Shallow Graves

Submitted by Erica Udoff

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Client: Ireland's Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University

Location: Hamden, USA

Completion date: 2013

Project Team

Architect

Leonard Wyeth AIA

Wyeth Architects LLC

Architect

Sara Holmes AIA

Wyeth Architects LLC

Architect

Victoria Su AIA

Wyeth Architects LLC

Overview

Shallow Graves is a pair of tile installations in the bathrooms of the Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University.

Goals

Architectural and design decisions throughout this museum are intended to contribute to the narrative of the Great Hunger. The tile material in the bathrooms lends itself to making a compelling statement in an unexpected place using simple materials.

The moss-green color of the tiles evokes the peat bogs of Ireland. Irish peat was, and still is, harvested, dried into briquettes and burned for domestic heat. The poor of Ireland depended on the earth not only for their subsistence food, the potato, but also to burn for warmth in their cabins.

The tiles recall natural slate, like that extracted from the Valentia Quarry, Co. Kerry between 1816 and 1911. When London’s great municipal buildings — the Houses of Parliament, Westminster and St Paul’s Cathedral — were erected or restored in the mid-19th century, slate from this area was used extensively for roofing, flooring and finishes, as well as for amusements like pool tables. Similar to Irish cattle, sheep and crops of the time, these natural resources were shipped off to England. Ironically, some of the most active years for exports from Irish quarries coincided with the Great Hunger.

Process

Tiles identical to those on the floor and wainscot were smashed to create shards, large and small. Scavenged white tiles received the same treatment. Each run was considered it’s own composition – arranged by the architects on a 12 inch x 12 inch grid, taped upside down, transported to the site by the general contractor, and installed by the tile setters.

Additional Information

The thin top border of tile approximates the level of the ground outside this museum, providing a subtle reminder that the visitor, like the victims of Ireland’s Great Hunger, has descended into the earth. Just below the smooth, peat-green ‘surface’ of the trim, the green tile is fractured and mixed with bone-white tile. In some areas the ‘bones’ are so close to the surface that they emerge through natural erosion, recalling the reality of what happened with the shallow graves of the Great Hunger. The fragments of bones lie still, inches below the surface.