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A space for public opinion and debate, engaging with a broad range of contributors in architecture, landscape, urban design, planning, and beyond.

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The makings of a mid-sized music venue

Sinéad Keating
Working Hard / Hardly Working
Sinéad Keating
Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell

During a gig, the architecture serves its purpose when it disappears quietly into the background, or enhances the performance by asserting its presence – contributing to the atmosphere. When the venue is noticed because it detracts from the show, the architecture doesn't work. Between the mid-size venues Whelan’s in Dublin and Limelight in Belfast, we can compare a live-performance space which works hard, and one which hardly works at all. 

Both Whelan's and Limelight are of similar size and location within their cities. Whelan’s on Wexford Street places itself in the nightlife hub of Dublin's southside. Limelight is in a similarly lively location on Ormeau Avenue in Belfast. Both spaces were arranged as a music venue within the shell of an older red-brick building. Whelan’s occupies a terraced three-storey building from the eighteenth century, which has hosted various public houses on the ground floor since 1772. Whelan's opened in 1989 and the first-floor venue Upstairs @ Whelan’s was added during renovations in 2007. Limelight first opened on the ground floor of Alexander House in 1984 as a live music venue. Alexander House is a five-storey late nineteenth-century warehouse.

Upstairs @ Whelan’s has an L-shaped configuration, partitioned to create two rooms at ninety degrees. The first room opens with a bar to the right and double doors at the end to guide you to the performance space. Through the doors, this interior room extends to the right with the stage occupying the far end. The door which divides the L-shaped venue separates the bar from the stage, and remains open during performances to create free-flowing movement between the two rooms. It succeeds as a space to host live music without distraction, facilitating a direct view of the stage from any point in the room. 

In contrast, Limelight is T-shaped in plan. Fitting the layout of the venue into this form complicates and compromises the viewing experience. Entry to the venue is at the base of the T-form, with the bar along the length of the relatively narrow corridor and the stage in the perpendicular space beyond. The stage occupies the right arm of the T, but, unlike Whelan’s, the stage does not address the length of the rectangular space. Instead, it faces back towards the bar and entrance to the venue. The audience are left to cram into the small corner in front of the stage, while others are relegated to the left branch of the T – craning around a row of columns to view the performance. The row of circular columns support the crux of the T, obstructing the view of the stage for a large proportion of the crowd. This also creates a problem for the performing artist; do they face the crowd directly in front of the stage, leaving the majority to have a side view of the show? Or do they orientate to face as much of the audience as possible, occupying the stage diagonally? Either way, the columns are disruptive for a large proportion of the crowd. 

Limelight only functions as a venue when it is half full, with a lot of choice in where to stand. For a more-packed show, the swell of people around the bar creates a choke point for movement. Perhaps not having clear lines of sight could be permissible for performances which engage less directly with the crowd. However, when Limelight first opened it was proud to host the likes of The Strokes and Manic Street Preachers, which were not of the subdued-performance kind. The beauty of a small venue is the intimate nature of a gig, which, in this case, is interrupted by a column taking precedence over the performer.

The main draw of live music is the performance. The architecture is there as a host to complement the experience. It is unfortunate that the architecture of Limelight detracts from the live music experience for a large proportion of the audience. A pillar obstructing your view puts the building front and centre, not the show. Better design decisions in creating the venue would lead to a better live music experience in Limelight, closer to what is achieved in Upstairs @ Whelan’s.

6/2/2023
Working Hard/Hardly Working

It takes several elements functioning well together to create a good live performance: the artist, the sound quality, the atmosphere in the room, and the venue itself. This article compares two popular venues; one in Dublin and one in Belfast, to emphasize the importance of considered space for a live performance.

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Water is everywhere before it is somewhere

Alice Clarke and Mike Fingleton
Future Reference
Alice Clarke and Mike Fingleton
Cormac Murray

“Water is everywhere before it is somewhere. It is rain before it is rivers, it soaks, saturates, and evaporates before it flows.”

— A. Mathur and D. Da Cunha, Design in the Terrain of Water (2014) [1]

The Ardnacrusha Dam was one of newly independent Ireland’s first projects of national importance. It had infrastructural and symbolic significance for a newly sovereign country undergoing major socio-ecological change. Built between 1925 and 1929, the scheme was conceived by Thomas McLaughlin, an Irish engineer at Siemens-Schuckert in Berlin. Costing a fifth of the country’s GDP, upon completion it was capable of meeting the entire energy needs of the burgeoning nation, transforming the electrical supply and capacity of the new state [2]. By harnessing the power of the River Shannon to produce electricity, water was seen as a source, at the forefront of Irish infrastructural design. The dam’s cyclical nature was intertwined with the region’s watershed. As modern Ireland blossomed, Ardnacrusha represented the ‘social revolution’ moving across Ireland [3].

1930 Shannon hydroelectric scheme postage stamp. Source: commons.wikimedia.org [4]

In the years following this major development on the River Shannon, designing with water has lost its relevance in our consciousness, in Ireland and further afield. A new, toxic, subject-object relationship with water emerged, based on water as a resource, something simply to be used, extracted, manipulated – a subjugated object. Following the green revolution, a nation of small farmers surviving by caring for their personal holdings were replaced with a cohort of larger agricultural producers focused on land colonisation, growth, and profit. Agricultural inputs accumulated alongside increasing production outputs: our natural fertile soils were industrialised. In doing so our rural rivers and lakes became the receptors of the excess of our industrial agricultural economy, our toxic dumps.

A parallel cultural shift during the 20th century was the urbanisation of our rural population, not only to the larger metropolises, but also simply to our many “rural” towns and villages. These urban centres geographically concentrate wastewater, focusing ever larger amounts of pollutants - from urban run-off or poorly dimensioned water treatment facilities - in specific areas. Our urban watercourses and groundwater sources are polluted by those of us living above them; according to Irish water we lose close to 50% of our piped water to infrastructural leakage every day [5]. Rivers and lakes, watercourses and groundwater sources - in short our entire watersheds - have been heavily degraded. Today only 50% of Irish rivers are of satisfactory ecological health. These rivers and lakes are merely points of revelation, the watershed surrounding them the points of human pollution [6]. Water is no longer a source but a resource: Ardnacrusha as a concept remains a nearly 100-year-old renewable resource, providing maximum 2% of Ireland's electricity [7]. The Shannon waters are completely changed.

Again, at a point of great socio-ecological change, determined not by independence but by future human and non-human co–existence, new references with water must be established. Conceiving of water as a source rather than a resource will determine not the electricity we produce, but instead how much life we can sustain. Crucial to this is our understanding of the entire water cycle and how we interact with water as an object rather than a subject. Water retention, permeable living surfaces, closed loop water cycles, wastewater recycling, and general watershed protection are all part of how architects, landscape architects, and urban and territorial designers should be developing our watersheds.

Ardnacrusha dam was a systemic solution to a local question. The consideration of the immediate ecosystem was relevant to the treatment of the whole. In attempting to create energy for an entire nation the height of Lough Derg, further up the River Shannon watershed, was crucial – only through controlling this could the dam function [8]. Today’s issues require even more systemic and ecological answers. Projects should not be limited by administrative boundaries but by geographical, topographical, natural extents, going beyond political borders to consider the boundaries of the watershed.

The Aire Renaturation project by George Descombes took the formerly canalised river and considering ecosystems a critical element of the design, reshaped a functional river system. It is not considered a finished design project but one that is constantly evolving. Source: Landezine.com [9]

The Ardnacrusha dam was a key moment in Irish design; we must reignite our sensibilities to water. The dam strives to work with water, but it stops short of considering the entire ecosystem it inhabits. We must become ecologically literate. Our relationship with water as a system must change, where it flows, floods, gathers, filters, dissipates, percolates: how it moves through our watersheds. Giving space to water means giving space to health both human and non-human: our uisce beatha.

23/1/2023
Future Reference

Designing with water has slowly disappeared from our collective drawing board. Today water is used as a resource, something simply to be manipulated, extracted – a subjugated object. Using examples past and present, this article looks at our society’s modern relationship with water and its inherent physical, social, and ecological power.

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The disappearing monoliths of Ireland’s bogs

Joseph Kavanagh
Present Tense
Joseph Kavanagh
Michael K. Hayes

As the remit of Bord Na Móna has shifted towards a new era of sustainability and carbon sequestration [1], it leaves behind a significant legacy of energy generation and industry, perhaps most notably represented by the construction of several peat power plants, many of which have already been eradicated from the Irish landscape. Seven of the nine peat power plants that were once operated by the ESB have been demolished; only Lough Ree and West OffaIy remain, though they have been decommissioned as of December 2020 [2]. What remains is a shrinking repository of industrial buildings and a dwindling memory of Ireland’s harnessing of its bogs.

Map of Ireland noting location of existing and demolished peat power plants


It could be argued that these monoliths have served their purpose and are now redundant; yet Ireland has previously embraced and celebrated its industrial relics. The Ardnacrusha hydroelectric dam has been celebrated by many and even provokes a certain degree of national pride. The history of Ireland’s peat plants demonstrate they’ve added much more than just power to an ever-thirsty grid and warrant as much attention as their hydroelectric counterparts.


What’s more, in an age where the counting of embodied carbon is an ever more prevalent means of assessing existing structures, the following questions emerge: what determines the current life cycle of a building and how do we, as a society, maximise the longevity of this cycle?


The Irish Free State at the start of the twentieth century saw the rapid development of infrastructure across the island. The First Dáil of 1919 set up a committee that was to explore the feasibility of peat and water harnessing for power generation. Fifteen years later, the government established the turf development board in 1934, the predecessor of Bord na Móna. The turf board took responsibility for the vast boglands of Ireland [3]. This is when the mass exploitation of Ireland’s bogs truly began.

Graphic deconstruction of 1964 ESB journal image of Ferbane peat power plant


The board implemented a shift from traditional methods of harnessing bogs towards industrial-scale techniques, the repetitive nature of which left distinctive marks on the Irish landscape. The measure of this impact remains, for example, in the repetition of drainage ditches, always spaced exactly 15.4m apart. This was accompanied by the construction of a network of peat power plants and the infrastructure to go with them [4].


Despite modernising the traditional system of harvesting peat to satisfy the growing appetite of these power plants, the process still required an immense supply of manual labour. Thus began a long relationship with peat plants and employment for Irish citizens. The demand for workers became so great that housing was commissioned by the board in the 1950s for their growing workforce. Workers’ housing developments required architects, which resulted in a number of well-known and regarded schemes, such as those designed by Frank Gibney. The housing that accompanied the peat plants is an extension of a wider built landscape, as without these industrial giants, the communities that developed in these areas would not exist [5].


The importance of peat plants to Irish society and culture goes far beyond their immense presence in the landscape or the employment they offered. Peat plants helped the ESB to stabilise energy prices during shortages in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The plants’ role in keeping the lights on for the Irish people emphasise their importance to our collective history and heritage [6].


These power stations’ historical role is certain, but their future, for those that have yet to be demolished, remains unclear. How can these massive structures, built with a very specific role, be repurposed?The ESB has begun to explore possibilities as it will find itself with a number of redundant plants by 2050. In 2020, the ESB released a statement saying that they had reviewed a number of redevelopment options. Suggested examples included the transformation of these structures into energy stores. There is an expectation that this type of battery storage will become more common as we try to keep up with peak demand periods while trying to achieve lower carbon emissions [7].

Sketch of West Offaly peat power plant


For further inspiration, the ESB could look to our European counterparts. We are not the first country to find itself with redundant industrial buildings. In Berlin, on Köpenickerstraße, sits a former heating plant which after years of dereliction found a new lease of life as a night club and has undergone extensive renovation to become a cultural space for exhibitions and events. An hour south of Berlin, you can find the world’s largest indoor beach and rainforest within a former airship-manufacturing hangar. Not only does this approach demonstrate sustainability by maximising the lifespan of these industrial giants but its protects existing built heritage; this hangar is the largest free-standing hall in the world.


While it is understood that maintaining or reusing elements of our built environment is vital to achieve a more sustainable future, it is clear from the above that it is also a way of maintaining a link between a society’s past, present, and future. Buildings hold varying levels of cultural relevance as well as architectural significance. Embracing infrastructural heritage or maximising existing structures for the benefit of the environment is a clear way in which we can protect our natural and built landscape in a way that celebrates both simultaneously.

16/1/2023
Present Tense

Despite a rich cultural, economic, and architectural legacy, many of Ireland’s former peat power plants have been demolished. In an age where the re-use of existing structures is increasingly necessary to combat climate change, how can the country’s remaining industrial infrastructure be repurposed in a way that protects both our natural and built landscapes?

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STOP! Wait. Go?

Aakriti Sood
One Good Idea
Aakriti Sood
Michael K. Hayes

From obsolete road signs to haphazard bollards to substandard advertisements, Dublin’s street furniture is proliferating the streetscape and it isn't painting a pretty picture. Street clutter in the city has become a topic of discussion in recent years, yet this newfound awareness has yielded little to no change [1]. The current result is a volume of signage that renders itself useless; it is nearly impossible to navigate which sign is relevant at which junction for which mode of transport.


The National Transport Authority (NTA) and the Transport InfrastructureIreland (TII) are responsible for creating guidelines on street furniture and have quite strict yet ambiguous guidance towards street safety. In one section of the Traffic Signs Manual, it states that, where possible, signs should have their individual poles, but in a different section the manual recommends post sharing on streets to minimise obstruction [2]. The NTA and the Dublin City Council (DCC) Transportation Department both have the authority to put up street signs and there is a perceptible lack of communication between the two. This has led to a lack of rationale and incurred duplication. Here it seems the council and the NTA are embracing a ‘top-down’ approach instead of approaching streets on a case-by-case basis. The lack of a clearly defined hierarchy within this system allows the circle of shifting blame between different bodies to perpetuate; it seems only revisiting and updating the relevant legislation might help put a stop to this cycle.

Multiples of duplicated signs, bins along D'Olier Street. Image by Aakriti Sood


The question remains: why is Dublin faring far worse than its European counterparts? Take Edinburgh as an example – a Georgian city of a comparable size to that of our capital. In 2016, the Department of Transport in Scotland introduced the Traffic Signs Regulations andGeneral Directions (TSRGD) [3]. These put forth a general directive and gave local authorities the right to rationalise and remove any redundant street signs, a simple action that asserted a clear hierarchy of responsibility. This decentralisation programme, initiated by the Scottish government, has helped cut a lot of time, cost, and red tape associated with the transport department. The local councils in Edinburgh, in turn, have set out comprehensive street audits that allows local groups to assess the design quality of the street furniture and layout in their area. Groups can conduct these audits in their vicinity and bring the results to their local area offices. This has been a successful strategy across the city in combatting the proliferation of signage. Edinburgh’s ‘bottom-up’ approach has given its citizens the power to quite literally make the change that they want to see in their city. A lot of the leg work to bring in these reforms was undertaken by a non-profit group called ‘Living Streets Edinburgh’ [4].


In 2018, the city banned all temporary advertisement boards from the streets to improve pedestrian safety and visual amenity. Edinburgh is paving the way in the UK, as London followed suit soon after and has since also banned advertisement boards [5] while the audit system is gaining traction in various cities and towns in the UK.

Poorly displayed directional signs, unauthorised advertisements, and repeated stop signs along George's Street. Image by Aakriti Sood


However, it’s unfair to entirely blame legislation alone for the current state of Dublin; laws do exist in Ireland but there is an abject lack of enforcement in our capital. A plethora of policies is rendered useless without a body to enforce these measures. The Dublin Wayfinding Scheme was introduced in 2011 to rationalise and replace redundant signs in conjunction with the Dublin Bikes initiative. Yet outdated signs are occupying the city’s streets more than a decade later, demonstrating how frequently (or infrequently) street layouts are assessed. In the past few years, a number of streets have been pedestrianised yet without outdated car-centric signs being removed. An objective in the previous Dublin City Development Plan (2016-2022) to assess street furniture was virtually abandoned until 2021 when more than five-hundred redundant poles were taken off the streets of the capital, paying heed to the outcries of residents against the deplorable condition of the urban realm. This act only managed to scratch the surface of street clutter and indicated just how radically the urban realm can and must be re-assessed [6]. The initiative to audit the capital’s streets has since been carried over to the current development plan (2022-2028), which commits to auditing streets and promoting street furniture co-sharing with no clear directive or timeline. DCC, the NTA, and other stakeholders need to cooperate. Following in the footsteps of our neighbours, Irish local authorities must establish dedicated in-house urban design departments to assist in the resolution of contemporary urban issues. A significant number of policymakers tasked with designing our capital city lack a background in urban planning or design, and the consequences are palpable when walking down just about any street.

9/1/2023
One Good Idea

Street clutter in Dublin is a topic of ongoing discussion, with a profileration of unnecessary signage limiting accessibility, visibility, and the value of public space for all. DCC, the NTA, and other stakeholders need to cooperate and support dedicated in-house urban design departments to improve the quality of our capital’s streets.

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Is there space for sex?

Nicolas Howden
Working Hard / Hardly Working
Nicolas Howden
Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell

“The first queer spaces of the modern era were the dark alleys, unlit corners, and hidden rooms that queers found in the city itself. It was a space that could not be seen, had no contours, and never endured beyond the sexual act. Its order was and is that of gestures.”[1]

The two spaces which will be compared in this essay are the cruising routes in Phoenix Park, and the Boilerhouse, a gay sauna located in Dublin city. Both of these spaces are used for engaging in public or semi-public sexual encounters, providing a level of privacy and anonymity, while also exposing the cruiser to a group of people also seeking sexual encounters. It is between this duality of secrecy and community where these spaces are most interesting architecturally, and both spaces deal with these issues in unique ways.  

The cruising routes of Phoenix Park are a leftover from historically queer spaces, where cities could provide invisible infrastructure that was simultaneously in plain view and hidden through a number of coded signals. Less widespread now, as queerness in Ireland has become more socially accepted, these routes have developed out of necessity; a need to queer existing city infrastructure to provide space for same-sex sexual encounters. These spaces were undefined architecturally but would often emerge with some shared characteristics. Parks in particular often offered all of the requirements for a thriving cruising culture to develop. Aaron Betsky defines four characteristics of cruising spaces. Firstly, it needs “conditions that in and of themselves dissolve walls and other constraints”; meaning that outdoor cruising typically takes place at night. Second, it needs a labyrinthine quality, deterring the use of the space for functions other than sex, and providing “multiple barriers to intervention or observation”. Third, that cruising takes place where the city breaks down, at its edge as a whole, or at the edges of buildings in the “stoops, porticos, windows and doorways”. Fourth, “cruising grounds have to parallel, but not be the same as, the public spaces of the city”, existing within the same space physically but separated by cultural differences and differing requirements of its occupants. 

These routes have developed throughout Dublin city, and while many have faded out of use as the city changes, some remain active. In Phoenix Park, a popular cruising location has developed a community of men who often require anonymity. These cruisers might not be able to engage in same sex sexual activities at home, or might find gay saunas such as the Boilerhouse too prominent within the city centre. One cruiser, Peter, scribed the appeal of the cruising spot at Phoenix Park: “Gay men have this fascination of walking around because they're constantly on the hunt for something better – you know? – and they don't particularly like to stand still. They don't. So the park – that area of the park – is quite ideal because you've got lots of different trails and different routes that you can take.”[2]

 

Spatially, it conforms to all of Betsky’s characteristics of cruising spaces, though these are not always consistent. Peter describes how during winter many of the spots usually sheltered by leaves become much more visible, and that during rainy days some areas on sloped ground become too slippery to use. In these cases, people might have sex in a car park, or around the edge of an old sports changing room. In this way, the cruising spot is more transient, and changes even within yearly cycles and with the weather. 

By contrast, the Boilerhouse remains mostly consistent, and despite being too prominent for some gay men, still engages with privacy and protection. Located on a quiet lane in Temple Bar, the front entrance is unassuming, with a nondescript sign and a foyer after the main door where you can wait before being buzzed in by an attendant in a small kiosk. The unassuming facade conceals the sexually liberated interior, where queer sexuality is allowed to be freed from social norms. Unlike the fully public cruising spaces in the city and in Phoenix Park, the Boilerhouse was designed specifically to be a space for sex  a formalised version of traditional cruising, it mirrors the characteristics as described by Betsky. As with other shops and establishments, it is a private space which acts as an extension of the city when open and provides a semi-public environment where its patrons can cruise with more security and enclosure than in outdoor cruising routes. The bathhouse provides spaces to wander, to gather, and more reclusive rooms and cubicles to retreat into. In the Boilerhouse these areas are obviously defined; after the changing rooms and lockers, the ground floor is open with a bar in a large double-height space, visible from the walkways on the second floor. On each floor above, the spaces become more and more compartmentalised, offering varying levels of privacy and enclosure. 

Partition walls often don’t meet the floor, with mirrors above stall doors.
Photographed by Nicolas Howden

The building maintains its semi-public condition throughout, even in the more enclosed areas. Partition walls often don’t meet the floor, and mirrors above stall doors provide a level of engagement with the more open spaces of the building. Glory holes offer connections between rooms or cubicles and further blur the lines between private and semi-public space. This arrangement provides a level of community not found in the Phoenix Park, where communication between cruisers is limited, and often reduced to subtle signals or codes. In the Boilerhouse, communication is not about identifying other cruisers but conveying more nuanced sexual preferences or interest in a particular partner. 

Foyer after the main door where you can wait before being buzzed in.
Photographed by Nicolas Howden

While the Boilerhouse and other saunas might be understood as a natural progression from cruising in public spaces, it remains inaccessible to some as a private establishment with opening hours, entry fees, and door policies. These spaces both represent physical manifestations of queer space. They are defined by sex, and while queer architectural theory has developed beyond synonymising queerness with homosexuality, it provides an insight into the development of queer culture and its place in the development of the city. These queer spaces for sex disrupt a traditional way of viewing public space, and the gradations of privacy typically understood, where sexual activities happen in the privacy of home. Public space within the city is nuanced, and not so easily defined when considering its multitude of users, and so an understanding of queer people’s existence within the city is imperative for its development. 

2/1/2023
Working Hard / Hardly Working

The merit of public space is usually assessed in terms of the requirements of the people who use it, and so depending on who is using the space, its merits might be judged under drastically different parameters. This article compares two spaces in relation to their function as cruising sites for queer people, predominantly gay men, within the context of queer architectural history and theory.

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Sustainable housing in an imperfect reality

Luke Butler
Future Reference
Luke Butler
Cormac Murray

The built environment is estimated to account for more than 36% of the overall annual greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland [1] with transport emissions accounting for a further 17% [2]. In light of the UN’s recent report on our “woeful progress” [3] on reducing carbon emissions, the Irish Government has stated its commitment to halving our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050, but how does this affect the delivery of housing, particularly in the middle of a housing shortage?  The requirement for 33,000 homes per annum [4] cannot be solely delivered from reworking existing built fabric; new construction will be essential. 

While this new construction will have an environmental toll, of the 36% of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the built environment, 23% are related to operational uses such as heating. Great, let’s focus on that. And that’s exactly what the government has done. Through regular updates to the building regulations related to energy use over the last decade, new homes must be designed to operate as Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB).

So we’ve established that new homes need to be built and the government has mandated that they be as energy-efficient as is feasible, but where will they be built? If we need 33,000 new homes a year, the majority will be required near existing population centres, which aligns with the desire for compact, sustainable growth as laid out in the National Planning Framework [5].

Looking at Dublin city, there are a few large urban sites that are arguably underutilised. I could point to the various barracks, the bus depots or even the port, and raise questions about the value of their existing use versus the benefit of redeveloping them. As Dublin contains almost 30% of the country’s population, building at a rate of 10,000 new homes a year will mean it’s only a matter of time before we have to look further afield [6].

And herein lies the crux of the issue. We need to build homes, but they can’t all fit within the boundaries of our existing cities. And yet, new infrastructure often lags housing development. So how do 33,000 new households a year navigate the country? Unfortunately, in much the same way that Henry Ford envisaged over a one-hundred years ago - with a car. 

Just as environmental concerns have seeped into governmental thinking, so too have they begun to permeate almost all aspects of modern life. It might have started with recycling and then composting. A few friends might have started carrying around a reusable cup and then someone went vegan. You might even be considering an electric car. A noble thought, no doubt, but you are still thinking of buying a car, aren’t you? That is because we do not yet live in a country where car ownership is optional for the vast majority of the population. 

While some progress is being made – such as local authorities actively trying to reduce the number of parking spaces in new developments, as seen in their Development Plans – we have yet to see a corresponding realisation of alternative means of transport. The most famous example is the MetroLink, announced in 2001 and now targeted for the 2030s [7]. All the bicycle parking in the world isn’t going to help someone standing in their NZEB home watching the rain splatter against a sign saying “METRO LINK: COMING SOON”.

If you build it, they will come. In Ireland we seem to operate on an inverse of the famous expression. You might build it, they’ll come anyway. So how do we develop sustainably in an imperfect reality? Can we instil clawback clauses so that car parking spaces built for residents today are transitioned into the public space of tomorrow once transport connections are delivered? Can we put a time-limit on private car parking to allow for existing car dependency while fostering future biodiversity? Simple numerical limits on car parking will not solve the climate crisis nor will they create beautiful places to live, but new ideas might do both.

28/11/2022
Future Reference

Are we delivering housing that is suitable for our current infrastructure, while still endeavouring for a better future? The built environment is estimated to account for more than 36% of the overall annual greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland with transport emissions accounting for a further 17%. In light of the UN’s recent report on our “woeful progress” on reducing carbon emissions, we need to interrogate how and where we are building.

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Learning from the design of migrant landscapes in Irish urban settlements

Rawan Kamal
Present Tense
Rawan Kamal
Michael K. Hayes

As part of an effort to create a replica of ‘home’ in recipient cities, migrants tend to create cultural heritage clusters. Generally, these consist of residential quarters, factories, and commercial shopfronts, with their form influenced by factors including class, dietary laws, transport availability, and proximity to work and religious spaces [1]. This concept is not new, with migrants being actively engaged in forming and transforming the built environment across time. Hence, we must consider how we understand and make visible migrant histories and cultures within modern urban landscapes.


During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, a significant number of migrants settled across Co. Mayo, resulting in high levels of ethnic diversity [2]. This was affirmed in the 2016 Census, with Ballyhaunis recording the highest population of non-Irish nationals in an Irish town, making up 39.5% of its population [3]. Historically, the Midland Great Western Railway, arriving in Co. Mayo in 1860, enabled this, connecting towns such as Ballyhaunis with a direct route to Dublin and surrounding urban settlements. As a result, these town’s became the county’s major commercial hubs [4]. Comprising a main commercial street, St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, and residential quarters, on the surface Ballyhaunis's appearance is similar to comparable Irish towns. However, beyond the main street, one is confronted by complex cultural and architectural expressions. As a result, the town reveals urban, spatial, and cultural diversity, stimulating research into migration and architecture.

Map of Ballyhaunis, with retail/halal shops (green), industrial facility/halal meat factory (blue), and residential area/migrant housing (red) highlighted. Drawing by Rawan Kamal


Described by the local community as “The houses behind the wall”, the area behind Clare Road has housed Pakistani migrants since the 1970s [5]. This cultural and religious group have established the most evident spatial impact, forming a distinctive migrant cluster with a strong Islamic character. Architecturally, the development of the migrant cluster engages both sides of Clare Road. On one side, a high and continuous brick wall with vertical corrugated sheets spans more than 318m, delineating the territory of Dawns Meat Factory, the workplace for many Pakistani migrants. This is mirrored on the other by a heavy hedge and vast parking space, which ultimately obscures the small Pakistani neighbourhood behind. In this, migrant workers and their families reside and are able to perform the five daily Islamic prayers, privately, within the enclosed space. Considering the requirement for privacy, one can suggest the location of the factory and the need for proximity as playing a pivotal role in the selection of the site for the residential quarter [6]. The housing units, which comprise four detached units, five semi-detached units, four terraced houses, and eight bungalows, can be accessed via Mosque Street off Clare Road [7]. As is typical across many workers’ dwellings, primitive means of construction were harnessed, ultimately leading to properties with low architectural value. Gas cylinders and enormous ground water tanks attached to the rear, along with deteriorating paint, are evidence of this. In contrast, a large opulent multi-storey mansion takes a central position within the quarter. The architecture denotes a difference grounded in affluence. This structure and the migrant houses were constructed by the Pakistani-British proprietor of the adjacent factory.

House built by the meat factory owner. Photography by Rawan Kamal


Migrant housing. Photography by Rawan Kamal

At the community level sits the Ballyhaunis mosque, built in 1987. The uniform plan, bulbous dome, and architectural elements recall the Indo-Islamic tradition of Mughal architecture, specifically the architectural style of seventeenth century mosques in Asia [8]. Dark-green and white walls denote the mosque’s outer edge, with the colours a subtle homage to Pakistan’s national flag. Located at a focal point, along the main axis of the estate, the Ballyhaunis mosque draws attention away from the housing’s diametric differences. As such, the mosque captures the identity of the migrant community, and perhaps represents the strongest and most striking architectural element in the traditional Catholic landscape of Ballyhaunis.


This case study highlights a unique and significant example of a landscape in rural Ireland that was crafted by immigrants. Beyond the mosque’s architecture, the surrounding block walls, densely planted entrance, and isolated community services reflect a distinct urban culture and present a form which is culturally consistent with Islamic values. While only one example, the Ballyhaunis mosque complex should be noted as a significant migrant landscape, one that exhibits the role architecture can play in expressing a unique migrant identity.

21/11/2022
Present Tense

The creation of cultural clusters is a common feature of migrant histories globally, yet the design of migrant settlements in Ireland is a topic often unacknowledged or under discussed. Taking the Ballyhaunis mosque complex as an example, this article seeks to better understand the role architecture can play in expressing a unique migrant identity.

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Embedding craft in construction

Tríona Byrne
One Good Idea
Tríona Byrne
Michael K. Hayes

Our built heritage is of profound importance, rooting us to our surroundings and giving us context for who we are and where we come from. But where does it come from? Who built these impressive buildings, from grand Georgian establishments to the humble yet tenacious thatched cottage? They were all born by the hand of a skilled craftsperson.


One doesn’t have to search hard in Ireland to find an old building and to notice the work done by a skilled hand, be it by a craftsperson or the owner of a vernacular building. We know they were skilled people because the buildings are still standing hundreds of years later. As a structural engineer, I know that we typically design buildings today for a fifty-year design life, nowhere near the lifespan achieved by traditional buildings, built by expert craftspeople.


We are living in a climate emergency, and we know that the greenest building is the one that already exists. So in a country with a huge vacancy rate, facing into a housing and climate crisis, we should be championing our craftspeople, who have the skills and know-how to repair and maintain our old buildings.

Apprentice thatcher Sara Leach working on a thatched roof in Co. Wexford this year


A key barrier is the shortage of skilled craftspeople to do conservation work, across all trades. It seems that people are simply not interested in pursuing a career ‘in the trades’ in Ireland. We, as a society, have fed into the narrative that to pursue an apprenticeship after leaving school is for those ‘who didn't get the points to go to college’ but hopefully that mindset is beginning to shift. Although there have been moves in recent years to increase the number of apprenticeships, through the likes of the Action Plan for Apprenticeship as part of the Programme for Government [1], there is a huge backlog in start dates for craft apprenticeships in particular and formal conservation skills training is difficult to come by. There is also a danger that the likes of bricklaying or stonemasonry apprenticeships don’t necessarily provide the right skills for conservation work, depending on the employer’s recent work (which could be all new-build).


While there are conservation skills training courses currently provided by NGOs and private organisations, these are disparate, often one-off, and tend to be aimed at the DIY-er rather than the person looking to upskill for work.


So what could be done? Like most issues, decent funding would be a massive help. Funding to run a state-funded conservation craft skills training centre, headed up by experienced craftspeople, would be a huge boost to the sector. Better still, several skills training hubs across the country, with attractive salaries for those who can share their skills and no/low fees for those who wish to learn. A good source of inspiration might be the Engine Shed, Scotland’s dedicated building conservation hub, which delivers skills development and training for the heritage sector.


An Irish version of this might be located in the midlands, where anyone from across the island could easily travel to. There are plentiful derelict farmsteads and stable yards, for example, where a permanent training centre could feasibly be located. The existing farm buildings could be repaired as part of on-site workshops, with certain parts left half-done and un-repaired altogether, in order to show the repair works at various stages.Permanent demonstration panels/models could be set up on site on a large scale, so that someone could practice the basics of thatching, for example, undoing and redoing it over and over again (which would not be feasible on a real project).

Stone carving demonstration at Tullynisk farm buildings, Co. Offaly as part of the SPAB Ireland Working Party in 2019


Demonstration panels wouldn’t work as well for other craft skills, but there is no shortage of buildings all over the country in need of repair. Once the central skills training centre could develop a base curriculum, staff, and equipment, there should be no limit to the range of mobile workshops and classes that could take place on live sites around Ireland.


Funding could also be used to incentivise experienced craftspeople to take on apprentices. Compulsory employment of apprentices on large, state-funded conservation projects could be another option, which wouldn’t require any funding. Voluntary organisations like Irish Traditional Skills Initiative should be supported in their aims to develop skills training and connect aspiring apprentices with experienced professionals [2].


We still need to change the narrative that an apprenticeship after secondary school is somehow lesser than going on to university. A national awareness campaign to encourage young people, or maybe more importantly, their parents, to consider alternatives to university could have merit. Career guidance counsellors could also be targeted to promote hands-on learning more widely to second-level students. The recent steps to include apprenticeships on the CAO is a step in the right direction but we need to do more to make sure that like neglected old buildings, our treasured supply of craftspeople doesn’t crumble away.

14/11/2022
One Good Idea

We know that the greenest building is the one that already exists. Yet in a country with a huge vacancy rate, facing into a housing and climate crisis, Ireland is experiencing a shortage of skilled craftspeople to do conservation work. A dedicated state-funded craft skills training centre could be one solution to ensuring this knowledge is maintained, alongside our old buildings.

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Should Dubliners dream of Danish design?

Rodhlann Mossop
Working Hard / Hardly Working
Rodhlann Mossop
Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell

Gehl is also no stranger to criticising the existing either, particularly 20th-century modernist urban design [1]. Within the European context, we in Dublin occupy a specific design culture which can harbour an attitude of scepticism towards the prescription of public space, but as our capital grows and sprawls, and land supply diminishes, the "demand for recreational access can no longer be sustained as an informal activity and demands a managed response": as Robert Camlin explained in TOPOS European Landscape Magazine [2].

This article aims to identify the current state of public space in Ireland and compare it with Denmark's much-praised urban design culture. In addition, it will explore how we might exercise a more vernacular approach that could provide successful, generous public space with contextual meaning in Dublin. Examples of works from Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (DLR) and Dublin City Council (DCC), as well as Aarhus Kommune will be used. This of course is a limited survey and does not claim to speak to the wider culture across each respective country.

The inspiration for this piece must be credited to Frank McDonald’s insight outlining local authority spending in Denmark, which accounts for 64% of total public expenditure, compared to a figure of 9% in Ireland [3]. This supported my positive experience interacting with public space and infrastructure in Aarhus and encouraged me to undertake a comparative study into the two similarly sized local authorities of DLR and Aarhus Kommune.

Christianshavn, Copenhagen. Photography by R. Mossop 

Small and playful interventions

In Aarhus, there exists a strong emphasis on playfulness. Across the city, there are numerous examples of inexpensive, simple public space interventions following basic design principles, which generally nurture a tone of generosity and liveliness in the city and its public space. This echoes the aforementioned words of Gehl on thinking big through small acts.

Among many other interventions, this intent is embodied by a range of wooden structures, which can be found at a few locations across the city, offering some riverside respite in Mølleparken, in the harbour, and surrounding Aarhus Cathedral. Their simple intention of softening the otherwise cold concrete, framing a view, or simply gathering people to one location within a park, particularly on a sunny day, are successful examples of an intervention which works hard to provide a valuable public gesture. 

Through my work in urban design in Aarhus, I was briefed on designing a similar structure elsewhere in Denmark; the brief included among its primary intentions "a place to drink a beer". This more uninhibited approach heavily contrasts with the Irish attitude towards oft-described "anti-social behaviour", which has led to the demise of many fine public spaces in Dublin, such as Chancery Park [4]. It is not beneficial to dwell on the particular issue of alcohol consumption as I believe our local authorities require a more general shift towards a more light-handed, generous model. However, while our attitude towards the consumption of alcohol in public has changed slightly since the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains largely prohibited under stringent and dated by-laws across many local authorities in Ireland, limiting how we imagine enjoying our public spaces [5]. As outlined by Tony Reddy in Dublin by Design: "Dublin, and all Irish cities, should be inspired by these best European examples to become an enabler of activity and nurture inclusive dialogue and the power of civil society" – instead of trying to design within the current narrow boundaries of what is viewed as acceptable public space [6].

Many of these small freedoms are often credited with a greater sense of trust within society across Scandinavia. David McWilliams discusses the effects of this on society and within commerce [7]. While the presence of civic trust is tangible, I suspect greater spending on the upkeep of public space through street cleaning and bottle deposit schemes bear great responsibility as well.

Mølleparken, Aarhus. Photography by R. Mossop

A local context

In recent times, particularly in Dún Laoghaire, it appears there is a tendency to rely on larger public projects to reform our public space. A prime example is the much-anticipated Dún Laoghaire baths project, long overdue and likely to exceed a budget of €13.4 million. Large budgets and long construction times will always be met with some public dissatisfaction, and only time will speak to the success of the project. As the hoarding is removed, an elegant concrete landscape is revealed, and a little time often softens the public reception of this kind of project, as seen in the case of the DLR Lexicon. However, when Senior Architect for DLR Bob Hannan claims "there’s nowhere else where you can sit down in a café so close to the sea", this suggests that greater interrogation into the essence of the project and how it serves the town would be of great benefit. This is related to the fact that efforts to re-establish a bathing place like that of the original 1843 design were unsuccessful, instead offering a rather exposed open-water bathing pier [8].

I believe this is where we can learn from the Danish approach, marrying it to our own culture and ideally creating a simple, elegant, vernacular design for our public spaces. The new cycleway from Sandycove to Blackrock demonstrates the success of a simple idea using simple means and materials. However, I would argue it is more a public requirement than a public gesture. Furthermore, we need not look back too far to one of our city's most charming urban design interventions, linking public space to architecture and culture. Dotting north Dublin’s coastline are seventeen structures, built by Dublin Corporation throughout the 1930s, which form bathing shelters, kiosks, wind shelters, and miniature lighthouses [9]. 

Markievicz House and Clontarf Bathing Shelter. Sketch and mix-media by R. Mossop

These small unassuming structures are steeped in the wider culture of sea bathing, speaking to the early 20th-century zeitgeist of public sanitation, while also revealing an extremely important intention of democratising sea bathing. Ellen Rowley writes, "Although small and simple in concept, they are robust and their curved lines – both in plan and elevation – give them an air of elegance, reminiscent of the architecture of the grand British lidos" [10]. This, again, I can’t help but relate to Gehl’s statement of thinking big through small interventions.

Delicate decisions

As outlined by Mary Freehill, among others in Frank McDonald’s A Little History of the Future of Dublin, city and county councils urgently require more power to make decisions affecting planning frameworks, urban design, and the quality of life of all citizens [11]. I also believe that the decentralisation of power would allow our cities and towns to develop their own design identity. A cohesive language can be achieved through small design decisions creating a distinct thread through the city. Of course, mistakes will be made, and taste will change, but sometimes Aarhus’ Viking-shaped traffic lights are enough to remind us to be playful when pondering serious matters surrounding the public realm [12]. Therefore, we must challenge the standardisation stemming from a more centralised system and reflect on how we previously achieved a cohesive sense of urban design, creating an identity greater than that on postcards. Dublin Corporation and notably Herbert Simms have demonstrated that we are capable of creating a cohesive architectural language, beautifully exhibited in Herbert Simms City by Paddy Cahill [13]. We can achieve this once those responsible "maintain a commitment to a vision of our cities where real people live, work and interact" [6].

Dún Laoghaire baths. Photography by R. Mossop
7/11/2022
Working Hard / Hardly Working

“Think big but always remember to make the places where people are to be, small” – Jan Gehl makes a simple and direct guideline regarding the creation of new public space. However, in order to stimulate the successful design of our cities, we must first be able to identify and interrogate the strengths and flaws of existing public space.

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More than one street deep

Kevin Nolan
Future Reference
Kevin Nolan
Cormac Murray

Southside block

Take one block of the Dublin Docklands (known as City Block 11 in the Dublin Docklands SDZ): bound by Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Lime Street, Cardiff Lane, and Hanover Street East. It’s an architectural casserole of historic, Celtic Tiger, and contemporary architecture. Five of the recent additions have been designed by one architecture firm, who I work for — Henry J Lyons (HJL). This hasn’t resulted in a uniform language across all four buildings. Each brief called for a distinct solution, each design was a different experiment. Walking around the block in preparation for this article, I can associate the architectural moves and material choices with individual designers in our practice.     

The view from Samuel Beckett Bridge showcases this collage of varied architectural styles. The newly-unveiled shipping office on the corner of Lime street and Sir John Rogerson’s Quay by HJL adds a splash of colour and acts as a marker to the boundary of the SDZ. The protected structure of W.H. Byrne’s British and Irish Steam Packet Co. from 1910 is a contrasting remnant of the docklands’ industrial heritage. The ‘3’ building at 28-29 Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, designed in 2005 by Burke Kennedy Doyle, evokes similar Celtic Tiger developments along the Liffey. The Tropical Fruit Warehouse of 1852 has a contemporary form floating above a former industrial edifice. To the bookend of this composition, The Ferryman pub is a thriving descendant of a once working-class institution. 

The southside block sketch plan

The vista along Misery Hill consists of a jagged series of angles, providing landscaped niches to the streetscape. To the southern edge of the site, a newly formed pedestrian route has been created from Grand Canal Square to Townsend Street. The landscape flows from Hanover Street into the urban block and internal public realm, forming Whitaker Square at the centre. As set out in the SDZ, a new pedestrian connection is formed from Lime Street into the block. This additional permeability effectively means the side-streets act as an extension of the pedestrian realm. This encourages the public to meander through the city streets and explore their surroundings. Vehicular access points to service the buildings are limited to the perimeter of the block, enhancing pedestrian safety.

Northside block

A comparable block on North Wall Quay is bound by Commons Street, Mayor Street, and Guild Street. It includes Clarion Quay, an architecturally acclaimed development completed in 2002 by Urban Projects. Clarion Quay won a silver medal for housing from the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) in 2004. The award statement read “The result is a fine example of the art of place making which integrates subtle security within an appropriate urban design strategy” [1]. 

Much of the city block retains its original charm; however it can be argued that the place making intent of Clarion Quay is lacking in other parts of this block. Excise Walk has a pleasant rhythm of building volumes, balconies, and window openings that animates the street. Mayor Square features at the centre of the development as the primary public space. While it is neatly formed on plan, the pedestrian experience is somewhat cluttered in reality. On the ground, a significant emphasis would appear to have been placed on the flow of vehicular traffic. Street furniture and bollards are strategically placed to accommodate and direct the movement of cars. 

The northside block sketch plan

As I walk around the perimeter of the block, it is clear the focus for public interaction is on the primary streets and spaces only. At times, the architecture directs you to one location or route, only for this to be cordoned off by a defensive gate. The secondary environment of side streets is functional and has the car at its heart. Nondescript streetscapes provide multiple car access-points to private basement parking. They have little to engage public interest and appear as an inner service-route to the buildings. If anything, the abundance of CCTV posts creates a sense of discomfort, prompting one to exit onto the main thoroughfares again. This inhospitable design, the ‘one street deep’ approach, is widespread in development of this era, as Andrew Kincaid noted of the redevelopment of Smithfield in Post-colonial Dublin: "The housing is also, not surprisingly, faux exclusive, with its fortress architecture, apartment buildings overlooking private courtyards, roof gardens for residents only, and high-security electronic gates, all of which feed into the logic of a pioneering entrepreneurial class". [2]

The future city

The redevelopment of the Dublin Docklands promised a new type of urban living environment, an alternative to urban sprawl that would breathe life back into the heart of Dublin. The DDDA described it as "a world-class city quarter paragon of sustainable inner-city regeneration". [3] After fifteen years of gestation and the added vision of the SDZ objectives, this is becoming closer to a reality. It may only work, in part, because Dublin has enough well-paid workers able to afford a high-end living experience in the Docklands, but the public components of their neighbourhood have become a gift to the whole city. For example, Grand Canal Square has become a destination in Dublin to rival some of its historic parks, one of the surprisingly few areas where people can relax in well-designed public space free from traffic. It is less traffic-centric in design than Mayor Square. Crucially, with new development in the Docklands SDZ, there is a continuity of high-quality public realm beyond the main streets, to side-streets, alleyways, and publicly accessible courtyards. Hopefully this ethos will inform how we maintain and adapt all our city in the future. 

24/10/2022
Future Reference

Has our way of making a city changed in the last two decades? Comparing two city blocks — one on the south-side of Dublin, in the Docklands Strategic Development Zone (SDZ), the other on the north-side, developed as part of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) masterplan in 1997 — reveals how recent schemes offer more depth for a pedestrian explorer.

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Typography’s lost place in architecture

Max Phillips
Present Tense
Max Phillips
Michael K. Hayes

If every building tells a story, the lettering on its facade is the opening sentence. It’s the street number that tells you you’ve arrived at the correct place, the badge of authority on a headquarters, the epigraph that announces the LIBRARY, HOSPITAL, or COURTHOUSE. Facade signage provides a semiotic main entrance for users and passers-by, and is one of a building’s most prominent and visible features. And yet it’s frequently the part executed with the least skill and care. Exiled to the limbo of provisional costs, epigraphs and facade signs are usually dashed off by juniors or cranked out in-house at signage fabricators and slapped onto the completed building like a sticker. Often a building’s designers have no say in how it’s signed. And often, it shows.

Left: Saint Peter’s Basilica, Donato Bramante et al., architects. Right: Guggenheim Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright, architect [2]


It wasn’t always this way. The making and use of letters was once a standard part of architectural education, and a number of architects have made significant contributions to typography in their own right. Bertram Goodhue’s Cheltenham was one of the most popular typefaces of the early twentieth century. Peter Behrens treated architecture, industrial design, and graphic design as strands of a single gesamtkunstwerk, and the Behrensschrift he used for AEG is widely considered the first branding font. Frank Lloyd Wright, Arne Jacobsen, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh all developed distinctive letterforms that could operate as harmonious components of their work. And the iconic stacked facade letters of the Dessau Bauhaus were created by Gropius’s fellow architect Herbert Bayer.  

Left: New York Times Building, Renzo Piano Building Workshop; signage by Michael Bierut. Right: Pálás Cinema, Tom de Paor, architect, in collaboration with Peter Maybury, typographer [3]


This is not a Trad Guy plea for more Sainsbury Wing-style lapidary inscriptions (brilliant as Michael Harvey's lettercarving was) or a typographer’s special pleading for more prominent letters. (If anything, poorly designed facade signs are usually too shouty.) It’s a plea for recognition of type as a small but integral element in the making of good buildings. If architects are no longer trained to use letters, perhaps they should collaborate with people who are: sympathetic practitioners who understand how they can contribute to and support a building’s aims. While a few budgets allow for extensive typographic systems and even bespoke typefaces, for most jobs the fees charged by competent typographers are less than the costs of fabrication. For commercial clients, a building may be the most expensive brand statement they'll ever make; it's worth it to set aside a few quid to see that brand is properly represented. And when the budget only allows for off-the-shelf signage solutions, a trained typographer can help ensure these are chosen well and applied appropriately. What’s wanted is not a bigger role for letters in architecture, but a more considered one.

17/10/2022
Present Tense

Facade signage is one of a building’s most prominent and visible features. And yet it’s frequently the part executed with the least skill and care. If we want architecture that better communicates with the public realm in which it sits, type needs to be recognised as a small but integral element in the making of good buildings.

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The temporary architecture of everyday life

Rachel O'Grady
One Good Idea
Rachel O'Grady
Michael K. Hayes

“Temporal depth” acknowledges the different levels of temporariness in a space. Our most-loved public spaces tend to have significant temporal depth, layering the distant past, recent past, and present to frame experience.


Take St George’s Market as an example, a popular covered market hall in central Belfast. Contemporarily, it draws crowds with the offer of live music and street food, however, these events do not sit in isolation and are enriched by the backdrop of a long-running produce market, where traders are able to trace family involvement for generations. Moving beyond living memory, the site has been a place for trade and the location of markets since 1604. This place of exchange has moved beyond an amenity and, instead, is integral to understanding local identity, with the surrounding neighbourhoods referring to themselves as the Market area. This is enabled by its longevity, with St George’s Market being the site of several notable civic events throughout history. For example, in 1834, the Northern Trade Union organised a meeting here of over 1500 people to protest the sentencing of the Tolpuddle Martyrs [1]. More recently, the market has hosted significant gatherings including the World Irish Dancing Championships and numerous conferences.


In the discussion of temporal depth, it is important to consider the related matter of civic involvement. Primarily, involvement requires action and reflection, thus civic involvement consists of acting and reflecting upon the ethics of holding a place in common with others, a core tenet of negotiating what it means to be a fellow citizen of a place. Civic spaces facilitate this involvement and can arguably be considered in one of three categories, adapted from those defined by Peter Carl [2]:


1) a civic space facilitates the encountering of other points of view;

2) a civic space supports constructive negotiation and;

3) a civic space makes possible the refinement of that negotiation.

Temporal Depth Analysis as Design Tool: diagram (specifics removed) created for a current OGU + MMAS Architects project, an installation within a covered civic space in Belfast


Using the example of St George’s once more, illustrated is how the market creates the physical conditions required for people to come together within a civic space. Differing points of view are encountered via a variety of purposes: some people come to buy weekly groceries and others engage with temporary art exhibitions or browse souvenirs. Over time, rules of engagement have developed that allow for constructive negotiation between points of view, be that the etiquette of buying and selling produce, the preferred layout of the market stalls, and even the architectural restoration of the building. At St George’s, there is a Traders’ Association who work with Belfast City Council to define shared conduct at different levels, whether one is a visitor or host. As a result, there is a refinement of negotiation, ranging from temporary tweaks to more serious investment in the physical fabric – with a €3.5 million refurbishment in the 1990s being an example. In doing so, the environment has developed to facilitate and elevate a range of activities.


From the restored city motto “Pro tanto quid retribuamus” carved in stone, to the occasional upkeep of the carefully painted cast-iron columns, to the frequent upgrading of stalls and consistent cycle of their assembly and take-down, these routine adjustments give meaning and weight to the activities that take place within. Considering this, one can return to temporal depth and recognise that civic space requires certain features to remain indefinitely and others to be flexible and changeable. Importantly, it relies on both temporary and long-lasting architecture to contribute to the refinement of civic culture within the space [3].

A rough attempt at mapping rich temporal depth in the architecture of St George’s Market, highlighting missed opportunities in the recent refurbishment to insert something with a quality reflective of the civic importance of the space. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons


Through using architecture with short, medium, and long lifespans together, we create cultural richness. Unfortunately, this approach to urbanism presents a stark contrast to our relationship with temporary architecture and urbanism in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Here, impermanent architecture is all too often seen as an intermediary step prior to investment in something of higher quality in future. The rise in popularity of “tactical urbanism” is part of the problem: urban interventions that according to Lydon and Garcia are initiated by citizens to highlight “shortcomings in policy or physical design” or by local authorities as a public engagement tool to test aspects of a plan early “so that it’s easier to build great places” [4]. Significantly, the problem is exacerbated by the pressure to justify public spending on civic spaces against a numerical scale of achievement, which makes this type of urbanism very appealing to decision-makers. Tactical urbanism tends to have a particular goal, such as the introduction of a cycle lane or reduction in parking spaces, which is easy to measure and uncomplicated for a non-designer to understand.


To have tactical goals is commendable and sometimes much needed – as a designer, I am involved in several such projects. But the current default expectation of temporary architecture to act as a cheap prototype for long-lasting civic involvement undermines its true role in the making of civic spaces, thereby limiting the necessary investment in its quality and meaning. In my own practice, we try to address this by bringing the history of a place into conversation with the temporary installations that we place in it in order to contribute to a deeper civic involvement, beyond the life of the structure itself. In a city with a rich collective culture and a variety of spaces that support different kinds of civic activity, temporary architecture works with its surroundings, goes up, comes down, and moves around to make critical moments and cyclical events possible. It is not a stepping stone to a better, more permanent city, it is part of that better city.

10/10/2022
One Good Idea

This article is a short plea from a designer whose work focuses on temporary installations; a call to re-evaluate the role impermanent structures play in the civic life of our cities. The current default expectation of temporary architecture to act as a cheap prototype for long-lasting civic involvement undermines its true role in the making of public spaces.

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What a greenway needs

Joseph Kavanagh
Working Hard / Hardly Working
Joseph Kavanagh
Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell

The government plans to put €60 million of taxpayers' money into Public Greenways for two reasons; firstly, to offer the public a physical amenity and secondly, as an attempt to increase green forms of transport. This €60 million forms part of the larger annual €360 million to be spent on so-called 'active travel'.

Greenways take on many shapes across Ireland and have proved to be successful in cities such as Cork and Waterford, as well as straddling the canals from Dublin to the midlands. They offer their communities spaces for cycling, walking and running. Promoting this 'active travel' helps to reduce emissions and encourages the public to connect with their natural environment.

However, greenways are more than just a route that brings the user from A to B. There are a host of ancillaries that are needed to accompany this public infrastructure for it to function. For the purpose of this article, two greenways nestled on different sides of the Wicklow Mountains are compared. To the east is the Greenway that circumnavigates the Vartry Reservoir and to the west, one which sits on the banks of what's known as the Blessington Lakes or Poulaphouca Reservoir. The Blessington Greenway is partially complete, with the remainder of the project under consideration by An Bord Pleanála. While the Vartry Greenway is not perfect, it demonstrates a successful greenway sitting on an important piece of infrastructure. Vartry and Poulaphouca between them supply nearly three-quarters of the greater Dublin Area's water supply. 

The Vartry Greenway was opened in 2018 and has proved a successful public amenity for the adjacent village of Roundwood and for visitors and tourists. The route is used for a variety of outdoor activities. It also provides a safe place for walkers and runners during the winter months as alternative unlit roads in rural Ireland prove dangerous for pedestrians. 

The materiality of the Vartry Greenway emphasises sustainability. The paths are non-intrusive in the landscape, made from reclaimed road tarmac. You can find the white and yellow paint from roads at your feet as you meander along the lake's edge. Any bridges or walkways that cross rivers, streams, or unstable ground are simple grated metal structures with rough concrete reinforcements, complementary against the rough and grey Wicklow granite blocks that finish the existing Victorian structures built with the reservoir nearly two-hundred years ago. 

The Vartry Greenway demonstrates how existing infrastructure can be reused or made to work harder for the public. The greenway at Vartry crosses over an existing earthen dam, as well as existing bridges that cross the reservoir. It is a clear example of maximising the use of the existing structure. 

A new path connects the village directly to the greenway. The village’s public toilets have been refurbished and are now offered to the users who avail of this public space. Public toilets in themselves are a rare find but essential when attached to such a large piece of public infrastructure. 

The Vartry Greenway is successful due to the following elements: it does not impede the high visual amenity of the landscape that it sets out to show; it connects back to an urban area and in turn offers the inhabitants and tourists an amenity; and finally, the urban area it connects to is not being placed under strain – there are sufficient public toilets, parking, and road infrastructure to cope with increased visitors to the area.

In contrast, the Blessington Greenway – which has a section running from the town of Blessington to Russborough House Estate already complete – lacks elements that would ensure its success. The rest of the project currently under consideration has been tarnished with issues due to a lack of public consultation, bypassing locals' concerns.

Poulaphouca Resevoir - 1:50000 [2]

The scale of the Blessington Greenway is far greater than Vartry, so it inadvertently attracts more issues with the higher number of users. The proposed pathway is over three metres in width and is finished in tarmac. The extent of the route and need to keep it relatively flat has led to an immense amount of 'rock armour' being placed around the shores of the lake for erosive protection. It proves extremely obstructive to the picturesque landscape the greenway is attempting to show off and connect to. As well, the size of this pathway requires the felling of thousands of trees, again damaging the landscape both ecologically and visually. 

The villages around the Blessington Lakes along the greenway are connected by a series of concrete bridges built in the 1930s. Instead of installing simple walkways as part of the new route, or upgrading these bridges, the department intends to trim the bridges down to a single lane and introduce traffic lights on either end. This will restrict farm machinery from using the bridges and further disperses the farming communities around the reservoir (who have been separated by the creation and flooding of the Reservoir for the benefit of Dublin residents since the 1940s). 

Possibly the most concerning issue with the department's plan is the lack of a single public toilet to accompany this massive piece of public infrastructure. The counter-argument put forward is that if they were to place public toilets so close to the edge of Ireland’s largest supply of drinking water, it would provide a serious public health issue. The department instead expects users of the public amenity to avail of toilets within private businesses in the villages around the lake. 

For a sense of scale, there is no secondary school in any of these villages, some of them have a pub and nothing else, and others are no more than a hamlet. The expectation that these tiny local businesses will be able to suddenly accommodate the significant expected influx of people that will come with this greenway is mistaken. In any case, if greenway users cannot avail of public sanitation (a human need, not a want) it could lead to people having to relieve themselves just off the greenway. In this way, the department’s concern for public health issues becomes a reality. 

When basic factors like sanitation, accessibility, and surface are taken into consideration greenways offer a simple yet vital piece of public infrastructure. Vartry Greenway strikes the balance between infrastructure, amenity, and protecting the very landscape it seeks to appreciate – all factors that require further consideration as we enter the final stages of the Blessington Greenway project. 

3/10/2022
Working Hard / Hardly Working

The demand for successful public spaces and amenities remains on the agenda as we continue to move forward post Covid-19. While the public finds ways to reclaim or improve civic spaces, the government is looking to construct new forms of them. Greenways form part of these planned public spaces, providing an area in which to connect to the natural landscape and maintain a link between our built and natural environments.

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Inclusive spaces for a permeable city

Raissa Machado
Future Reference
Raissa Machado
Cormac Murray

The quality of the public realm and the provision of open spaces for congregation have long been recognised as having an important role in contributing to liveability in urban agglomerations. The climate crisis and COVID-19 pandemic have shifted our priorities when it comes to the design of our cities. In the planning context, priority is now increasingly given to active modes of transport, such as walking and cycling [1]. These points were eloquently covered in an article earlier this month on Type with observations regarding various spaces in Dublin. This piece looks specifically at the themes of permeability and inclusion.

Numerous studies have shown the negative impacts of car-dominated cities [2]. With the added urgency of a climate crisis, urban planners and associated disciplines are now striving to create more accessible and safer environments for pedestrians and cyclists. Many areas of Dublin city centre are becoming, or going through trials to become, fully or partially pedestrianised. These include Capel Street, Parliament Street, South Anne Street, Dame Court, Drury Street and South William Street. Dublin City Council has had a long-held ambition to pedestrianise College Green. These initiatives will provide additional open spaces in the city, as well as enhance permeability at different scales.

In broad terms, permeability can be understood as “the extent to which an urban area permits the movement of people by walking or cycling” [3]. Permeability relates to pedestrian freedom and street-level experience. It should encourage easy access with multiple options. Once emphasis is given to both pedestrian and cyclist movements, some controversial opinions have been raised by those affected by the proposals. The many issues raised include: the need for additional transport to access establishments; the lack of signage informing people about the extents of traffic diversions; a perceived lack of safety due to conflict with cyclists, to mention only a few.

These arguments raise the ongoing debate of the ‘right to the city’, a concept explored by the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre in his book The Production of Space. In this, he argues that the city is an oeuvre, which means a collective work in which all its citizens participate[4]. As a collective work, cities should be accessible to people of all abilities and backgrounds. In practical terms, the ‘right to the city’ approach contradicts the intention to filter users of the public realm. Public space should be, in essence, a space of inclusion. However, the compulsory nature of having to own a car in order to have either access, or priority of access, to certain places creates exclusion.

Through this lens, it is possible to argue that a car-free zone is simply a measure to give citizens the right to appropriate space (occupy, use, work, live, etc.). Lefebvre calls this 'representational space'. He refers to the right to participate in decision-making at various political scales as 'representations of space'. Lefebvre argues that cities are 'socially produced' through their use as public spaces, as a result they become representational, appropriated in use [5]. 

Whether these spaces are inclusive to allow social interaction to happen or not, is also closely related to their management [6]. In this case, spatial management refers to the way a space is physically and psychologically controlled and maintained. In other words, it refers to the methods used by owners to establish their rules.

Concerns and disputes around pedestrianisation schemes in Dublin are directly related to a crucial part of any design proposal, which is the quality of being cyclical. Implementing, testing, and managing are critical stages for any design development. These need to be founded on solid analysis that will, as a consequence, support safety, economy and vibrancy. 

Drawing on an analysis of the Irish planning system hierarchy, from top to bottom, it is possible to see an overall recognition of the importance of improving the existing public realm and the provision for active modes of transport, such as walking [7]. In theory, all stakeholders should support a better distribution of and greater accessibility to these spaces as part of move towards more permeable and inclusive environments.

Aligned with the climate crisis, the issue is far from being solely about a desire for more pedestrianised areas. In fact, it is about the provision of additional public open spaces in the city, and the need to address possible limitations in management of spaces over time. This way proposals can achieve their full potential and create a more inclusive city for all.

Indicative proposal for a backlands site, part of a larger study in Dublin city centre. The study considered a number of operational standards, as defined by the New York Planning Department, to ensure an overall good quality of space. Image by Raissa Machado
26/9/2022
Future Reference

For the first time in decades, urban planners are designing for people first, before cars. Dublin’s pedestrianisation isn’t about enabling a certain lifestyle, it’s an empowering act, making an accessible city for all people. This article demonstrates how the permeability of spaces can foster social inclusion.

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How can farmers be better supported by our urban centres?

Alma Clavin and Carla M. Kayanan
Present Tense
Alma Clavin and Carla M. Kayanan
Michael K. Hayes

Recent debates around farmers, food production, and climate action have, at their core, a plethora of varying and conflicting imaginaries about rural landscapes, rural livelihoods, and an imagined divide with rural areas pitted against urban areas. In the provocatively titled article, ‘Townies v culchies’, Flynn and Lavin reference the culture wars unfurling around agricultural emissions reduction in Ireland in our preparation for a just transition [1]. Similar debates are happening right across Europe with media in the Netherlands recently drawing attention to this perceived binary. To have a just transition means to put in place the framework to support workers and communities susceptible to risk as we move towards a low carbon economy. Deciding what structures to put in place necessitates rupturing the rural-urban binary to achieve fresh thinking on the connection between rural spaces and urban centres. Problematically, as Flynn and Lavin astutely conclude, ‘the urban rural divide may only deepen in years to come’.


Whether we recognise it or not, people’s ideas about cities and urban centres are shaped by grievances, desires, and fears. Farmers travel to Dublin to protest in front of the government buildings they see as staunch representations of centralised power. Understandings of the urban are often reduced to ideas about high-density inner-cities juxtaposed with ‘remote’ rural towns and villages. And even though the ‘rural idyll’ is not accepted by all rural dwellers (nor all urban dwellers), it remains a strong geographical imagination that impacts where people choose to live, visit, and locate themselves.


Inherently, these bifurcated imaginaries are not a bad thing. Place and our surroundings shape who we are as human beings traversing variegated landscapes. However, what is problematic is the influence the rural-urban binary is having on shaping policies that impact our potential for a just transition. A just transition that incorporates decent jobs and a better quality of life appears to be a ‘no brainer’. Yet accomplishing this requires a paradigmatic shift in our historically entrenched and collective imagination about ‘the rural’ and ‘the urban’. It means accepting that, fundamentally, the rural and urban are inextricably linked and deeply interconnected. To negate and deny this complex relationship opens the possibility for problematic, fragmented policies. Alternatively, accepting this relationship and seeking ways to strengthen it will result in policies that enhance livelihoods and wellbeing for all.


This is already happening in some places. The Northern and Western Regional Assembly’s (NWRA) Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (2018) embraces thinking beyond the traditional rural-urban divide to consider enhanced forms of interconnection. NWRA’s map of their sub-regions acknowledges existing links to Dublin as an urban centre and draws on them as potential ‘catchment’ areas to enable economic opportunities. While we would push for greater balance between the sub-regions and nearer, smaller urban centres (i.e. Donegal Town, Sligo, Letterkenny, etc.), the point is that regional flows exist – from our most rural spaces to urban centres – and these can and should be leveraged to produce more just futures.


At county level, there may be erroneous sentiments that ‘urban’ measures are foisted upon rural areas. For example, urban containment policies can be seen to be ‘anti-rural’, and yet, urban centres are key for farmers and food enterprises to access local markets and sell and produce locally. Pathways for a just transition involve diversification and re-localisation, to view interlinkages and value chains for farmers first in their local area, then in their nearest urban centres, and later larger metropolitan areas. Re-localising and focusing on value-added and shorter value chains requires integrated thinking, rather than silo thinking.


Examples of dependencies on the rural-urban continuum include: enhancing the dynamism and attractiveness of urban living to contain urban centres and maintain their vibrancy; improving broadband connection to expand remote working options and revive small towns and villages; and creating strong farm-to-city table access links through shared food processing units, farm shops, farmers markets, and market gardening to widen the farmer’s economic reach and sustain urban centres. However, enhancing and availing of this continuum requires appropriate policy, vision, finance, and placemaking support at both the local authority and central government level to attract people into towns and villages and open up markets and spaces.

Oat in the City, an oat milk from Co. Westmeath. The Lynam family have been living and farming in the townland of Ballybroder, on the border of Westmeath and Offaly with each generation passing it onto to the next. After much research, they decided to take a step back from intensive commercial farming to farm alternative, low-input, sustainable crops such as oats. They are now retailing in urban centres across the midlands, Galway, and Dublin


To think about and foster a cohesive regional imaginary and bring the above examples to fruition, we need to acknowledge that urban and rural areas are both products and shapers of economic, political, and social processes that operate at varying scales. Yes, just transition solutions grow from place and, yes, local place-based solutions are important, but we need new imaginaries that also go beyond the ‘local’. Place is important in identifying just transition solutions but all parts of Ireland – rural, villages, small towns, and metropolitan areas – have different existing relationships to each other. New and existing organisations focusing on novel models of food production, forestry, and agriculture need flexible forms of support to cater for growth and creativity [2].


The scholar Yi-Fu Tuan (1977) has likened space to movement and place to pauses – stops along the way [3]. Our locations, locales, and our sense of place are hugely significant in supporting a just transition, but equally significant are the spatial flows of transport, infrastructures and investments. Rather than perpetuating an urban-rural binary in policy and identity, a just transition will be most effective when we adopt more dynamic and integrated approaches. Only then are we able to effectively answer the question of how farmers can be better supported by our urban centres. In doing this, we can also determine how best to support farmers as food producers and their continued identity as custodians of our landscapes.

19/9/2022
Present Tense

Recent debates around farming and climate action have, at their core, an imagined divide between rural and urban areas. Rather than perpetuate this urban-rural binary in policy, a just transition will be most effective when we adopt a more integrated regional-scale understanding of city and country. Only then can we determine how best to support farmers as food producers and custodians of our landscapes.

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The road to a better public realm

Frank McDonald
One Good Idea
Frank McDonald
Michael K. Hayes

A decade ago this month, Dublin City Council published its first-ever public realm strategy, Your City, Your Space [1]. It drew particular attention to historic paving as “a fundamental part of the identity of the city centre”, pledging that “mapping and maintaining this to agreed standards must form part of the city’s overall approach to the public realm”.

The “floor” of Dublin’s historic core – especially what survives of its granite footpaths, kerbstones and diorite street setts – was to be treated with respect, rather than remaining “vulnerable to damage and incremental loss” or, worse still, casually discarded as these elements were in the past, after concrete and asphalt became the standard materials.

The Dublin City Development Plan 2016-2022 also pledged, in policy CHC15, to “preserve, repair and retain in situ, historic elements of significance in the public realm including … any historic kerbing and setts”, identified in two long schedules of streets, and to “promote high standards for design, materials and workmanship in public realm improvements”.  

This is repeated in policy BHA18 of the draft Dublin City Development Plan 2022-2028, which goes even further in pledging to promote “conservation best practice” in public realm improvements within areas of historic character, “having regard to the national advice series on Paving: The Conservation of Historic Ground Surfaces”, published in 2015.  

Yet anyone who takes a casual stroll through Dublin city centre would surely see that the state of its footpaths and carriageways is extremely poor, with missing granite kerbstones and holes dug in cobbled streets crudely filled by asphalt that’s left in situ, not for days or weeks, but rather months and even years before the surface is properly reinstated.

There is no sense that the public realm is cared for or looked after. Along with the endless proliferation of bollards, poles, traffic signs, and utility boxes that litter Dublin’s principal streets, the slapdash treatment of historic stone paving compares very unfavourably with other European cities that cherish their heritage, such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen.

As I noted in A Little History of the Future of Dublin, the council itself continues to be the worst offender, with little or no evidence that its Road Maintenance division has paid any attention to national-level guidance or the high aspirations of Your City, Your Space or, indeed, the declared policies of successive democratically-adopted development plans.

“RM”, as it is known with dread among professionals, operates under its own Construction Standards for Road and Street Works in Dublin City Council (October 2015), which runs to 249 pages. Contrary to best conservation practice, it recommends using poured tar (“50-pen bitumen”) to finish the joints between street setts that were laid too widely apart and now pockmarked by bottle caps.

Differences in standards and priorities is certainly a factor in the city's poor-quality public realm. One such example is the long-running renovation of Temple Bar Square: a bureaucratic “turf war” in Dublin City Council resulted in GKMP Architects and Amsterdam-based REDscape being dismissed from the project in December 2019, when the Roads division wrested control of it from the Parks department [2]. A revised version of the scheme is meant to go ahead this autumn, but don’t bank on it.

There are exceptions to these frustrations. O’Connell Street was re-paved more than fifteen years ago, with wider granite-flagged footpaths and a square of limestone street setts in front of the GPO, defined by clipped and pleached lime trees. Despite carrying heavy traffic, these setts have fared remarkably well because they were properly bedded to withstand years of pummelling.

May Lane, Dublin 7. An example of a high-quality public realm finish involving a carriageway of mixed granite and limestone setts

Another exemplar is little-known May Lane, linking Bow Street and Church Street, where a cambered carriageway of mixed granite and limestone setts was expertly laid by Sisk’s in 2008 following completion of the colourful King’s Building on its southern side. The contrast between this and Temple Lane, in the midst of Dublin’s “cultural quarter”, is very stark. However, in the absence of council-wide standards that consider material wear and tear, historical context, and pedestrian safety, such interventions will remain irregular and scattered across the city.

The best results are produced by local authorities where there are the structures and personnel in place to support good public space design, such as in Waterford. Here, City Architect Rupert Maddock leads a team dedicated to developing and improving the urban public realm, with the result being a cohesive and connected series of pedestrian-focused spaces that have transformed the city centre.

What’s needed in Dublin is a similar approach to urban design, one which breaks down DCC’s “silo mentality” by setting up an inter-disciplinary team of dedicated officials drawn from different departments — City Architects, Parks, Planning, and Roads — to take charge of public realm projects. Only then will there be a chance of implementing a coherent strategy to upgrade the city’s neglected public spaces.

12/9/2022
One Good Idea

A decade ago this month, Dublin City Council published its first-ever public realm strategy, yet anyone who takes a casual stroll through the city centre would surely see that the state of its footpaths and carriageways is extremely poor. What the city is missing is an inter-disciplinary design team of dedicated experts to reimagine our streets and squares. Only then will we see meaningful change.

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Whose streets?

Aakriti Sood
Working Hard / Hardly Working
Aakriti Sood
Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell

Streets are the elemental public resource that every citizen can enjoy. William H. Whyte describes streets in The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces [1] as the “connectors” within the urban structure or, “the rivers of life of the city - the places where people come to participate in urban life.” Cars have been dominating the streetscape of our cities in the past decades, pushing people inside their homes. Local authorities saw the lack of vehicles during lockdowns as an opportunity to initiate plans for people-centric spaces in their cities and towns. Dublin reassessed its relationship with the public realm with increased pedestrianisation and cycle connectivity and improvement to the green spaces within the city. This article discusses how the provision of street furniture has a distinct impact on the reshaping of the urban fabric within the capital of the country.

 

At first glance, the transformed South William Street looks pleasantly busy. During the pandemic, the street promised a glimpse of the normality that everyone was craving. But behind the hustle-bustle, there is just one lone bench that forms somewhere to rest as part of the street’s public fabric - discounting the Powerscourt steps, where you might be hosed down unceremoniously. The rest of the street furniture is privately owned by restaurateurs. This issue of the hazy ownership of the city’s fabric is analogous to many other streets in the inner city. While the repaving and increased footpath that many streets have seen since March 2020 allows people to socialise outdoors safely, many of these streets project the narrative that the city is only accessible to a specific group of people; those who can afford to, the patrons who can go to these pubs and restaurants. These new urban measures haven’t taken into account groups such as teenagers or the elderly, who may not have the disposable income to frequent the spots they wish to be in to experience the city. They have no place on these streets and face the risk of social exclusion. 

How democratic are these spaces? In her book Purity and Danger [2], Mary Douglas writes about the history of the city and its ambition to keep the centre of the city clean and pure, discarding the other, less desirable, elements of the city to the peripheries. This ambition heightens the rose-tinted image of the colourful, manicured appearance of the city and is promoting the contemporary condition of the city as a space for consumption. Pedestrian measures within the inner city have been exemplifying the obsession with the central spaces of the city and the ignorance towards the areas that the working class inhabit. Richard Sennett, Professor of Sociology at LSE, claims that the key issue with urban spaces in our cities is civility. The key element that needs to be embedded in the urban fabric is enabling different types of people to come together within the complexity of the city. At its core, a city should be welcoming, accessible and diverse. 

Dún Laoghaire Coast Road, Dublin [5]

The streetscape of the coast road in Dún Laoghaire saw transformation with redesigned pedestrian paths and a greenway connecting the Coast Road of South Dublin from Blackrock to Dalkey. Here the transformation of the street aims to improve the relationship of the people with the coast. The simple gesture of creating the pedestrian zone along the coastal end allows for opportunities for the street to spill out, and to create pockets of parks. Frequent street furniture allows citizens to take a moment to pause to simply observe the city and occupy their streets or catch up with their neighbours and friends. These micro public spaces provide habitable space for different people all through the day; joggers and parents in the morning dropping their kids off to school, the elderly during the middle of the day, and the teenagers, young adults and professionals later in the evening- all the while improving the green footprint of the city. 

The city is a living organism and not a static entity, sensitive to external stimuli. The role of public space is constantly evolving with the socio-economic ebbs and flows of a place. We need to mobilise the recently reinvigorated global interest in public space to enable different groups of people to occupy and in doing so celebrate the complexity of our cities and towns. The Danish urbanist Jan Gehl in his book Life between Buildings [3] classified people's activities into three categories: necessary activities (such as going to work or running errands); optional activities (such as going for a walk or standing around); and social activities (such as children playing or people talking). He concluded that social activities are far more likely to occur in places of high quality; in well-designed urban spaces. Dublin needs more spaces that focus on social regeneration, on spaces that do not depend on spending money just to sit and catch up with a friend. 

5/9/2022
Working Hard / Hardly Working

The change in perspective that the “stay home, stay safe” Covid-19 experience provided accelerated the manifestation of the urbanist ideas of the liveable city. While some could enjoy their back gardens, for others, public space presented the only opportunity to relax and socialise outdoors. Many cities and towns of Ireland had to physically transform as a reaction to the pandemic, to provide better access to the public realm allowing people to connect in a new way.

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City Edge, Dublin

Cormac Murray
Future Reference
Cormac Murray
Cormac Murray

What 

The ‘City Edge’ project is a strategic framework for the regeneration of 700 hectares of land to the south-west of Dublin city centre. The lands span between the Naas Road, Ballymount, Park West and Cherry Orchard, an area which is currently predominantly industrial estates. The framework sets out to transform the familiar yet unremarkable landscape of cars, tarmac and sheds into a thriving green suburb, a new city within the city. The size of the framework area is roughly that of Dublin city as bounded by the canals. Its ambition is to increase the living population by fifteen times, from 5,000 currently estimated to between 75,000 and 85,000 people, rivalling Galway, Ireland’s fourth largest city. It sets out targets to be a zero-carbon city, with localised energy production, carbon-negative buildings and a circular waste ecosystem. 

How

The plan aims to grow this new city through transport-orientated development. Amongst the many initiatives outlined in the development, there are proposals for a new Luas and rail interchange at Kylemore with the potential extension of the Luas line to Lucan and a new Luas stop on the Naas road. The development area is imagined as more than just a satellite to Dublin, it is a self-contained green neighbourhood, with all liveable amenities available with a short walk for residents, a form of compact growth described in Project Ireland 2040. 

Who

The project is a joint venture between two local authorities, Dublin City Council and South Dublin County Council as it spans over both of their lands. The framework is being developed by a design team lead by Rotterdam- and London-based MacCreanor Lavington (architecture and urban design), Dublin-based Urban Agency (architecture and urban design), Avison Young (land use planning), Grant Associates (landscape), SYSTRA (transport planning), RSK / Nicholas O’Dwyer (engineering/environmental), and IAC (archaeology and heritage).

Why 

The ‘City Edge’ plan is significant in that it is one of the largest urban regeneration projects ever undertaken in Ireland. The design  process was ignited using the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund established by Ireland 2040. It will be a key test of the promise of Ireland 2040 for these two Irish local authorities to deliver in concert. The site’s proximity to Adamstown, another new town planned using principles of transport-orientated development, is a reminder of how good design needs to be matched with good and speedy implementation. Much of Adamstown’s physical, social and community infrastructure is still in the process of delivery after more than fifteen years. 

Similarly, the bureaucratic complications of falling between the jurisdiction of two separate local authorities will mean the scheme will need to be sure of its identity, it might even need its own development authority, such as the Dublin Docklands. Is the city-edge too self-effacing a title? It will need to extract the character and heritage of the existing area and be more than just the edge of something greater. 

When

The project was published for four weeks of non-statutory public consultation, ending on 6 October 2021. By the end of this year, the Strategic Framework Plan is expected to be finalised with a preferred scenario for development put forward. In 2022 a statutory plan will be drawn up based on the strategic framework. Once this plan has gone through the statutory processes and formally adopted, key projects and infrastructure from the plan will be implemented. 

25/11/2021
Future Reference

Future reference is a time capsule where we report on interesting developments and debates happening around the island of Ireland. It is both meant to keep our readers informed on current developments and also enlighten future researchers on what we were thinking about in this place, during this time. For our first dispatch, we’re looking at the significant proposals for the Naas Road/Ballymount area to the south-west of Dublin.

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Domestic industry

Adam Moore
Present Tense
Adam Moore
Niall Patrick Walsh

The quintessential Victorian Factory has been a particularly reactive typology. Oscillating between industry and domesticity, these once intimidating laborious behemoths drew masses commuting from rural outskirts to urban centres bringing high-density and mass disease. A place from which to escape.

The industrial decline in the 1980s saw factories across the Island of Ireland ceasing operations with their cavernous rooms being developed into protective apartments. This change-of-use re-situated the factory at the opposing end of the commute; home, a place to return.

However, 2020, the year of working-from-home (WFH), saw the sudden compression of the average commute, a short walk from bed to desk, bringing with it the reintroduction of production to these residential factories of slumber. Fluctuating between the conforming atmosphere of work and the individuality of home has led to the rapid deterritorialisation of domesticity and industry leading to our personal lives percolating through work spheres; bold pets appearing on camera adding frivolous zest and breaking the guard held between colleagues, prosaic office cups replaced by heart-warming ‘Worlds Best Mum’ mugs that brew and leak personality which lines the bookshelf backdrops of ubiquitous Zoom meeting mosaics.

This viral driven explosion of individuality in the new domestic ‘workplace’ contrasts with the sterile offices which often suppress personality, replacing it with abstracted emblems of power and profit. With an office vacancy rate of 4.5% (57,600,000sq.ft) in the UK, it is time to interrogate the workplace.[1] WFH has benefits, but there is distance behind the screen.

Domestic industry permits the office to no longer be an area of sustained engagement, allowing it to become a space primarily for exchange. With excess commercial space and the continued prevalence of hot-desk Teams meetings, urban plots could be freed up for more gregarious, community working-space. Google playgrounds may not be enough - there is potential for systematic change. Leading co-working spaces like Second Home inject domestic kitsch into the office, while others like JuggleHub offer childcare co-working facilities, synthesising life and work.

The Victorian factory has hosted every aspect of human life, once a place of disease, now a place of protection. The varying hues of our lives are separated by walls which COVID-19 have proven, are no longer there. Through questioning the absolutes of building typologies, we could begin to weave together the multiple facets of our lives. Just as work has colonised the home, the home may domesticate the workplace.

24/11/2021
Present Tense

Viral outbreaks have historically redefined workplace culture. The impact of the Black Death (1381) on the Peasant's Revolt being only one example. As we surface from the latest viral visitation, architecture is morphing to remain relevant. The home has been colonised, but what will the ‘new normal’ for the workplace be?

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An alternative social imaginary

Eve Olney
One Good Idea
Eve Olney
Ciarán Brady

Inside, a gathering of about forty people are being hushed and encouraged to take seats around the circular assembly of chairs laid out by those first in the door. When an air of collective quiet calm has at last settled in the room we look to two figures in the inner central line of the assembly as they begin to chair tonight's main discussion points that directly affect the future of the building and the people who now sit within it. This is one of the first Community Land Trust assembly meetings for this particular inner city community and it is the turn of the local hairdresser and the cobbler to direct the continued discussions pertaining to how the needs of this community might and can align with the opportunities this substantial property offers. Tonight our focus is on the immediate housing needs of those working on the street – whether as employees or local business owners – and what proportion of the building should be allocated to low-rent, high-spec housing. There is a palpable sense of optimism following the success of the previous meeting when the space we are currently in was consensually allocated to daytime childcare needs and an autonomous space for teenagers to meet and create projects in the evenings. 

Eight months previously the seeds for this initiative were sown in a local café through an ongoing conversation concerned with how part of the street was beginning to be redeveloped and how the local media had reported that this was being done with the ‘support of the local community’. Members of said community were wondering why they had not heard of this project, never mind the fact that they were assumed to be part of its inception. Conversations began being structured into discussions and processes put in place to support the development of a real community-led initiative. This small group of people grew into a proportionate body representative of the mixed and sometimes conflicting needs and interests cast across the community of this historic city street.  

In time a tripartite governance structure was secured in the building of a Community Land Trust that included the actual local community, a smaller collective that would be actively living/ working/ engaging with the space on an ongoing basis, and a group representing the local authority. The first achievement of this trust was in obtaining the red brick building from the HSE that had not been in use for many years previously. Taking this property permanently off the market and into the hand of the CLT secures permanently affordable homes, grassroots-led governing structures and creative use of empty spaces led by the immediate needs articulated by this community through a direct democratic process of common assemblies. We are now working on obtaining further empty properties across Cork city. This is only the beginning.

21/11/2021
One Good Idea

At the top corner of a steep hilly street in Cork city I join a patchy procession of people entering the old red brick building whose doors have been closed for the past five years. The narrow passage into the generously sized meeting room still betrays that musty, stale smell of neglect that such buildings embody through the absence of life and use.

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From Letterkenny to Dundrum

Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell
Working Hard / Hardly Working
Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell
Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell

Letterkenny Market Square, in County Donegal, and Pembroke Square, of the Dundrum Town Centre, Dublin, have both undergone a period of change. While the northern square in Dundrum has flourished and been transformed, Letterkenny Market Square has slipped further and further from the busy public hub it once was. Both spaces are lined by a two-storey enclosure and are adjacent to their town’s main thoroughfare. They are also both only accessible on foot and are part of the central commercial area. However, because of the treatment of the squares’ edges, the resulting urban spaces have strikingly different manifestations.


What was once a vibrant, busy public space, Letterkenny Market Square is now barely used. In the past it housed the bus stop to the north, shops, services and eateries line the east and west, and the square was completed with the grandeur of the sandstone bank at the south. However, between this built edge and the square, there is now a road with slow-moving, but constant traffic.

The road pulls the edge away from the square, isolating the green space, removing the surrounding activity. To access the square, pedestrians must divert from the Main Street, meander through the flow of cars, and pass through one of the gates along the fixed low wall at the periphery. The square is no longer accessible in a causal way, only as a deliberate move. And there is little to motivate local residents to do so. Within the square itself, you can find only sporadic seating and some planting.

While the square is edged with a low wall, the tall planting along each side creates a visual blockade and prevents the square from being overlooked. The cover and shading from the public eye has attracted antisocial behaviour. In a downward spiral, because the edge has pulled away, the square becomes less attractive and usable. Because the square is no longer used, the peripheral businesses move their premises elsewhere. And because the square is not used, nor overlooked, and has a visual block, it became a spot for antisocial behaviour. It is a vicious cycle and what was once known for the bustling market hub, has become a place to avoid.

Letterkenny is a busy town. In addition to its own residents, the urban area serves the many surrounding rural populations. The square is a public space that needs to work harder. Currently, all green spaces in Letterkenny are both decentralised and delineated with walls and borders. The square has the potential to provide a well needed free space in a busy town, and with some simple, clever design, it can.

In contrast, the Dundrum Town Centre Pembroke Square has undergone a recent urban renewal. The square was formerly a relatively desolate space, only used to pass through. The monotonous paving was occasionally occupied by a large marquee for events, however, even this did not serve the urban space well, as it created another firm edge within an already lifeless area.

Now the square is a vibrant hub of activity. It provides lots of ways to use the space - pods to gather in, picnic tables to eat on, younger people lounge and socialise on the shaded steps, children play in the central water jets. And this is without taking into account the numerous bustling food trucks, cafes, and restaurants that line the square with tables and chairs.

The edge has remained active. The built periphery has a variety of uses - everything from shops and eateries, to living spaces and bars. The square is occupied and overlooked at all times, and the space remains somewhere safe and sociable. Visiting the Dundrum square now is a pleasure. It is always lively. By keeping the active edge wrapped directly around the open space, as opposed to being separated by a road, it allows the urban realm to thrive.

By keeping the edge active, indulging a variety of uses, and providing liberating free spaces, these squares, which were intended for people, enable the ‘urban’ to be successful.

20/11/2021
Working Hard / Hardly Working

Public spaces have never before been so valued. As a result of the global pandemic, activity has moved ‘out’, from private dwellings to the public realm. In Ireland, there had seemed almost a reticence to using shared space before the pandemic. However, as we found ways to re-enter society in a safe and social way, our parks, squares, and streets became our urban saviours.

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