting.

“Of course, I would be honoured and delighted if Pollexfen House were to be chosen to house a Yeats Cultural Centre,” he added. “The building is an integral part of the Yeats heritage and a Yeats cultural/museum/heritage centre has been in the air for such a long time.

“What I really hope is that the work of the Interior Architecture students acts as a stimulus and gives traction to the whole idea of a Yeats Cultural Centre that can be established in some suitable venue here in Sligo. In that way, the town and county would reap the benefits of a tourism, educational and artistic centre which could well become an international magnet for admirers of W.B and Jack Yeats.”

Caption for photo (above, top): Undergraduate Sarah-Louise Emery, who submitted the winning designs in Yeats Cultural Centre Project competition for IT Sligo Interior Architecture students, is presented with an iPad by Sligo solicitor, Gerry McCanny.

Caption for photo (above, bottom): Guests and judges at the recent IT Sligo exhibition of student Architecture and Design projects. (L-R) Gerry McCanny (McCanny & Co. Solicitors), Marianne O’Kane Boal (Art & Architecture Writer), Ciaran Mackel (ARD Architects & RSUA President 2002-2004), Senator Susan O’Keeffe, Sarah Emery ( Interior Architecture design prize winner), Ian Brannigan ( Western Development Commission) and Bernadette Donohoe ( Programme Chair Interior Architecture) Photo courtesy of Suzy Mc Canny.