The grey Irish sky hangs so low over Carlow it seems about to engulf it. The town of 20,000 people, an hour or so’s drive south of Dublin, is centred on a stony, grey college and a grey cathedral, the former restrained and classical, the latter restrained and gothic (with a curiously rocket-shaped spire). The college green between them was, until recently, delineated on one side by a group of corrugated iron-clad agricultural buildings and a pig sty. Now that edge is defined by a translucent new building, an icy block that seems to suck the greyness of the sky into itself and illuminate the heart of the town.
“Visual” is a new €18m arts centre designed by London-based Terry Pawson Architects and it gives little Carlow the kind of institution more usually associated with tastefully bourgeois and wealthy Swiss and German towns. Based on the model of the Germanic Kunsthalle, an exhibition space without its own collection, its architecture brings Ireland closer to the cultural language of continental Europe at exactly the moment the country has voted decisively for closer union.