A Donegal-born architect has scooped a $100,000 prize to design and build a wheelchair accessible treehouse in his home county.
Pol Gallagher, from Ballymacool, Letterkenny, was one of the 100 winners of the worldwide $10M Airbnb OMG! Fund.
The $100,000 OMG! Fund was organised by Airbnb, an online marketspace connecting people with short-term homestays and experiences.
It invited tens of thousands of entries from architects and designers who presented their plans for creating dynamic and creative homes in their chosen locations.
Pol’s winning entry was entitled ‘Caislean Oir’ (the gold castle) – a reference to local west Donegal folklore.
These drawings and designs encompass Pol’s first idea to design a breathtaking retreat in Donegal, that would have all the drama of a treehouse, while also being accessible to guests in wheelchairs.
This all-inclusive design aims to keep the architectural drama and magic of staying in a treehouse without ever feeling clinical or the structure’s appearance looking anything like ‘disabled apparatus’.
Pol told Donegal Daily he had imagined the winning entry would be located in or around the Rosses/Dungloe area.
“I spent much of my childhood there and the scenery and people are hard to beat! I still haven’t identified a specific site for this (treehouse) yet, but somewhere with a view of the water is a must,” he said.
He said this design is important because often people with physical disabilities are ostracised or made to experience ‘quirky experiences’ with the aid of very clinical and institutional looking support apparatus.
“I feel this ‘apparatus-washing’ of inconsiderate design detracts from the experiences on an emotional and immersive level. Good design should make inclusivity invisible for all – so that is the objective here,” he continued.
The steel origami folded structure spectacularly opens like a flower to allow the bedroom pod to rise inside – offering stunning views of the ocean and Donegal landscape beyond.
The special bonus feature to this architectural gem is the luxury jacuzzi hot tub adjacent – which exaggerates the feeling of rural isolation and peacefulness. This moment of calm is about retreat, mindfulness, and appreciation of the landscape.
Pol will now begin work on designing his pod with ZAP Architecture.
“It feels incredible to win this as we often put so much effort into design competitions and you sometimes never feature given the amount of quality entries,” said Pol.
“This is a culmination of many design ideas taken from previously failed competitions which prove to me that nothing is wasted; previous ideas get kept in a mental locker for their next outing.
“The next step is to organise a team to build this. There are many moving robotic parts, so we need to engage with specialists in this discipline.
“This quirky Airbnb pod will bring visitors to my often remote and rural village in Ireland, where the landscape is beautiful and the opportunity to get away from the hustle bustle of the city is available for recharging our stress and anxiety levels.
“This project is about a reconnection with nature from an ambitious architectural intervention,” he concluded.
For more information see the list of The OMG Fund winners.