Award success for Dedalus Architecture

1 Dec , 2022  

Based in Moville, Co Donegal, Dedalus Architecture is an architecture and specialist historic building consultancy. Building Ireland touched base with Managing Director Duncan McLaren to learn more about this award-winning company – from its origin to the state of business at the moment.

These are busy times at Dedalus Architecture and the plan for owner and founder Duncan McLaren and the rest of the team in Moville, Co Donegal is to try and keep things that way right through the next number of years.

Established in 2001, the company is an RIAI accredited Grade 1 conservation practice which provides architectural, conservation and heritage research services to government agencies, local authorities, corporate bodies, private developers and community groups.

It employs three full-time staff and takes on projects all over the country, although primarily in the North West of Ireland.

Building Ireland caught up with Duncan recently to discuss the ins and outs of Dedalus Architecture, it’s on-going projects and overall hopes going forward.

“We’re very busy at the moment and have a couple of different projects on-going that we can talk about,” the Managing Director outlined.

“We are registered architects, so we provide the full range of architectural services but, because we have a conservation architect accreditation, we do primarily get involved with work in historic buildings or existing buildings mainly.

“Most of the work is based in the north west of Ireland, although we do provide that service nationally.

“We have a number of clients who have buildings all over the country, so we look after maintenance of the buildings for Irish Landmark Trust for example and we also get involved in projects in Dublin and Galway, and occasionally we do get pulled down further south and we do some work in Northern Ireland as well.”

Dedalus Architecture’s projects see them involved with clients that would namely be corporate, local authorities, community groups and charitable organisations.

The company does work with private clients from time to time but, as Duncan himself explained, “they would be the minority” when it comes to the project list nowadays.

It’s all a far cry from where the English native first started out in his career, having made the move across the water to the Irish capital close three decades ago.

“I grew up in England and was at University in London and met my wife and came over to work in Dublin in the early 1990s,” said Duncan.

“I worked for a couple of practices in Dublin but mainly for Henry J Lyons and ended up being an Associate Director there until 2001 when we moved to Donegal full-time.

“We established the practice that year from the home, got an office in 2003 and we’re still in the same office.

“The business has developed in the sense that the nature of the work we’re doing is much closer to our skill-set. We’re doing work all over the country on quite important conservation projects and that’s where we want to be with our work.”

Right now, business is thriving but it’s not without its challenges either.

As Duncan himself explained, the demand is out there for Dedalus Architecture’s services but the projects themselves can be quite demanding.  

“Business at the moment is very brisk and it’s quite pressurised in that we’re doing a lot of grant-assisted work, so that means you’re doing a project which has to run its full course during the course of the year,” he said.

“There are quite a lot of projects in that sense, so it’s a bit like farming in that you’re starting early in the year. Sowing the seeds for the work and then, by the end of the year, you’re trying to harvest it all very quickly.

“That works for us and, because we have a specialist skill, there is a demand out there for that.

“In terms of Grade 1 accredited conservation architects, there are about 50 in total individuals in the whole country and in the North West I think there might be three or four of us. That means it’s a skill that’s in demand.”

The Covid-19 pandemic, and the government lockdowns which followed in order to combat the spread of the virus, impacted businesses nationwide.

While Dedalus Architecture did feel the effects in having to rearrange things that would see its staff being able to work remotely, Duncan revealed that things actually improved for the company business-wise.

“We were in the fortunate position in that business actually got better,” said the MD.

“A lot of the work we’re doing, because of the grant assistance, the funding has increased over the last couple of years. So, that workload continued through the lockdowns although we did have work out ways of working remotely.

“In fact, it’s actually helped us in some ways in that our current technician we were able to approach on the basis that – even though she was in Co Meath – she could work for us for as many hours as she wanted remotely. That’s actually working very, very well.”

Indeed, it’s very much all systems go right now at Dedalus Architecture.

In June, the company’s excellent work was recognised on a national scale when it scooped the ‘Urban Design’ award at the RIAI Architecture Awards for its work on the Ramelton Castle Street Historic Towns Initiative project.

The initiative was funded by the Heritage Council and the Department of Housing, with Donegal County Council its managing client.

“It was quite a big grant scheme which was designed to take run down areas of towns and turn them around for quite a low budget,” Duncan said.

“So, initially, it was with the local authority and we put together a package of work and applied to the Heritage Council to see if they would fund that. Following on from that the next stage was to develop the schemes and it’s the projects we’ve been involved with the last couple of years.

“Other projects we’ve been involved with include quite a few historic masonry monuments like medieval churches, graveyards and castles. So, we’ve been doing conservation plans for various different projects including a 13th Century castle at Greencastle, a castle and Keep in Buncrana, McSwyne’s Castle at St John’s Point and are currently working on several medieval churches, at Rathmullen, an Abbey at Easkey in Co Sligo and another in Killybegs. A further project is the Iron Age Cashel in the middle of a lake, Doon Fort.

“They’re usually quite small projects and, I suppose, we might have about 30 projects on the books at any one time.”

On the award success itself, speaking on behalf of the company, Duncan said it was “great to get the recognition” for the work that was put to help ensure the project’s success.

“We were obviously delighted to be shortlisted and we thought that’s as far as things would go,” he stated.

“So, we were surprised that we actually received the award given the competition we were up against which are multi-million euro buildings with professional photography and everything else for its presentation.

“We’re doing everything on a shoestring and that, given the type of buildings we’re working with, is maybe appropriate.”

Looking towards the months ahead for Dedalus Architecture, the Managing Director is as optimistic as ever.

While project delivery will obviously continue to be top of the agenda for the company, Duncan himself also sees some potential for small growth.

“I suppose, the challenge over the coming months is to make sure that our current workload is all completed on time for the latest grant. The grant deadlines that we have to deal with.

“In the longer term, it’s already clear that we are working in a field where there has to be more investment in the future in the terms of town renewal and repair of historic buildings.

“Since the downturn in 2008, we’ve always been slightly cautious about taking on new staff and that’s also been quite difficult to do given the specialism of the work.

“I think now that we have an award under our belts, people will be more aware of us and we will be looking to increase slightly just so we can do more of the same but more effectively,” he concluded.

Dedalus Architecture

Bath Terrace

Main Street


Co Donegal
F93 FT72

Tel: (074) 938 5122
Web: [email protected]

This article was published in Building Ireland Magazine, October 2022, Vol 8 No 10