Pálás in Galway takes arthouse cinema to the next level

Pálás in Galway takes arthouse cinema to the next level

Some 14 years after the idea for a new arthouse cinema in the west Irish coastal town of Galway was initially proposed, and now with film producers Element Pictures (who also run Dublin’s Light House Cinema) firmly on board, Pálás Cinema (or Palace) has arrived. And, despite its long-drawn inception, it does not disappoint.

A contemporary moulded-concrete ‘tower house’ located in the city’s so-called Latin Quarter, its somewhat austere exterior gives way to a dizzying interior layout of criss-crossing poured concrete stairs, nooks and passageways. In keeping with the 1820s merchant’s house that was formerly on the site, and whose façade has been recreated to house the ticket office, the spaces inside are domestic and welcoming in scale and contrast intriguingly with its monolithic appearance.

Architect Tom de Paor says he wanted the new Pálás Cinema to offer a contemporary reinvention of the west Irish vernacular of plain, powerful and solid limestone buildings or warehouses with small apertures and windows. To ‘soften the pill’ he added ‘punky, decorative and Arts and Crafts’ elements. Some of these are visible from the outside, such as the neon signs, the lettering spelling out the cinema’s name cast into the sides of the building and the 24 resin-coated window designs by late and renowned Irish artist Patrick Scott that reference the gel filters used in stage lighting. Stairwells, lobbies and rooms are bathed and dappled in red, amber, purple, green and yellow during the day as a result, and project playful light effects out into the city at night.

The cinema building’s moulded concrete form clearly stands out in its surroundings. Photography: Ed Reeve

In keeping with the more ‘dressed-up’ interiors ethos, the building’s three screens are also draped in sensuous red velvet on the ceilings and walls and filled with comfortable seating by historic French manufacturer Quinette Gallay. A ground-floor restaurant features leather banquette seating, marble-topped tables and an elongated chandelier by de Paor (who created all the fittings in the circulation spaces) made of stainless steel conduit and naked light-bulbs. Meanwhile the first floor bar is floored and lined with a luxuriant ebonised sapele, the same timber used in the chamfered and beautifully detailed window frames throughout the building.

With its sober concrete exteriors, untempered circulation spaces and soaring voids, Pálás is architecturally quirky, brave, playful and provocative. Even de Paor admits to getting lost in it at times. But that is also the charm and trickery of it, one that makes the contrast with the hi-tech and plush cinema spaces all the more powerful.

Pálás is an unabashed attempt to make something contextual but new. Its managers hope it will become a much-loved hub for film lovers in a city already renowned for its film-making legacy and awarded UNESCO City of film status in 2014. Located on an important circulation axis into town, in a strategic gateway spot, de Paor’s building is a bold statement of intent. §

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