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A strange coincidence surrounds the story of one of Dublin’s most unusual buildings, the Met Éireann headquarters in Glasnevin.
Nowadays, the pyramid-shaped building is cladded with metal sheets but when it was first built in 1979 it was finished with limestone.
Unfortunately, the original limestone facade was not equipped to withstand the sporadic nature of the Irish climate; the rain soaked into the cladding and then when the sun came out it warped.
By 1989, the Office of Public Works (OPW) stripped away the stone and replace it with metal.
The metallic facade transformed the appearance of the building, giving it the futuristic style we know today. It also made it look a lot like another building in Zurich in Switzerland, called the Ferrohaus.
“It is an incredible coincidence,” says architect and writer Cormac Murray, as this building was actually the inspiration behind the Met Éireann building.
In a recently released zine Cosmoform, published by Phibsboro Press and run by Eamonn Hall, Murray examines the story of the iconic Met Éireann building, as well as the underlying theory that may have influenced the architect, Liam McCormick, who designed it.
The word cosmoform refers to buildings with sloped facades that look up towards the sky, says Murray.
It was coined by a Swiss architect Justus Dahinden, who designed churches, housing developments, shopping centres and office buildings, he says.
“He [Dahinden] took inspiration from Egyptian and Mesoamerican and Sumerian architecture,” says Murray. “The idea that it would bear the heavens because these various religions all worshipped the sky in some form.”
Danhiden also said that the design was more democratic as someone living on the bottom floor of a building would get the same amount of light as someone higher up, says Murray.
Danhiden was “combining this idea of practical design intent with a more spiritual one,” says Murray. In effect a cosmoform is a building that worships the sky, he says.
We don’t know how much the Irish architect McCormick was aware of the theory or if the style just seemed particularly appropriate for a weather building, says Murray.
“It is just a beautiful irony that the building he [McCormick] was designing was imitating an office building but the main brief he was given by the weather forecasters was that they wanted a good view of the sky,” says Murray.
The other stipulation by the client Met Éireann to McCormick was that the building should not overshadow the neighbouring houses. The horizontal building sloping inwards also fulfilled that brief.
“Usually something that stands out and is unique is bombastic on a large scale and aggressive almost,” he says. “Whereas Met Éireann, it is a bit bizarre seeing it in Glasnevin, but it is not a dominating building.”
McCormick was clearly inspired by the Ferrohaus building, but it was never his intention that the two buildings would be almost identical, says Murray.
Initially, McCormick “had wanted to clad the whole building in Welsh slate”, says Murray. But the building was an OPW project and “the state wanted to promote an indigenous material”, he says.
When the limestone began to warp and was replaced by metal, some people thought this was embarrassing for McCormick and especially for Met Éireann, says Murray.
“Since it is their headquarters and it is being attacked by the Irish weather, which is pretty funny,” he says.
“If they had used slate, according to McCormick this would never have happened, and that would make sense because slate is used in roof tiles all the time,” says Murray.
The refurbishment works were not carried out by McCormick’s company, so he probably had no choice in the new material and the metal cladding was likely chosen as it was economical, says Murray.
Nowadays, media and online descriptions of the Met Éireann building often compare it to a space station or a James Bond villain’s lair, says Murray. “But when it was clad in stone people were comparing it to an ancient pyramid or an Aztec temple,” he says.
Murray thinks the stone looked better. “It had a charm to it,” he says.
Architectural historian Emma Gilleece also imagines that the Met Éireann building looked better when it was stone-faced, she says.
“I think the stone would have made it more solid,” she says. “If you are going to go for this brute of a building, I think really own it.”
Regardless of the issues with the cladding McCormick was immensely proud of the building.
When the artist Robert Ballagh painted a portrait of him for the Ulster Museum, in Belfast, he asked him to hold a model of one of his churches.
McCormick instead chose to hold a model of the Met Éireann building, says Murray.
Famous for Churches
Liam McCormick is celebrated internationally and at home, says Gilleece, the architectural historian.
McCormick was not constrained by any type of boundaries, says Gilleece. He designed Presbyterian churches as well as Catholic ones, which she says is quite an unusual thing for an architect of churches to do.
Carol Pollard wrote a book about his Seven Donegal Churches and she did such a good job that everyone associates him with them, says Gilleece.
As a result some of his other buildings are almost forgotten, she says.
All of McCormick’s churches are pyramid-shaped or other unusual shapes, she says. “They are really fun.”
“I don’t think he quite carries it off with the Met building,” says Gilleece. That said, it is certainly eye-catching, which she likes.
“Buildings are meant to excite people and you do drive past and go what is that mad pyramid, did a futuristic spaceship drop down?” she says.
The Stories of Buildings
The more people know about buildings the more interest they will take, says Gilleece.
“It is the same with any kind of an art form. If I look at a painting I might go, ‘I don’t know about that’,” she says.
“But then if someone tells me the story I might appreciate it.”
The full essay written by Murray is in the newly released zine published by Phibsboro Press , Cosmoform, which is printed by the Phibsboro Press. The eight-page booklet folds out to an A2 poster designed by illustrator Julien Gobled.
In 2017, designer Eamonn Hall and Murray collaborated on a zine about the Phibsboro Shopping Centre, and they plan to continue to produce works examining iconic Dublin buildings.
[Correction : This article was updated at 9.18am to reflect Cormac Murray’s correct name. We apologise for the error.]