Text description provided by the architects. Commonage, based in Callan, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland, is a community-based organisation which commissions, and provides a critical platform for, art and architecture projects in the public realm. The annual Commonage Summer School is an socially engaged architecture training programme in the community which provides design and build workshops, led by young, and established design and architecture practices along side a parallel programme of public talks, shared meals, film screenings, guided walks and visits to community and cultural organisations around Callan.
In 2012, three design and build workshops focused on a future riverwalk for the town; a seasonal bridge to create a crossing point on the millrace led by LiD Architecture, designs for a system of public access gates led by Superfolk Design Studio and a cowshed with a rainwater collection system led by the newly formed Cowshed Collective.
The Cowshed Collective was formed as a result of an invitation by Commonage, by a group of young architecture graduates - Michael Hayes, Samuel Kane, James Kennedy, Scott Morton and Albert Tobin. The cowshed, realised during the 17 day Summer School programme is located at the end of the proposed riverwalk, on a farm run by the Camphill Callan Community. Camphill is an intentional community which supports people with a disability to live and work in an inclusive environment.
The farm at Westcourt is collectively farmed by Camphill Callan farmers who anticipate welcoming visitors to the farm for occasional gatherings when the riverwalk is completed. Taking impetus from the unique Camphill setting, the Cowshed Collective imagined a cowshed which gives structure to the farm yard and provides an infrastructure: a roof designed for the purpose of gathering and channelling, to store and provide a source of rainwater for the cow and her calf. The cowshed was constructed primarily with reclaimed materials sourced through Camphill Callan.
Participants came from Callan, from Ireland and the UK, and as far as Denmark, Norway and Greece, to take part in the summer school. The participants and the workshop leaders worked side by side with local tradesmen, builders and specialists in the areas of lime rendering and green oak engineering to realise an ambitious build programme. Participants also took part in events during the local town festival, and the Summer School culminated in the Cowshed Ceili, a celebration with banjo players on the bridge at dusk and a disco in the hayloft to end the festivities.
The cowshed is an important impeteus for a long term process titled ‘Nimble Spaces’, cutting edge design and build projects to be developed at the Camphill farm at Westcourt over the coming years.