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Building of the Month - September 2014

Yoma, Dublin Road, NEWCASTLE Td., Castletroy, County Limerick

Yoma, Castletroy, Limerick 01 - Representative View

Figure 1: Probably designed by William Clifford Smith (1881/2-1954), and one of five houses attributed to the architect in the immediate locality, Yoma is the most sophisticated of the International Style houses in Castletroy and features a complex massing of cubic shapes

The term "International Style" was coined after the first International Exhibition of Modern Architecture (1932) in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.  The style had emerged in Continental Europe during the late 1920s and early 1930s and was epitomised by box-like geometrical architecture unencumbered by ornamentation and usually finished in a gleaming white with large windows and flat roof profiles.  The overall impression was one of austerity, cleanliness and neatness.  Materials such as concrete, glass and steel were used to produce new compositional and spatial effects.  Against this background, a group of houses in the International Style was built in the Castletroy suburb of Limerick, aimed at a specific socio-economic group of middle-class professional men who desired sun-filled houses that could be easily maintained.

Yoma (1937-8) stands on an elevated site with scenic views of the River Shannon and no doubt at the time of its construction its confident Modernist appearance would have struck the casual observer as provocative, if not radical in the conservative architectural climate of the 1930s.  The house was erected for a gentleman named Ashton, an Anglo-Irish executive employed by Speights who had previously spent some time in Japan, hence the name "Yoma" which translates as The House on the Hill.  Yoma has been attributed to William Clifford Smith (1881/2-1954) of the firm of Clifford Smith & Newenham of Limerick and is one of a group of five houses designed by the architect in the immediate locality including Clooneen (1936); Cooltara (1937); Glannleam (1937); and Sunninghill (1936 or 1937).

Seen in silhouette, the pyramidal massing of the house is readily apparent.  The front elevation, facing north-east, is basically cubic in shape but with three projections creating an asymmetrical façade.  Elevated above a garage and utility room, the central projection is approached by a flight of steps and railed deck, a feature recalling Eileen Gray's (1878-1976) E-1027 (1926-9) in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France.  A cantilevered reinforced concrete canopy hovers over the door, a strip light overhead is framed by red brick piers while chimney piers on either side rise above the parapet of the flat roof.  Two cubes at either end break out from the central block and both feature a corner window.  The original steel casement windows have been replaced but the deck with its tubular steel railing, the canopies, the flat roof profile, and the flat-topped chimneys, all emphasise the horizontal unity of design.

Yoma, Castletroy, Limerick 02 - Rear Elevation

Figure 2: One appeal of the International Style was the harvesting of natural light and Yoma, along with its neighbours, exploits its elevated open site and made full use of corner windows on the south-facing elevation.  The railed balcony at first floor level recalls the sun deck of a contemporary cruise liner

The rear elevation, facing south-west, is comparatively plain.  Open loggias, since filled in, give access to and from the ground floor rooms while a central hipped doorway on the first floor opens onto a railed balcony reminiscent of the sun deck of a contemporary cruise liner.  Generously-proportioned corner windows light the bedrooms at either end of the first floor.  Smith here made use of innovate materials such as reinforced concrete beams, which also made possible the cantilevered canopies and projections.

In keeping with the International Style, the outer walls were constructed using concrete blocks manufactured on site, finished with a sand-and-cement render and painted a brilliant white.  The red brick dressings are "Ballinphellic Rustics", pointed using cement, and are a recurring motif in the Smith-designed houses in Castletroy.  The red accents were further defined by painting the horizontal elements – the railings, the fascias, the gutters – with lustrous scarlet gloss paint.

Yoma is the best preserved of the five Smith houses in Castletroy and the interior spaces retain many period features and fittings.  In contrast to the "radical" exterior, the inside of Yoma is surprisingly traditional and instead of the open plan spaces that were a hallmark of the International Style, the house features load-bearing partitions and separately defined rooms.  Accessed via the railed deck, a small square lobby opens into a double-height entrance hall lit, at landing level, by the strip window.  A spacious lounge features timber panelling to picture rail level and has direct access out onto the manicured gardens.  The internal doors throughout the house are veneered plywood and a stylistic quirk, the placement of the handles at shoulder level instead of the conventional waist level, is a feature shared in common with Sunninghill.

Yoma, alongside its neighbouring properties in Castletroy, provides a significant architectural link to the predominantly Continental-based International Style of the 1930s.

Dr. Ethna La Masney is a retired orthodontist who, because of a long-held interest in architecture in Ireland, achieved an MA in the History of Art and Design at the University of Limerick in 2003.  The title of her thesis was "The International Style house and its arrival in Limerick in the 1930s".  Dr. Le Masney has had two papers published in Architecture Ireland: The Journal of the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland and both papers were concerned with buildings in Limerick City and its environs

All photography by Patrick Donald taken from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage publication An Introduction to the Architectural Heritage of County Limerick

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