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Kylemore Abbey project wins award

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ENHANCING THE VISITOR EXPERIENCE AXO Architects work at Kylemore Abbey won them second place at the RIAI Choice Awards.

Oisín McGovern


A restoration project carried out by a Westport architect has won second place in the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) Choice Awards.
Michael Horan of AXO Architects was recognised for his company’s work on the Kylemore Abbey Interpretation Project, which saw off competition from 33 other nominees across Ireland and abroad to claim second place.
The Kylemore project - along with SJK Architects, who finished third for their work at Scoil Mhuire National School in Monivea - were the only two nominees from Connacht.
The project, which was completed last year, was designed to enhance the Abbey’s visitor experience.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Michael Horan said: “It feels great [to get the award]. When you come second there’s a tinge of disappointment but it’s a great achievement. I’m very thankful that people took the time to go online and vote. It’s great for our business and for a local firm to get recognised on a national stage.”
The Castlebar-based company sought to enhance the visitor experience at Kylemore Abbey while also preserving the unique character of the Connemara tourist attraction. 
Speaking about the project Horan said: “I think Kylemore Abbey is so picturesque and iconic. We mixed a little bit of modern [design] with the historical and we tried to pay as much respect as we could. A lot of the project involved taking away stuff that had been added on over the last 50 years to reveal some of the older building.”
Kylemore Abbey, which typically attracts 500,000 visitors a year, was originally built by British MP Mitchell Henry in the late 1800s. It has been occupied by Benedictine Nuns since the 1920s, who purchased the building after fleeing Belgium after World War I.

Unique character
AXO Architects carried out a wide variety of works in order to make the building more accessible and visitor-friendly, while preserving its unique character. Working with Carey’s Building Contractors and Edinburgh-based interpretive design company Bright, they gutted and re-fitted rooms that had been destroyed by fire and installed audio-visual displays which tell the history of the building. Horan said feedback from visitors has been overwhelmingly positive.
“One of the big complaints from tourists that visited the Abbey in the past was that they only got to see three or four rooms. Now there are about nine or ten rooms they can see so it’s a much wider experience,” he said.
“Leading up to the Abbey the outside forecourt was all tarmacadam and it looked like a car park. So we took it all away and put in a resin bound aggregate and added some curves, which is something you see a lot in Victorian buildings,” he added.
With ongoing projects in the Blasket Islands and Inis Mór, AXO Architects are hoping to start work on re-vamping the Céide Fields visitor centre in September.
Speaking about the Céide Fields project, Horan said: “It’s a similar job we’re doing. We’re re-fitting the centre to put in new modern story-telling and audiovisual displays. It’s going to be really cool.”