Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter for all the latest new and updates.

Become a member

Membership of Type allows unlimited access to our online library. Join to support new research and writing on the design of the built environment.

You can read more about membership here.

Become a member

Already a member? Login to your account to avail of unlimited downloads.


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

Year of publication
Filtering by:
This is some text inside of a div block.
Reset all filters
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Roaming right

Claudia Dalby
One Good Idea
Claudia Dalby
Eimear Arthur

Driving Ireland’s looping system of isolated rural roads, you'll spot a common sight: walkers decked out in hi-vis, singly or in groups, tracking the footpath-less edge, keeping out of your way and waving gratefully as you pass. Rural roads are the most dangerous in Ireland: the site of 71% of road fatalities in 2020, according to the Road Safety Authority (RSA) [1]. In that year, forty-four pedestrians were killed on Irish roads (the RSA didn’t differentiate between rural and urban deaths), more than passengers (thirty-four) and cyclists (eight) combined.


Pedestrians are vulnerable on rural roads, which may have limited visibility and lack proper footpaths. Image credit: Claudia Dalby

People may choose to walk because they can’t drive, because it is the cheapest option, or simply for walking’s sake. If those living rurally haven’t access to private land, a footpath, or a designated public route, their only option is the roadside, with limited visibility around bends, speed limits up to 80km/h or 100km/h, and the fear of distracted drivers.


But there could be options beyond the roadside. In Scotland, people have a "right to responsible access" [2], meaning the public can access most private land and inland water for recreation and other purposes, including walking. Sweden, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria have similar statutory rights of responsible access to all land, regardless of ownership. They don’t have to call ahead, or worry that they’ll be reprimanded for walking through someone’s property.


In England, where open access to 8% of private land is legislated, there is a growing campaign to move closer to the Scottish model. The Right to Roam campaign proposes that while ownership of the land may allow landowners to "take rent, mine, and make money from the land", it should not permit them to exclude the public [3]. Some farmers, in response, argue that the public doesn’t know how to use the countryside, and could impact agricultural production [4]. Farmers in support of the Right to Roam suggest it should be accompanied by a public education programme.


Access in Ireland is at the discretion of landowners [5], and may be withdrawn at any time, even when access has been agreed with the state, and even to sites on which public money has been spent [6]. 78% of land in Ireland is private, while 8% is public (the remaining 14% is unmapped, likely residential). Most of the private land is farmland [7]. A 2009 study of farmers’ attitudes towards allowing walkers to access their land found that 51% were opposed to any such scheme [8]. Those opposing public access usually had limited experience of walkers passing through their land and were concerned about interference with farming activity. Farmers who were familiar with walkers were more willing to engage with the scheme, and more willing to do so for free. In general, it was found that farmers were more supportive of creating public access if paid about €0.27 per metre of walkway, if full public liability insurance indemnification were provided, maintenance costs covered, and no permanent right of way established.      

Creating a legal right of responsible access in Ireland would open up the countryside to walkers. Image credit: Claudia Dalby

The question of liability is an important one. Under Irish legislation, landowners are considered responsible for those on their land, meaning concerns around public liability are justified, though recent changes to the duty of care have given more weight to personal responsibility [9].

The government’s National Outdoor Recreation Strategy acknowledges that access to the countryside rests on the goodwill of landowners [10]. The strategy vaguely aims to develop permissive access and "encourage innovative solutions". Creating a legal right of responsible access in Ireland would open up the countryside, allowing us to hop over fences and explore the land around us. Of course, for that to work, certain responsible behaviours would need to be normalised. Dogs should not be brought near to livestock, and walkers must respect the land, leaving no trace [11].

There’s a strong environmental case for making land more accessible to all. Studies have found that connection to nature increases people’s willingness to protect the environment [12]. 84% of people surveyed by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2020 thought walking in nature benefitted their mental health [13]. More places to walk safely in the countryside could foster a rural walking culture. Health benefits of walking in nature include stress reduction, cognitive development, and lowered likelihood of cardiovascular disease [14].


This map of walking locations in Ireland shows clear gaps in public access to land. Depending on where you live, the nearest public walking route might be a drive away, and an alternative one even further. These designated routes allow you to get out, to move your body and breathe the air, but what about your curiosity, your sense of adventure, your wish to follow your nose or the call of a bird? Those desires cannot be met by the same stretch of land every time, or by planning a round-country day trip to a faraway route. With the right to roam, people could explore nature and build custodianship with the land. Why should this require a pleasant interaction with a landowner beforehand?

One Good Idea

Much of the Irish countryside is in private ownership, meaning rural populations without access to designated walking routes are relegated to ditches and roadsides. Legislating for responsible public access to private land could offer safety, health, and ecological benefits.


Untapped potential: harnessing rainwater in our public realm

BothAnd Group
Working Hard / Hardly Working
BothAnd Group
James Haynes

Crafting public spaces that respond to local climatic conditions demands careful consideration. The ground plane bears the brunt of numerous responsibilities: foot traffic, accessibility, servicing and managing fluctuating climatic conditions – specifically rainwater.  

Met Éireann's preliminary data for 2024 shows that March’s rainfall surpassed long-term averages [1]. Further climate change research conducted by Met Éireann also reveals significant increases in heavy precipitation events, particularly during winter and autumn months, with a projected rise in extended dry periods [2]. This poses challenges for both water scarcity and abundance, necessitating prompt design solutions and adaptations to our public spaces and wider built environment.

Rainwater in cities isn't just an inconvenience, it holds potential. Rather than condemning rainwater into stormwater drains, through careful planning and management techniques there are ways we can redirect and collect it, enhancing the spatial experience and climate resilience of our public realm.

Shop Street, Galway (2020). Source: Tobin Galway


Hardly working

The surface of the pedestrianised core in Galway city over the years has succumbed to the inherent complexities of climate and water, with rainfall historically and consistently being a challenge. It averages at 2,800mm per year, in comparison to Dublin with an average of 680mm per year [3].

Since its pedestrianisation in the late 1990s, the street has undergone various phases of maintenance, resurfacing, and redesign. Previously paved with a cobble lock paving, this surface quickly deteriorated after years of heavy foot and vehicular traffic, compounded by poor drainage, and was removed in 2019.

Since then, it has been temporarily resurfaced with tarmac, and in many ways, is symbolic of the widespread soil sealing occurring across Irish towns and cities. This practice, along with the selection of visually unattractive drainage systems permeating the built environment, reflects a gradual erosion of the importance of aesthetic value in pedestrianised zones. These drainage systems are engineered to direct polluted runoff towards natural watercourses, such as rivers and streams, or in some cases to designated stormwater management facilities. Consequently, the resultant waste has been described as a "toxic cocktail of pollutants’’ identified by the EPA (Environment Protection Agency) [4].

The material surface of Shop Street in Galway city is currently under review as part of a broader public realm redevelopment and city enhancement strategy [5]. The strategy, while ambitious and impressive in terms of its quality of urban place making and accessibility standards, is conservatively reliant on impervious hard surfaces with traditional methods of surface rainfall drainage. The strategy, apart from its introduction of small areas of sustainable drainage systems (SUDS), misses a massive opportunity to effectively integrate and creatively link rainfall drainage from streets to new and existing public spaces, a critical characteristic of nature-based solutions (NBS) to urban run-off and climate resilience. 

Rainwater channels in full flow at Benthemplein, Rotterdam, by De Urbanisten. Source: Jurgen Bals

Working hard

The streets and sidewalks encircling Benthemplein in Rotterdam serve as its water veins, creating a living rainwater laboratory, a ground-breaking urban space known as the Water Square. Designed by De Urbanisten, and completed in 2013, it serves as a multifunctional public space that dynamically integrates water management with recreational and social amenities.The project aimed to address the city's challenges with urban flooding and water management. It not only successfully achieved this, but also exposed these challenges to the public through conscious and clever design [6].

Three basins gather rainwater: two shallow ones collect water whenever it rains nearby, while a deeper basin accumulates water during periods of sustained rainfall. Rainwater from the square flows via stainless steel drainage channels into the basins, visually mimicking natural waterways, while in dry weather, the space is accessible to all [7].

Here, linking the drainage channels to a large public space creates visual interest and dynamic interactions with water, enhancing the sensory experience of the square. The sound of water flowing through the channels contributes to the space’s ambiance, creating a playful, inviting atmosphere that attracts people to linger and engage.

The incorporation of street drainage into the design of the Water Square at Benthemplein exemplifies the seamless integration of water management infrastructure with urban design principles. By combining functionality with aesthetics, these channels contribute to the square's resilience, sustainability, and appeal as a vibrant public space in Rotterdam.


Despite notable differences in context and scale, the Dutch model offers insights and an attitude to climate adaptive design that can be applied to the Irish urban environment. Fundamentally, the Water Square at Benthemplein demonstrates that it is plausible to effectively manage and even embrace heavy rainfall within urban areas.

It is important to recognise Shop Street in Galway not just as an isolated segment of the city's fabric, but as an integral component of interconnected systems within the broader urban water landscape. This perspective acknowledges the wider context and interdependencies within the urban environment, encompassing flood prevention, the preservation of biodiversity, water quality maintenance, and ecosystem wellbeing. This calls for a change in how we perceive and handle our conventional drainage systems, prompting a fundamental question: are we designing what's right for our rain?

Working Hard / Hardly Working

Rainwater in cities isn't just a problem – it's an opportunity. This article delves into the conventional methods of handling rainwater in our urban spaces, and looks to climate-adaptive examples of rainwater management, offering insights applicable to future urban environments in Ireland.


Housing, can we do it ourselves?

Jonathan Curran
Future Reference
Jonathan Curran
Cormac Murray

Ireland faces a critical housing shortage. Our financial system means a short-term reduction in house prices is unlikely [1], and analysis points to a shortage in supply as a key contributing factor. To build ourselves out of crisis, housing will need to be delivered at large scales. State agencies, housing bodies, and developers are masterplanning significant swathes of land. In the face of a climate crisis, hitting our housing targets is just the first step. A major challenge will be how we can sustain our housing supply for generations to come.

When we consider our building strategies through the lens of repair, a key factor that emerges is scale. Repair has a certain set scale because buildings are not precise. The rolling list of repairs that a building demands does not lend itself to a top-down, large-scale approach, but instead requires careful, human attention. Learning to build is a lesson in measuring twice, cutting once, and allowing for errors. This is not precision engineering; small misreads can become gaps you can put your hand in. Our houses are full of filler; half of Ireland is held together with Tec7. If we more carefully consider this complex and often unkempt side of construction, we can enable the continual transformation of buildings over time.

Large-scale, new-build construction might seem re-assuring for hitting housing delivery targets at first. At the macro level, however, it remains challenging to strategise for ongoing repair work: problem-solving with limited clues, incorporating room for error, and facilitating creative on-site responses. The onus for delegating and procuring repair in private housing typically falls to management teams, resident committees, and individuals. Not surprisingly, meaningful change is impeded by financial realities. We are fast approaching a crisis point; a 2018 report by the Royal Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland found three-quarters of apartment complexes do not have enough funds set aside for long-term upkeep [2]. Post-occupancy evaluations are unfortunately neither mandatory nor regularised. There is a glaring absence of data on maintenance and repair in our climate and economy.

'The complex and unkempt side of construction'. Image of a construction site by Jonathan Curran

If we reconsider housing with repair in mind, then we begin to look beyond the hoarding of new-build construction sites. We have a country filled with crumbling brick terraces, mistreated stone townhouses, and swathes of cold, damp bungalows tucked into the corners of fields. While this dimension of construction might not be appealing to large-scale investors, for owner-occupiers, repair and restoration could present an invaluable opportunity to obtain and customise a place of one's own. The state is attempting to encourage these small-scale repairs by offering grants of up to €70,000 to homeowners undertaking renovations of derelict properties. But this money is only released once the project meets a number of strict conditions, and is only available to projects involving a contractor [3].

The potential for this mode of construction is significant. A high proportion of an entire generation are currently locked out of the property market. Their powerlessness to enact change is contrasted with our historical culture of self-building in Ireland. Although a frequent topic of derision, the Bungalow Bliss building phenomenon in Ireland was a remarkable feat of small-scale building, happening en masse. The effect of this goes beyond housing quanta, as writer Adrian Duncan notes: "There's more of a direct relationship with a home you build for yourself when compared to moving to a house built by a stranger". He describes the Bungalow Bliss period as "one of the last few unselfconscious instances in Ireland of the traditional meitheal" [4]. This could equally apply to a house one maintains, repairs, extends or retrofits.

However, current government supports fail to reach self-builders and DIYers. Instead the system relies on the appointment of contractors. David Byrne, a self-builder I spoke to, lamented the lack of support available to him: "The government, while meaning well, is giving money to the middle man, while the person at the bottom isn't getting any benefit" [5]. His current project fits many of the criteria that the government seeks to encourage, but as he is aiming to do the work himself, the need to have a contractor involved removes any chance of receiving support. With the uncertainty of older buildings, the need to pay for work upfront, and inability to carry out the work by oneself, many of the grants are a helping hand that is simply out of reach.

There is also a lack of nuance in these government supports that is stifling the building economy. When it comes to thermal improvement, many grants rely on using an improved BER rating as evidence of a job well done. But the reality of retrofitting is far more complex. In David Byrne's case, he is removing the non-breathable elements from the existing stone walls, to restore their innate thermal and hydraulic functions. Yet he struggles to find support for this approach: "Ninety percent of people I talk to in the building industry tell me to dry-line the stone walls" [6]. How can we expect to harness the energy and desire of self-builders, if we cannot offer them more flexibility in financing and delivering their projects?

Removing non-breathable elements to expose a dry-stone wall. Image by Jonathan Curran

Enabling DIYers will require a surge in specialised education and training, funding and political vision. Currently, a significant barrier to a widespread DIY approach to housing is the availability of clear and accessible information. Some efforts are being made; enterprises like Common Knowledge aim to teach lay people construction skills with in-person courses. Similarly, architects and engineers will have a role to play in encouraging this shift in building culture. Already advocates for self-building – Walter Segal internationally, and Dominic Stevens domestically – have proven the potential for architects to enable self-building. The effort could be worth it, a widespread self-build and DIY revolution has the potential to tackle a number of the problems faced by the current Irish housing landscape: supply, lack of tradespeople, and vacancy.

If we can navigate this successfully, we could create a new self-perpetuating system for housing delivery and maintenance. If we want the job done right, we'll have to do it ourselves.

Future Reference

Possible solutions to the housing crisis are rarely considered beyond handing over the keys to a new dwelling. Repair work is generally too slow, risky, and expensive to be attractive to investment at a large scale. In looking for answers, should we make space for DIYers?


This is the standard: barriers in practice

Laoise McGrath
Present Tense
Laoise McGrath
Ciarán Brady

Graduates of architecture in the Republic of Ireland are facing a new significant barrier to accreditation, much discussed among affected individuals for the past year. What is a long journey to becoming an architect has, since the beginning of 2023, become implausibly longer again for many students as one of the two universities that offer the Professional Diploma in Architectural Practice in Ireland (PDAP – legally labelled the Professional Practice Exam, or PPE) decided to cease its offering to new applicants for at least three years – up to 2026 at the earliest [1]. This reduced the number of places available from a previous average of roughly 140 per year to the seventy places remaining at the only other university in Ireland which offers the course. In September 2024, this number will reduce again, as the remaining university removes twenty-two places from its offering. With five Irish universities producing roughly 200-250 graduates per year, combined with the number of expatriates working in Ireland in the architectural profession and requiring professional exams – this has resulted in a situation where there are, at the time of writing, around 400 expressions of interest vying for forty-eight places for the single PDAP course. This means that only one in eight to ten applicants will get a place, with the possibility for further growth to these numbers year-on-year.

The Architect. Image credit: Georges Reverdy

In April 2024, while the RIAI issued an updated statement on the dwindling capacity problems, with the welcome proposal of facilitating the PPE themselves from 2025, they did not specify how many graduates this course would accommodate, nor give any indication how much it would cost [2]. The problem is inevitably clogging the system with graduates, who have project and salary expectations that are determined by the timeline within which they complete the PPE. The current delays consequently are affecting their plans of a rational timeframe for career progression. Employers, too, will be directly affected, as they become encumbered with graduates who cannot progress through the system reasonably, and who they thus cannot expect to charge for as registered architects, or whose CVs they may not use to their full potential to win work. What should be even more alarming for the renowned richness of the profession in Ireland is how the backlog is delaying the beginning of the careers of potential sole-practitioners, previously a significant proportion of practising architects. In facing the current delays in starting the PPE, all graduates objectively must contend with a lag before they are provided the opportunity to contribute their ideas, ability, and energy to the industry in Ireland. Professional roadblocks could, and are, becoming repercussive personal reckonings for many, that arguably conclude with emigration to countries with more responsive registration systems as the only viable solution.

While legal protection for the title 'Architect' has been a persistent part of the RIAI’s two-fold aim of protecting and promoting members since 1885 [3], the role of the architect and the associated PPE was only legislatively defined by Part 3 of the Building Control Act 2007, which also bestowed upon the RIAI with the legal responsibility to manage accreditation of that title [4]. Part 3 of the Act was not “intended to exclude anybody, but, rather, to include all those who meet a defined minimum standard” [5]. In the current climate, the backlog in achieving accreditation has become so restrictive that graduates of the industry are potentially being prevented, legally, from working independently in it. This hard-won and necessary tool to protect the profession is now rendered as the means by which its reputation is tarnished – through exclusion of new members.

Architecture students. Image credit: Julio Gonzalez, SLU

The situation reveals a functional issue within the increasingly fragmented structure of the pathway to becoming an architect. The industry’s typically younger members, who have studied as long and as hard as those before them, have danced through the same rules but have reached a surprise stumbling block right at the very end. These members are becoming extremely frustrated with the slow pace of any resolution to a worsening problem. The immediate function and future of an industry cannot and should not subside because of the decision to close one course, and improved access to the profession should be increased in line with demand for university places and PPE courses to secure its future. The welcome development of a new course by the RIAI should be the beginning. Members of the industry at all levels should also galvanise government support for the formation of new courses that maintain sustainable access to the PPE. After all, as noted in the RIAI’s statement, architecture’s importance in the symbiotic development of the built landscape with the abstract social values of the people it shelters exists in governmental policy [6]. High-quality design of the future built environment, and surely by consequence, the place and skills of its future architects, is in its heart.

Update 04.05.24: UCD is reopening the Professional Diploma (Architecture) next January (2025) with a limit on forty places. A process of random selection is being applied for these places. Further details are available here.
Present Tense

In this article, Laoise McGrath discusses the barriers facing graduates of architecture in attaining professional accreditation in Ireland. Among the lucky few to have a place in a diploma course, Laoise also discusses the relevant factors at play in enabling colleagues and friends make informed choices about where they may want to live and practice in the near future.


How we build now?

Michael Pike
One Good Idea
Michael Pike
Eimear Arthur

"Architecture has no meaning unless in relation to nature". 

— Alvaro Siza [1]


We used to build in quite sensible ways.


Before industrialisation in Western Europe, we mainly built relatively simple structures of load-bearing walls using materials sourced in the locality. These materials – stone, brick, earth, timber, lime, plant fibre – required very little energy to produce. The walls were generally formed of one or two materials and the craft skills required were passed from one generation to the next. These vernacular buildings responded to local climatic conditions, making careful use of volume, the sizes and positions of apertures, cross ventilation, the thermal mass of the wall materials, thermal buffers to the most hostile orientations, and rooms of differing temperatures, to moderate the climate and achieve a relatively comfortable indoor environment without requiring significant additional heating or cooling. The buildings worked with nature and made the most of the natural conditions.


The industrialisation of construction over the last two centuries has created a change, from buildings as assemblies of materials based on craft practices to buildings as sums of subsystems, elements, and specialised layers of proprietary products. This change from materials to products greatly increased the embodied energy of building, as the standardisation of products requires significantly more complex manufacturing. Bricks, once produced locally from terracotta and fired at low temperatures, now require homogenised clay, must be fired at very high temperatures to meet industrial standards, and are transported large distances from centralised production facilities. Wood is now subjected to shredding, gluing, and shaping under pressure to homogenise its properties in the required formats [2]. We have also developed an ever-increasing number of industrial materials – steel, aluminium, PVC, concrete – that need vast quantities of energy to produce.


Social housing units at 39 Salvador Espriu, Palma, Mallorca, promoted by IBAVI. Authors: Carles Oliver, Xim Moyá, Antonio Martín, Alfonso Reina, (architects at IBAVI) Miguel Nevado (structure). Photographer: Milena Villalba 2023

In parallel with these changes in construction, we have created a situation where buildings are increasingly isolated from the natural environment, relying on technology to achieve comfort, instead of working with the local climate and conditions, as buildings did historically. In this era of the hermetically sealed building, the architecture discipline has surrendered responsibility for the design of the internal environments to engineers and other specialists. Key architectural issues affecting the well-being of inhabitants, such as air-quality, temperature, and humidity, are delegated to specialists and handled by technology. These issues, which should be central topics of the architectural project, are treated as merely problems to be solved. The construction industry and design professionals have become obsessed with the idea that we can completely isolate the insides of our buildings from the natural environment, like habitable thermos flasks. Yet, as Kiel Moe describes in his book Insulating Modernism, Isolated and Non-isolated Thermodynamics in Architecture, this isolation is illusionary and denies the physical reality of the building and the way it acts in the world: "literal isolation is thermodynamically impossible to achieve in the context of buildings" [3].


Based on this flawed thinking we have developed policies and regulations aimed at ever greater levels of insulation and airtightness, pursuing the holy grail of zero-energy buildings. Passivhaus is perhaps the most extreme version of this, creating buildings so airtight that they rely on expensive and complex technologies to provide ventilation.


The goal of these policies is energy conservation above all else, drowning out any more balanced discussion about how carbon emissions can be reduced to combat climate change. A new industry of simulation and certification has been created to drive a massive technological upgrade of buildings, but the promised successes will never be realised in real life. We have rushed to encase all our housing in thick layers of polyurethane and other oil industry by-products without consideration of the destructive impact of this practice. We don’t consider that having the bulk of our energy generated via renewable sources will reduce the need to insulate [4]. We are caught in a mindset that believes that more and more industrialised production and technology will solve any cost, quality, or time problem in the construction industry while helping to resolve a climate crisis that is the direct result of industrialisation and technological growth.


In recent years an increasing number of architects have begun to realise that we are making buildings too complex to design, too expensive to build, and too difficult to operate. Worse still, we are slowly becoming aware that the indoor environments we are creating, the settings for an increasing proportion of our lives, are not healthy. We realise that buildings are not empty shells, that they are filled with air, in the physical sense, and that this air is the main source of nourishment for the human body.


Social housing units in Santa Eugenia, Mallorca, promoted by IBAVI. Authors: Carles Oliver, Xim Moyá (architects at IBAVI). Photographer: Milena Villalba 2023

Alarmed by these realisations, some architects are returning to first principles. They are beginning to study how vernacular architecture managed to create buildings that intrinsically required very little energy to heat in winter and that did not overheat in summer. A change of mindset is emerging, from the modernist isolation of the building and reliance on technology to a new sensibility about simpler, more robust forms of construction that engage in a dialogue with the natural environment.  


One example of this new mindset is the work of the IBAVI in the Balearic Islands. This government housing agency has developed a whole series of really interesting social housing projects that rediscover vernacular materials and construction techniques such as the use of the local Mares stone, and a seagrass called Posidonia as insulation. In their projects, thick stone walls and vaults are deployed to stabilise the indoor environment without needing any applied technology.  


These architects have been leading a rediscovery of how the fundamental spatial elements of architecture – walls, roofs, floors, ceilings, and apertures – can generate an environmental performance in which the building is not isolated from its surroundings, but instead takes advantage of the innate opportunities they offer to achieve comfort without the need for complex technologies. There is also a growing realisation that buildings inherently require a great accumulation of matter and energy to exist and persist, that they can never be zero-energy, and that a building’s success in ecological terms is characterised by its capacity to exchange and harvest energy from the natural environment. This emerging school of thought has the potential to establish a more coherent agenda for architecture and to reestablish its relevance and importance to contemporary society.

One Good Idea

The construction industry's response to industrialisation and the climate crisis has been to create increasingly complex sealed building systems which are extremely resource-intensive to produce. A growing cohort of architects proposes a different way of working that embraces vernacular wisdom and the natural environment.


Metropolitan duality: Cork and Naples explored through the Venturi lens

Niamh Hurley
Working Hard / Hardly Working
Niamh Hurley
James Haynes
Aragonese walls and housing block through reflective framed device, Naples

While Cork city is often likened to Venice for its comparable canal system beneath its main streets, its architectural and urban characteristics draw parallels to another Italian city: Naples. Like Cork, Naples is a port city with a rich architectural history stemming from the mediaeval and industrial periods, however, their architectural characters and urbanist developments diverge significantly. 

The city of Naples embodies Venturi’s ideas, through its honky-tonk architecture, with various contrasting epochs stitched together into one elevational run. Structure, facade, stairs, fenestration: all elements become urban characters of a centuries-old play known to the locals as La Città (The City). This eclectic approach to urbanism results from the continual layering up of architecture upon architecture, fragments upon fragment, all with a keen desire to preserve, protect, and most importantly, maintain each architectural style. 

Cork city has an opportunity to draw inspiration from the Neapolitan character by investigating its development through the lens of Venturi's theories presented in his text, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. By juxtaposing similar examples from both cities, a connection between Neapolitan theatrics and Cork city’s architectural and urban framework can be discerned.

St. Augustine’s Church, Cork

City gates

Monumental gateways of former entry points are present in both cities. Portas are embedded into the Neapolitan urban environment, creating porous penetrations into the city’s historic centre. Traversing beneath these oversized portals is a colloquial experience. While most of these city gates have been demolished or disappeared over the centuries, fragments of their existence are scattered throughout the city. Four of the most intact examples are Port'Alba, Porta San Gennaro, Porta Nolana, and Porta Capuana. Nolana and Capuana are former entry points of the Aragonese fortification walls, flanked by two towers on either side. Both are embedded into the surrounding urban fabric, with housing blocks capturing portions of the former fortifications. This variegated facade, which conjoins the massive scale of the Aragonese arch and the human-sized domestic architecture into one elevation, embodies what Venturi refers to as ‘superadjacency’.

Bishop Lucey Park gateway, Cork

Looking at Cork city, similar giants appear, however, they take on an alien appearance compared to their surroundings. This is the case for the gateway that serves as the entrance to Bishop Lucey Park, known to Corkonians as the People’s Park. The double-arched entrance is reconstructed from the 1850’s Cork Cornmarket, a former marketplace, not located on the park’s derelict site, but instead at Coal Quay less than 500m away. Flanked by low stone walls and metal railings, recent development plans for the park include the removal of these adjacent structures while allowing the gateway to remain. The threshold becomes monumental rather than transitional. This form of symbolic architecture, represented as fragments of the whole, can be understood as “economical because it implies richness and meaning beyond itself” without the need for the whole [1]. However, care for its continuing existence in the chosen context is key. The gateway to the park rescripts its history into a fraudulent one, a contradiction, but not necessarily the form which Venturi discusses. Approaching by means of inversion, removing the deceptive, and creating a void to signify this entry adheres to the Venturi's idea of fragmentation while remaining faithful to Cork's history.

Urban ecclesiastics

Venturi's theories are not lost on Cork city. It is in the ecclesiastical spaces where these theories are effectively realised. This effectiveness may stem from the proximity of neighbouring buildings, resulting in a densely complex and interconnected urban fabric reminiscent of Neapolitan city development. One example is St Augustine’s Church on Washington Street. The second of its kind on the site, this church designed by architect Dominic O’Connor and completed in 1943, embeds itself into the streetscape, matching street lines and eave heights [2]. Contradictions appear in its material usage and elongated stained glass windows. The scale of the chiselled stone facade compared to the adjacent brickwork follows a height ratio of 3:1 and 5:1 and a width ratio of 2:1. Glazed openings extend to the fourth-storey height with no external breaks. The entry point on Washington Street is marked by a Hiberno-Romanesque style archway, double the height of its central door and those surrounding it. 

Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo, Naples.

Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo in Naples follows a similar over-scaling of architectural features with a more theatrical approach. Typical fenestration proportions are kept, while the scale is magnified to an almost caricature-like quality. Duality is present in its glazed elements; becoming what Venturi describes as “as both structural and ornamental, frequently redundant, and sometimes vestigial” [3]. 

By allowing these structures to play both against and with their architectural context, each element becomes a character in the city’s shared theatrical stage. This extreme multiplicity “reads like a unity through a tendency of the parts to change scale, and to be perceived as an overall pattern or texture”, creating an architecturally theatrical city that seeks to celebrate and conserve its elaborate and paradoxical history [4].

Working Hard / Hardly Working

Robert Venturi's postmodernist theories, outlined in his 1966 book "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture", have significantly influenced urban development. This article examines how two cities, Cork and Naples, have responded differently to these concepts through an analysis of similar heritage spaces, illustrating how one place’s adoption of these ideas may influence the development trajectory of the other.


Material change: a non-violent approach to our built environment

Rachel Loughrey
Future Reference
Rachel Loughrey
Cormac Murray

Virgin materials are any materials extracted directly from nature that lead to destructive impacts: trees being ripped from the ground, soil contamination, illness, and pollution. It takes an abundance of energy to process these materials and can, in some circumstances, lead to a displacement of communities. In a linear economy, the focus is on single-use and permanent disposal of materials. In the context of the climate and biodiversity crisis, these methods will have devastating future consequences. According to the World Economic Forum, the effects of the climate and biodiversity crisis are seen as the top tier risks for the next ten years and beyond [1].

An example of this is evident in the process of creating aluminium. The mining of bauxite, the ore needed to produce aluminium, has been linked to deforestation, community displacement, and environmental destruction in places such as the Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, China, and West Africa [2]. As bauxite is found near the earth’s surface, bauxite mines strip large areas of land, frequently impacting local ecosystems and communities. Bauxite refining creates an alkaline waste product called ‘red mud’ that contains heavy metals and other elements.  If the waste is not stored correctly and enters local water sources, it can be harmful to humans.

There is a non-violent and earth friendly alternative: using reclaimed materials. A key advantage offered by reclaimed materials is they require minimal to no reprocessing. Shifting to prioritising reclaimed materials would foster a circular economy, a nature-based system which would be regenerative. In a circular economy, materials never become waste – and waste production is considered an avoidable design flaw. Members of the construction industry need to constantly ask where a material is extracted from, and what is its end-of-life strategy. Asking shows a conscious approach, where we care about respecting the earth and leaving a liveable planet for future generations. Asking shows we understand climate justice, and how people who are suffering the most from the climate crisis have done very little to cause it. Asking shows an awareness that we, as members of the construction industry, are part of the problem currently, and shows a desire to become part of the solution for the climate and biodiversity crises.

Cleared forestry by Alan Hughes (via Wikimedia Commons)

Three main challenges exist for this non-violent approach to materials. These are, namely, psychological, practical, and regulatory challenges.

Psychologically, we need to accept that the way we are building now is harmful, and while changing to using reclaimed materials is not going to be comfortable for those in the industry, change is rarely comfortable. However, with a growing consciousness of the devastation caused by the climate crisis, key players within the construction industry are beginning to reflect on where materials come from, and the social and environmental impact of the extraction of these materials.

The practical challenge is tracking, storing, and quantifying the sustainability of our materials. We can start with establishing material passports, that will give materials an identity and help to map out elements that are being removed from buildings for refurbishment projects. We need to remove demolition out of our standard construction vocabulary and replace it with conscious deconstruction. We also need the state to provide storage for reclaimed construction materials, as is happening right now in Germany [5]. This will lead to an ease of use of reclaimed materials.

On a governmental level, we need the regulatory framework to be immediately updated – the regulations currently serve the linear economy, with reclaimed materials not being stated or encouraged in the documentation. There is scope in Section 1.1 ( c ) of the Technical Guidance Document D: Materials and Workmanship that enables materials to be reused under specific conditions, but we need the state to provide funding for anexisting secondary material marketplace (such as the Irish Green Building Council’s Construction Materials Exchange). In cases where demolition is absolutely unavoidable, planning compliance should mandate that a pre-demolition audit is carried out and that high-value materials are given a material passport and to be either directly transported to another live site or stored (temporarily) to be reused in the future.

Photograph of construction materials on site, image by Rachel Loughrey.

Ultimately, we need support from everyone in the industry to do this. Most individuals in construction could start immediately, by following these steps:

1. Observing how we build now.

2. Assessing the damage caused by extracting materials.

3. Examining alternatives such as using reclaimed construction materials.

4. Requesting that manufacturers, design teams, and the government use unharmful ways of building, so we can protect the environment we are part of.

As the forward-thinking activist bell hooks stated in her book The Will to Change: "The way things are is not the way they have to be" [6] We can change how we relate to the earth, and our disconnect to the materials with which we build. We need to advocate for non-violence, lean into the will to change together, and make a concerted effort to build with reclaimed materials.

Future Reference

There is a violent nature to the way we build today. Instead of using circularly-sourced, reclaimed elements, our built environment has normalised using virgin materials with associated destructive and damaging practices. Through changing our production and sourcing of materials, how can we transition from a linear economy to a circular one?


The office is hibernating

Séamus Guidera
Present Tense
Séamus Guidera
Ciarán Brady

The last decade had seen technology companies grow at a rate at which commercial property developers cannot keep up [1]. The majority of office space had been designed on a speculative basis. Build a ‘Grade A’ office, and they will come – but this is changing. Demand no longer exceeds supply, and the way we work has changed, while the way we occupy our offices is changing too. With lower occupancy and flexible working, the role of the ‘HQ’ has arguably become more important in its physical presence for larger companies. An office location, design, and provision of amenities are the bricks-and-mortar branding an organisation often requires. The machismo associated with office buildings of the past is no longer the best means to externalise one's values. Hugh Pearman once described Wilford & Sterling’s No. 1 Poultry as “exuding an astonishing sense of power and purpose” [2]. Kevin Roche, decades earlier, used similar power and purpose to make the workers of the Ford Foundation feel important. In an Irish context, Arthur Gibney strove to make the user feel important in Merrion Hall (1973), introducing his client to the Burolandschaft concept of office interiors, and an "exercise in the geometry of the module" [3] in both building and landscape terms, accentuating the structure of the pre-cast concrete frame. The theory goes that these important workers tended to be happier, more productive, and stay with the company longer. However, the design of these workplaces is changing again, and the changing culture of work is the first reason why.

The second reason is the elephant in the room. According to the UKGBC, 80% of buildings that will be occupied in 2050 have already been built [4]. 85% of Irish office buildings are below a B rating [5] and c. 15% of commercial buildings in Ireland are vacant [6]. We have an increasing amount of low-grade office space, bound for obsolescence – the dreaded stranded asset again. A change of use to residential makes perfect sense for some buildings, but not all. Site values, and potential return on office developments still hold more value than an occupied block of apartments in central locations. The structural design of more recent office buildings also limits the potential change in to residential. The office building of twenty-first-century Dublin, with small atria, deep floor plates, and bulging plot ratios are not well suited to change of use. If we believe in a future for the office, then we need architecture to ensure existing buildings can become offices of the future.

Nos. 4-5 Grand Canal Square, by Daniel Liebskind & MDO. Image credit: MDO Architects

What does this mean in design terms? Simply put, this is about design either side of the facade, while the facade remains. Feature facades have become ubiquitous with high-end new build offices – leading to monikers such as the ‘Cheesegrater’, ‘Gherkin’, etc., which all add to the value a potential tenant puts on their choice of building. These building exude a company’s core perception of itself, and its place in its community. Fit-out design, and place making give tenants a real ability to make staff feel important, and, of course, to be good neighbours. The opportunity for a cloud-based company to drop anchor and show their staff, and indeed their community, that they care is most often done through building. The best building to do this in, is one that already exists.

We need to embrace the large-scale refurbishment of existing office buildings to provide the next wave of ‘new offices’ as and when they come. The way we have designed speculative offices in the recent past, with an unknown future user, has been wasteful. We have provided fit-outs to entice a tenant, which will subsequently be ripped out and replaced. We have designed structures, vertical circulation, and sanitary spaces to allow for maximum occupancy, when this is often not required. The constraints that come with an existing building should, and can, be embraced. Floor-to-ceiling minimums of 2.8m are an arbitrary, agent-led, recommendation without taking in to account the depth of the floor plate. The over-design for floor loadings, mechanical ventilation, WC provision, lifts, etc. all encourage us to build new. As architects, we can strive to prove the workability of retention, and more so prove that future workplaces can change, grow, and adapt as required.

No.4-5 Grand Canal Square, office strip-out. Image credit: Séamus Guidera

The main reason to retain what we have, is not accreditation led – it is common sense. We have an abundance of flexible buildings in Dublin, and few have been designed to be flexible. The houses of Merrion Square were not designed to cater for tenements, nor offices, but they have operated as both throughout theire lifetime. 1970s speculatively built offices were not designed to be converted into apartments, but they are well suited to it. We don’t know what flexibility we are designing into the office buildings of the last decade, but it is our job as architects to make it work, and to lead the conversation in designing the headquarters of the future.

Present Tense

In post-pandemic Dublin, discussion regarding commercial property has centred on vacancy, demand, alternate use, and financing. In this article, Séamus Guidera considers the lesser discussed architectural opportunities of commercial offices downsizing and offers a broader rethink of what purposes a corporate HQ serves.


Space healers

Eimear Arthur
One Good Idea
Eimear Arthur
Eimear Arthur

Picture the last hospital you were in – there are reasons it looked like that. At any moment, a healthcare setting is balancing the needs and priorities of patients, clinicians, management, and administrative and support staff. Efficiency, servicing, privacy, infection control, comfort, safety, and cost add further complexity. Design guides, evidence-based solutions, and building regulations are guide rails for the architectural process. But established processes often engender established solutions.

Now, picture an oncology day ward. A row of treatment chairs and drip stands separated by curtains, buzzing overhead lights, nursing staff filling notes on their knees. But what if those treatment chairs were more comfortable, more functional? What if jump seats [1] created useful spaces within a corridor, taking advantage of city views while maintaining required clear widths? What if instead of tired divider curtains, privacy came in the form of beautiful, artist-designed screens?

This is the kind of 'fresh perspective' design students offer, says Cathal Mac Dhaibhéid, doctor and 2022-23 Innovation Fellow with HSE Spark Innovation. HSE Spark is a frontline, staff-led initiative to improve healthcare using design principles and innovation methodologies [2], which has run many successful partnerships with students of design. Mac Dhaibhéid cites the example of Interaction Design Master’s students who whittled a 'fifty or sixty' page nursing admission form to just twelve pages, through a series of user interviews and prototyping. 'These students look at problems through a design lens', says Mac Dhaibhéid, 'and they’re not jaded by working in the public health system'.

Inspired by artist Sasha Sykes, Isobel Walsh proposed flower-embedded resin privacy screens. Image courtesy: Isobel Walsh

But up until the recent ‘Healing Spaces’ elective – delivered with TU Dublin School of Architecture, Building and Environment (SABE), the Mater Transformation Team, and the Mater Hospital’s Oncology Day Ward and Inpatient Unit – HSE Spark hadn’t collaborated with architecture students. Like many good ideas, Mac Dhaibhéid’s engagement with schools of architecture was borne of frustration. Galvanised by the spaces he encountered in medical practice – some illogically laid out, some poorly functioning, some merely uninspiring – and Christine Nickl-Weller and Hans Nickl’s 2013 book, Healing Architecture [3], he became increasingly interested in the therapeutic potential of space, and the missed opportunity that is unimaginative design. He says, 'You have all these advances in how cancer is treated, but where it’s treated hasn’t really changed'.

For Emma Geoghegan, architect and Head of Architecture at SABE, Mac Dhaibhéid’s proposal to collaborate was too good to miss. There are established postgraduate programmes in healthcare architecture, but a focused module on healthcare spaces is absent from most undergraduate architecture syllabuses. Geoghegan notes that this is a 'gap', saying the design of healthcare environments is 'not just about typology, it’s about how you engage with people'. User engagement is key to the profession of architecture, and though many final-year architecture students have worked in practice, few have much experience of engaging with end users – this task generally falling to more senior team members.

In designing and delivering ‘Healing Spaces’, it made geographical and ideological sense for Geoghegan and Mac Dhaibhéid to work with the Mater Hospital. The hospital is within TU Dublin's direct community, and 'Community Engaged Research and Learning' is a stated aim of the university [4]. Critically, the Mater is, according to Mac Dhaibhéid, 'fertile ground for doing things a bit differently', as evidenced by the existence of Mater Transformation, an embedded unit within the hospital that’s dedicated to working with frontline staff to co-design and deliver change [5].

Regularly collaborating with both HSE Spark and the National College of Art and Design, Mater Transformation has extensive experience of running collaborative problem-solving processes. ‘What we’ve done is set up structures that can bring people together,’ says Aileen Igoe, Mater Transformation’s Lean and Systems Thinking Lead. These structures were critical to tackling potentially sensitive issues related to working in a functional hospital, such as GDPR and access, says Geoghegan. 'Things that might normally be challenging, we were able to resolve very quickly' [6].

Healing Spaces 'definitely felt like something special', Igoe says. Students were tasked with the redesign of the Mater Hospital’s Oncology Day Ward and Inpatient Unit, which sits within a building that’s less than ten years old, and is, as Igoe – who studied architecture – points out, generally well designed and considered. But the service has expanded, and healthcare architecture is often constrained by budgets, timelines, and HBN (Health Building Notes) standards [7]. Whereas by listening very carefully to staff needs, and through them, the needs of the patients [8], the SABE students gained a 'nuanced understanding of service' that allowed them to achieve 'the attention to detail that you might see in a domestic extension'.

Geoghegan, Mac Dhaibhéid, and Igoe all stress that the project’s success would not have been possible without the enthusiasm and openness of the Mater’s 'fantastic' clinical staff. Alongside oncology staff consultation, the SABE students received expert advice from Jennifer Whinnett, Senior Healthcare Planner at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust; Ailish Drake, an architect and landscape designer at Drake|Hourigan Architects with extensive user engagement experience; and Clare White, Director at O’Connell Mahon Architects.

Nine students – eight studying architecture and one studying interior design – [9] worked collaboratively, each tackling different issues to develop a cohesive solution. Daniel Herbst considered how spatial efficiency could be maximised to create more staff workstations. Alannah Hayes redesigned the bridge corridor to incorporate glare-free recessed lighting and jump seats with views of the city. Balancing the therapeutic value of nature, against the maintenance and infection control issues that planting brings [10], Isobel Walsh proposed commissioning Irish artist Sasha Sykes [11] to make operable resin privacy screens, embedded with flowers. The breadth of the students’ thinking surprised and impressed Mac Dhaibhéid: 'The final presentation was incredible'.

Alannah Hayes reimagined an under-exploited bridge corridor. Image courtesy: Alannah Hayes

It’s likely that Healing Spaces will have a life beyond the module’s twelve-week duration, both in terms of the students’ actual proposals and in fostering future collaborations. Geoghegan says that within a few days of the students’ final presentation, Tracy Fitzpatrick, the Mater’s Directorate Nurse Manager for cancer, had sourced quotes for different aspects of the proposals: 'That really impressed me'. This being Mater Transformation’s first time working with architecture students, they don’t have established pathways for delivering architectural projects, but Igoe’s undaunted: 'We’ve manged it with NCAD in other design disciplines, and there’s various funds we can apply to'. She stresses that they’d like to keep the SABE students involved in some way, as the designs are theirs. Of working with Mater Transformation, Geoghegan says, 'It feels like a natural partnership for SABE. My hope is that we will continue to run an elective like this and build on it'.

As for the module’s first run, the SABE students have shown that, with focused, informed imagination, a healthcare environment can be both clinical and beautiful. An oncology ward environment can stimulate and comfort patients who may be there for extended periods, distressed, fatigued, or bored, awaiting or receiving treatment. There is so much energy and innovative thought in architecture schools, often applied in the abstract. Healing Spaces allowed students to channel their energy and creativity towards 'something really useful"', says Geoghegan.

One Good Idea

Taking architectural education beyond the speculative can transform real-world environments – and healthcare settings are ideal beneficiaries of student creativity and innovation.


The autumnal earth: the Irish National War Memorial Gardens

Tom Cookson
Working Hard / Hardly Working
Tom Cookson
James Haynes

"We have found safety with all things undying,

The winds, and morning, tears of men and mirth,

The deep night, and birds singing, and clouds flying,

And sleep, and freedom, and the autumnal earth".

Extract from ‘Safety’ by Rupert Brooke, 1914.

Located on the southern edge of Phoenix Park in Dublin is the Irish National War Memorial Gardens (1930-39). On arrival one is drawn to a modest structure framed by trees. Inscribed here is a fragment of a poem by Rupert Brooke, the great English war poet. He wrote these words at the tender age of twenty-seven, and was shortly to depart for war, where he perished soon after.

Sentinels guarding a multi-layered threshold, a play of mass and volume at the Irish Memorial Gardens.

The Irish Memorial Gardens were designed by the English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) at the height of his creative powers, in the twilight of his career. His masterpieces in New Delhi and Thiepval were complete, and he was designing Liverpool Cathedral, feted to rival that of St Peter’s in Rome. Under the auspices of the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) – and its visionary director Fabian Ware – Lutyens had been directly involved in the design of 137 cemeteries and memorials following World War I, and was the spiritual and architectural lodestone for hundreds more. Yet his career began with domestic work in the Arts & Crafts style, commissions and acclaim garnered through the unique patronage of Country Life magazine. As his reputation grew, he was increasingly tasked with civic projects. His mature style, commensurately, is in the Classical tradition; yet bridging the domestic and civic is in many ways the story of his life, and that of the Irish Memorial Gardens.

While civic perhaps falls short of the breadth of Lutyens reach, he was also seeking the universal. He had a belief that perfect shapes and relationships have an eternal relevance, and are reflections of divinity [1]. This is evidenced in the layout he devised at the Irish Memorial Gardens. By composing a series of circular spaces, connected by linear routes, he established a network of cosmic geometries. These are situated within the constructed landscape of Phoenix Park – albeit separated by the River Liffey – with a planned connecting bridge never realised. These cosmic territories hold a family of monuments. In many ways the Irish Memorial Gardens is an exercise in ontology, on the nature of things and their relationships, over many scales.

Following Lutyens proposals, the centrepiece to all IWGC cemeteries and memorials is the War Stone. A neutral but enduring symbol, not overtly related to any particular religion, in line with Lutyens’ humanist values. This final proposal is reflective of his first striking instinct for a memorial, communicated in a letter to his wife, after visiting the Western Front: "a solid ball of bronze!" [2]. Yet as with all commissions of this scale and significance, more conservative voices held sway. These were led by Herbert Baker, another prominent architect, who called for the traditional iconography of the cross. The compromise reached is evident at the Irish Memorial Gardens, with the War Stone twinned to the south with a monumental stone cross.

Lutyens had been working for many years with the classical language of architecture, manipulating its grammar in the Renaissance mannerist tradition. His fascination with the work of Palladio and Wren is clear in the elements that frame the War Stone. A wall encloses this to the south, east and west, with axial entrances to the flanking circular gardens marked by pavilions which borrow the ancient Roman model of the tetrapylon. Openings in the four corners of this central space provide access to radial routes into the wider landscape, framed by gateposts, sentinels guarding their thresholds. These are figurative in character, over-scaled, in the manner Michelangelo Buonarotti depicted the human body. Constructed from sharply dressed and jointed white stone, they contrast wilfully in tone and texture with the more informally coursed walls which they interrupt. They are playful, personal, balancing mass and volume as a painter or sculptor would, roundly rejecting the assumption that the classical tradition is an imitative pattern book. To the north, a view of Phoenix Park connects this outdoor room to its broader context – a recurring motif in Lutyen’s work for the IWGC. Despite its scale, this space truly does feel like a civic room, embedded in its landscape and roofed by the heavens, delivering on Lutyens intent: "The big stone to the East, the flanking pyramid oaks and the sky forming the vault to them all" [3].

The notion of an outdoor room, or ‘garden-room’, is a strand which connects all of Lutyen’s domestic projects, under the influence of his lifelong collaborator Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932). Jekyll’s career began as a painter, before shifting to garden design, inspired by William Robinson’s revolutionary book The Wild Garden [4]. The domestic qualities of the spaces that Lutyen’s and Jekyll spent decades refining together are evident in the Irish Memorial Gardens, individual moments afforded amongst the universal set-piece, a contradiction delicately negotiated, elevating each experience. It is this layering from the scale of the cosmos, receding to landscape, city, building, room, aedicule that uniquely allows us to situate the presence of our individual bodies in the context of a broader continuum. To feel the presence of the earth below, and the firmament above. Another duality that is masterfully explored by sculpting the ground. The majority of landscapes are illusionary, surreptitiously urbanised, with few as skilfully executed as this one. Our experience is also illuminated through the topographic adjustments that have been imposed on this place. The more intimate circular gardens – to the east and west of the central outdoor room – uniquely feel both below the ground and elevated above it, simultaneously buried and projecting skyward.

Irish Memorial Gardens as artefact, fragmenting a constructed landscape.

Rudyard Kipling described Lutyen’s memorials and cemeteries as "silent cities". The 49,400 Irish soldiers that lost their lives during World War I inhabit these gardens, their presence is felt, the empty rooms hold an emotional density. The Irish Memorial Gardens recalls paths not walked, public spaces not shared, domestic rooms not inhabited. The tragedy of this place is that it was made to memorialise WW1, just as WW2 was about to commence. Yet it also carries hope. In the grand tradition of public space, it reminds us that the individual only makes sense as part of the collective. It also fractures our participation in the everyday – for a moment at least – connecting human life with the landscape which we inhabit, a valuable lesson in the context of a climate emergency.

Working Hard / Hardly Working

The Irish National War Memorial Gardens affords individual moments amongst a universal set-piece. Referencing the scale of the cosmos, and receding to landscape, city, building, room, it uniquely allows us to situate the presence of our individual bodies in the context of a broader continuum. A vital experience in a time of climate emergency.


Reading Capel Street

Robin Fuller
Future Reference
Robin Fuller
Cormac Murray

Dublin’s Capel Street is like the airport: a place where languages mingle. At the airport, signs for arrivals and departures carry the names of distant places, and on Capel Street, the signs above shops, restaurants and cafés do the same: Moldova, Marrakech, Ephesus. Space is dislocated by these international arrivals. Hà Nội Hà Nội comes twice; Tokyo is smuggled in with a pun (eaTokyo). The Spanish send only A Taste Of Spain. It’s hard to know where one is when on Capel Street, among consumable simulacra of the world’s cultures; the shop on the corner of Strand Street insists that this is Real Brazil.

On Capel Street, writing systems from different cultures speak with and over each other, translate and misunderstand each other, inviting and excluding readers. On restaurant facades and on the packaging of imported products, graphic utterances in Arabic script, Chinese characters, Korean Hangul, and the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets call to the consumers of Capel Street.

Printed signage to the interior of Super Asia Foods

Often the languages come in pairs. On the fascia of Hilan Chinese & Korean Restaurant, the largest text – 海兰江 – will not be understood by many passersby but will be recognised as an indication of Chinese cuisine. Hilan offers Chinese writing for the illiterate anglophone to consume, while around the corner on Strand Street, the Chinese and English sign for Fly Star Design & Print / 星飞 告印刷 lets Chinese customers know that this establishment speaks their language. Discretely tucked into the corners of shop windows and menus, handwritten and untranslated Chinese, Moldovan, and Portuguese notices reveal linguistic communities in private conversation.

On Capel Street, writing systems start to behave like one another. At Korean restaurant Arisu / 아리수, the red and blue taegeuk symbol from the South Korean flag moves from the dot on ‘i’ to the circle in ‘아’. At Marrakesh, the flowing forms rendering the words ‘Restaurant & Karaoke’ would have us believe they spoke Arabic (there is one true Arabic word on the door: حلال / Halal). The multiscribal grapholect of Capel Street is most perfectly embodied in the name of the beauty salon, U美. Transliterated on the sign as YOUMEI, it means, roughly, ‘you are beautiful’. Like all Chinese characters, 美 stands for a syllable-length sound (‘mei’) and a meaning (beautiful). In U美, ‘U’ works in the same way: it stands for a meaning (the second person) and a syllable-length sound (‘you’).

Dual language signage to the exterior of YOUMEI beauty salon

Capel Street is linguistically diverse, but not equal. Irish might be a minority language, but it’s one of only two languages on official signs issuing orders that you must obey or risk arrest. At the beginning of the last century, when an independent Irish national identity was first forged, it was essential to distinguish Irishness from Englishness. The published proceedings of the first sitting of Dáil Éireann in 1919 used two typefaces: a standard one for English and French, and for Irish, a nineteenth-century Frankenstein of historical sources. We find remnants of this crumbling artefact of Irish national identity whenever the State speaks to us on Capel Street. The large, round uppercase ‘A’  on a sign reading ‘Ach amháin Tramana / Except Trams’ is there to remind us of the Book of Kells. Stranger still: that’s not a seven in the middle of the Irish for ‘Pay & Display — Íoc  Taispeáin,’ but a Tironian et: a symbol from a Roman system of shorthand used by eighth- and ninth-century monks in island monasteries off the British Isles. Capel Street is a strange place in a strange country.

With official expressions of national identity come others, offering competing conceptions. At The Boar’s Head florid faux-historical letterforms are used to pitch a commodified Irishness to pint swillers. There are unofficial political nationalisms speaking on Capel Street too. Affixed to a lamppost at the corner of Mary Street is a corriboard sign reading, ‘Remembering our Republican Heroes. 100th anniversary of the death of IRA Vol. Matthew Tompkins, who was fatally wounded at this location by Free State forces on 30 June 1922’. More than it purports to be, the sign memorialises the ideology of another time, when hardline nationalists were still upset with Michael Collins.

On most streets in Dublin’s city centre, the lampposts and bollards are saturated with the stickers of ‘Ultra’ soccer supporters and fringe activists, but the political neutrality of Capel Street is upheld by cleaners who peel away the proclamations stickered to surfaces the night before. However, if you look closely, you can find traces lingering in half peeled stickers of another, emerging figuration of Irish identity: ‘our past, our freedom, our future, our watch’; a line from Padraig Pearse – ‘Ireland belongs to the Irish’ – originally written to oppose despotic British landlordism, ripped from its nineteenth-century Irish historical context; a paradoxically, generic ethno-nationalism fed on American memes, symptomatic of the global flattening of culture it purports to oppose. Meanwhile, among Capel Street’s confusion of scripts, Babel Academy of English is training international students in a powerful weapon which may ultimately be Capel Street’s undoing: the English language.

Political and commercial expressions of national identity often appeal to ideas of permanence and clear distinction, but when we read and look at the texts of Capel Street, we see Irish and global cultural identities in transition and negotiation.

Future Reference

The texts we encounter in the environment – on road signs and shop windows – carry information about our culture, not just through words, but in their form and position in the environment. On Capel Street in Dublin’s city centre, we find the world’s writing systems speaking at once, inviting and excluding readers. Within this cornucopia of grammatologically-embodied cultures, the history and future of Irish national identity is expressed and contested.



Ailbhe Cunningham
Present Tense
Ailbhe Cunningham
Ciarán Brady

Throughout Europe, contemporary best practice approaches to urban development strive to balance complex and urgent social demands with heightened requirements for climate mitigation and ecological repair. Initiatives such as the European Urban Initiative exist to lead in the definition, funding, and guidance of such practices [1]. Although evidenced in emerging policies and strategies at both EU and national levels, processes of urban development largely preclude the meaningful participation of urban inhabitants and lead to arduous disputes during regeneration projects. While socially engaged architectural practice is evident in Ireland [2], formal structures for community participation in built environment regeneration projects remain inadequate [3].

TEST SITE is a socially engaged architecture project responding to a derelict site earmarked for urban regeneration on Kyrl’s Quay, Cork city centre [4]. Located on the central island of Cork city centre, the Kyrl’s Quay site is home to a wealth of natural and industrial heritage, neither of which are protected under current development standards. Combining art, architecture, and ecology, the TEST SITE project acts as a temporary agora to encourage public collaboration with the city, in particular this vacant site. Co-created with artist Aoife Desmond, the project encompasses a practice that is person-centred and co-designed. The project is dedicated to the examination, and promotion, of diverse and sustained social engagement within the built environment. It functions as a curated public meeting space facilitating discussions, workshops, and social activities that bring people together centred around themes such as heritage, identity, and the concept of belonging to a specific space. TEST SITE recognises the value of situated knowledge in the delivery of equitable urban development; the value of both expert-by-experience and expert-by-specialism knowledge.

Emergent Ecology Herbal Tincture Making Workshop with Jo Goodyear. Image credit: TEST SITE

Expert-by-specialism knowledge is primarily leveraged in making decisions concerning long-term urban development strategies in the built environment. Decisions are predominantly informed by quantitative data sets such as that gathered by sensors and monitors. Expert-by-experience knowledge, also referred to as lay or community knowledge [5], can exhibit heterogeneity when acquired through collective explorations such as living labs. Within urban neighbourhoods, living labs are projects that occur amid communities, incorporating collaborative and participatory processes. These processes involve a spectrum of diverse and underrepresented spatial experiences, providing essential insights for achieving urban development that is both equitable and resilient.

In her novel Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer, a Potawatomi botanist, describes the shifting responses and actions of students to scientific instruments during academic botanical field trips – how they recurrently shy away from their own senses and become heavily reliant on the readings of scientific instruments [6]. Through a series of grounding and landing activities, Kimmerer guides students to return focus to understanding and trusting their lived sense of place and not just the measurements and readings of the scientific equipment employed.

The intention behind activities undertaken at TEST SITE could be considered as an urban equivalent to Kimmerer’s field trip grounding activities, moving from a reliance on policy and quantitative data alone towards knowledge building that includes engagement with complex and varied hands-on comprehension of the urban built environment. The project works from the position that the human experience of urban inhabitants is a valid and crucial source of data in need of robust and formal consideration in relation to the long-term strategies for sustainable and equitable urban development.

Ecology Mapping Participatory Knowledge Mapping Workshop with Niamh Ní Dhuill. Image credit: TEST SITE

Lived experiences are fleeting and ephemeral. In order to be drawn upon in a formal capacity, it is crucial to capture and translate the lived experience of the protagonist of the built environment into spatial knowledge [7]. TEST SITE is undertaken from the informed position that a socially engaged practice of architecture can capture ephemeral and complex socio-spatial qualities of the built environment, as experienced by urban dwellers. With this comes the need to develop processes that capture the situated learnings that emerge through hands-on experience of a place.

One such means is to co-produce socio-spatial representations [8]. Tangible and lasting lessons emerge from temporary spatial activations once a structured process of reflection and representation is instigated to complement ongoing activations.

Through TEST SITE we continue to test methods that encompass the contributions of wide and varied voices; be they regular contributors, collaborators or once-off visitors from extended civil society. Ultimately intending to expand the complex web of knowledge that can shape long term strategies and approaches to sustainably developing our local built environment.

Returning to and concluding with the writings of Robin Wall Kimmerer, she describes the importance that the Potawatomi elders place on ceremonies as a means of “remembering to remember” [9]. Perhaps temporary activations of vacant, derelict, and public land can act as a form of ceremony and learning in the built environment; a means of remembering to remember and value the lived experiences of a city's residents when formulating plans and strategies for its future.

Present Tense

TEST SITE is an initiative blending art, architecture, and ecology to foster public engagement in urban regeneration in Cork city. Highlighting the gap between policy and participatory practice, it showcases how co-designed projects can integrate community knowledge into sustainable urban development, offering a model for inclusive planning in shaping the cities of the future.


Something more than management

Andrew Clancy
One Good Idea
Andrew Clancy
Eimear Arthur

It is a strange time. Conflict is general, but there is one area of surprising consensus: Una Mullally and Michael McDowell are writing columns that agree with each other [1]. The cause of this congruence between left and right is the proposed reworking of the St Stephen’s Green shopping centre – a design both correspondents decry for its blandness and generic expression [2]. In the absence of full-time built environment critics in the Irish popular press, Mullaly and McDowell have each written extensively, with different emphases, about matters of architecture, urban form, and planning. Their critiques of the proposed development express views common in our society. While James Toomey Architects’ shopping centre might not be the most important building, with its clip on "Mississippi river boat façade" [3], the journalists’ point stands: so many facades, reworkings, and new builds betray a lack of consideration of threshold, of contribution to public space, of the linking to and protection of communities, or of seeking to create humane and delightful places to live. This is not a critique of architects per se, but of our planning system.


It is worth briefly setting out the status quo: most buildings are constructed by private individuals or companies, each acting in its own self-interest. These individuated projects become the public faces of our cities and towns, shaping our movement patterns, our ability to find repose or respite, and the network of social encounters that constitute a society. Acting to regulate and temper these disparate development processes is our planning system. ‘Forward planning’ teams within local authorities shape policies in the short, medium, and longer terms, while ‘development management’ departments consider specific applications for development permission. Beyond this, An Bord Pleanála adjudicates on appeals to planning decisions throughout the state.


There is something quaint about this, a simple system for a simpler age. It assumes an episodic pace of development – where extant works can be reasoned against proposed, at a pace which allows things to cohere. It’s a system ill-equipped to respond to the contemporary pace of development. While pre-planning systems exist, feedback tends to be high-level, strategic. Points raised may often be set aside by the applicant in the aspiration that a higher body may overrule local planners. Tactics shape decisions. Sometimes a flat refusal is not in the public interest; conditions requiring the omission of a floor, or even an entire block, are reasonably common. But these retroactive measures are probably the least useful ways to ‘manage’ development.


Applicants, for their part, assemble ever more complex design teams with specialisms added as tools to bolster a case, not necessarily to improve design. Many anticipate An Bord Pleanála as the final adjudicator. There is little incentive to justify the increased time (and therefore fee) an architect or landscape designer requires for a more thoughtful approach, as this will rarely have demonstrable impact on the planning decision or the financial modelling of the proposal. None of this is the planners’ fault, but a product of the system. As we consider a major overhaul of planning regulation here [4], it is curious that there is not more debate about this aspect. The primary effect of the proposed planning reform will be a more robust and streamlined system, but not one necessarily delivering better design.


It is time to consider using design review panels. These exist in many forms in various parts of the world. Some, such as those common within universities or major corporations, are specific to institutions, or to special planning areas, while in countries such as the UK these panels form part of the general infrastructure of the planning system. Design review panels bring together diverse specialisms to critique designs as they develop. A panel may include architects, landscape architects, housing experts, community engagement experts, and many more as required. These experts, paid for their time, review applications at early and late stages and provide non-binding feedback. Review events may resemble a design review in university, with a verbal presentation and conversational feedback.


The best design review processes are timely, occurring at an early design stage. They are proportionate, recognising that not every project warrants the process: perhaps key sites, streets or scales of work are identified as triggering a review. They involve rotating panels of diverse and skilled experts, offering objective feedback in a transparent and accessible manner. Most importantly, they are advisory: they do not act to design, but to inform a design process. However, their impact can be profound, allowing decisions taken early on to greatly improve anything from a proposal’s integration within an area, to the nature of housing layouts, and even aesthetic expression. Planners naturally draw on the transcripts of these sessions – and developers, knowing this, seek to bolster the design strength of their proposal. Conversations led by design review panels can, say, make a case for increased density coupled with clear qualitative improvements. In other cases, panels may act as powerful advocates against demolition, or champion the adjustment of early ideas to cater for the full breath of diverse needs that exist within our communities.


Design review can be malleable, recruiting and developing expertise across local authority boundaries and making space for arguments which may greatly improve the built environment over time. They also make explicit to applicants a requirement for skilled, adequately resourced designers. This impact ripples beyond the specific sites being reviewed and modifies the entire development eco-system over time. Substantial literature exists internationally on the benefits of the system [5], literature which will be vital in designing a successful Irish approach. Trials are key, to allow the new system to adjust and develop in light of how it is working.


None of the above is a panacea, but it might be a way to begin responding to the valid critiques raised by commentators left and right. Design review panels have the potential to positively reshape our cities and towns, setting out a new vision of our country for decades to come.

One Good Idea

The current proposed reform of the Irish planning process will not necessarily deliver better design, argues Andrew Clancy – but design review panels could.


Engaging with water: Arthur's Quay, Limerick

Denise Murray
Working Hard / Hardly Working
Denise Murray
James Haynes

What is it that makes a good public space? We know one when we see it but often find it hard to define why one place works and another one doesn’t. Arthur's Quay Park in Limerick is a sort of accidental public space; it was never planned and yet it exists, anchoring the north east corner of the Georgian grid of Limerick city, balanced by the People’s Park to the south west. The park was an incomplete Georgian Square, planned to be surrounded by houses but never finished due to the Great Famine (1845-52).

Arthur's Quay Park

Hardly working

Arthur's Quay Park sits on a piece of reclaimed land, originally a harbour, and was filled in by Limerick Corporation in the 1970s to create a car park, before subsequently, in the late 1980s, being transformed from a car park to a civic space; completed with a tourist office as a focal point (the tourist office won the RIAI Gold medal in 1989-91). The park is greatly valued by the people of Limerick, however, there is also a deep sense of frustration as the space never seems to quite live up to its potential. Various interventions have taken place over the years, such as the removal of planted railings to address safety concerns and improve visibility, but it still feels as though it is an underperforming public space. And in recent years, with the boarding up of the tourist office, it lacks a sense of purpose. The park has one great asset in its favour though – the spectacular views up the river towards King John’s Castle and the mountains beyond. Notwithstanding this, it still feels disconnected from the city core and remains remote from most people’s mental map of Limerick city.

Working hard

Hamburg is also a city defined by its relationship with water. The advent of container shipping has meant that the main commercial port has moved further down river, leaving the historic port area available for transformation into a new city known as HafenCity. This area has been transformed over the last thirty years and one of the first decisions taken was to raise the new ground level of buildings to protect them from flooding. The landscape is arranged on three planes, ensuring that there is always a level that provides safe access during times of flooding, while for the rest of the time the landscape tiers down to the original harbour line, ensuring that the citizens of Hamburg are able to stay connected to the river that is at the heart of their city.

HafenCity, Magellan Terrace

The quayside spaces in HafenCity are part of a continuous promenade with a variety of inviting public spaces, abundant greenery, and strong connections to the water. Some spaces change with the tides, while others are at a higher level providing a prospect over the river. There are also new water features integrated into the landscape providing a very immediate opportunity to engage directly with water.  

It is not just the innovative landscape design that makes HafenCity such a success, it is the buildings that surround it, providing places for people to live, work, and play in the city. There is a very intimate relationship between the new buildings in HafenCity and the quayside. The space is overlooked by six- to eight-storey apartment and office buildings, the ground floors of which are generally active, containing retail and commercial uses. The traffic has been carefully planned to minimise the impact of the car, allowing connections between buildings and animated public spaces.

Lessons to be learned

While the scale of HafenCity is vast in comparison to Arthur's Quay, there are some key lessons that can be learned. Namely, that it is possible to plan for flooding without cutting a city off from its river, and that a quayside is a space of transition that should be thought of as part of a riverfront promenade rather than an isolated space.

For Arthur's Quay to reach its potential as a space that supports the life of the city, it needs to be more connected and integrated into the wider urban landscape. This will mean transforming the surrounding car-dominated highway into a civilised pedestrian friendly street that can serve as a route for traffic that is accessing the city centre, instead of supporting through traffic that does nothing to contribute to the life and activity of the city. In addition, the surrounding buildings should be redeveloped or reimagined so that they engage with the park through vibrant ground floor uses – offering shops, restaurants, and cafes. Convivial spaces with terraces overlooking the river can serve a new population living, working, and playing on the floors above.

What are we waiting for, the quay is the key.

Arthur's Quay
Working Hard / Hardly Working

What makes a vibrant, successful public space? In this article, architect Denise Murray considers what changes might be necessary for Arthurs’ Quay Park, Limerick, and the surrounding area to evolve into a place that better serves its citizens. HafenCity provides some examples of alternative ways to provide public spaces while addressing the issues of climate change and flooding.


So near from home: the enduring legacy of twentieth-century holiday villages

Kate Hunter Hanley
Future Reference
Kate Hunter Hanley
Cormac Murray

The holiday as we know it today arose in the last century during the post-war era with the rise of globalisation. Instigated by the economic boom felt in Europe and the US, and the availability of commercial flying, the idea of mass tourism developed. The exclusivity of travel dissolved and offered holiday experiences to a wider audience. This new wave of global movement was felt in Ireland with Aer Lingus enrolling the charm and mysticism of the small Celtic Island, attracting visitors with slogans such as "Holiday in friendly Ireland: So near from home, so far from care", "For the most romantic holiday of your life; fly with Aer Lingus to Ireland", and "Ireland: Fisherman’s Paradise" [1].

Typically, a holiday village is constructed for overseas visitors, often in picturesque locations. Accommodation is typically supported by adjoining facilities enabling the village to become self-sufficient [2]. They are not intended to be permanent dwellings, but temporary experiences of a leisure lifestyle, in contact with nature and other people, sometimes taking the form of a ‘micro-city’ [3]. The success of the holiday village typology is undisputedly linked to the spread of prefabricated construction methods and the principles of mass production during the 1950s, enabling low-cost, speedy construction.

Castlepark in Kinsale, Cork, was a holiday village designed by architect Denis Anderson in the early 1970s. In an era when modern architecture was undergoing a reckoning, with architects and the public exploring more traditional alternatives to exposed concrete, steel, and glass, Castlepark was much-feted in the architectural community as a potential solution. It integrated modern design with traditional elements and the local environment [4]. A scheme of twenty-five houses, of which only nineteen were built in the mid-1970s, it was situated on a sloping landscape overlooking Kinsale Harbour. The architecture of the buildings disguised the modern dwellings as a cluster of modest vernacular cottages with innovative roof profiles and roof lights allowing more generous internal lighting [5].

Castlepark, Kinsale. Photograph by Kate Hunter Hanley, July 2021.

The 1978 Trabolgan holiday village, again in Cork, is a less-celebrated architectural precedent but would grow to be a very commercially successful one. The holiday village was designed by Brady Shipman Martin, who also provided landscaping services. While Trabolgan’s origins as a holiday village began in the 1940s, it underwent significant expansion when purchased by a Dutch Coal and Metal Industry Pension Fund in 1975.  Ironically, it was a Dutch company that would finance the restoration and clearance of the surrounding woodland. Architecture in Ireland magazine described how "the house units echo the traditional building forms of the area while offering modern standards of comfort and convenience" [6]. Its original target market during this period was for "continental visitors" [7].

Aesthetically, the original holiday village bears some resemblance to Castlepark, with white-washed walls and dark asbestos slate roofs. The original cluster of holiday homes were organised around three courtyards. In a forward-thinking vision for the era, cars were prohibited from entering the centre of the village, perhaps recreating a calmer, historic feel. In later years, some of these courtyards were converted to parking courts.

1500 kilometres away, high in the Veneto region of the Dolomites, one will find a peculiar community tucked unassumingly under the sheer face of Monte Anteloe. Villaggio Eni was a purpose-built holiday complex for the employees of Eni (Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi), Italy’s leading multi-national oil company. Planned as a complete living environment for ENI’s employees to sojourn, the village is rooted in a social construction that symbiotically benefits the employees and employer. Modest in appearance and organisation, Villaggio Eni generates a distinctive architecture reflecting its Dolomite surroundings, reiterating its community ethos and revering in functionality. On a much greater scale than the Irish precedents, it features a variety of architectural features and community infrastructure [8].

Austrian-Italian architect Eduardo Gellner was tasked with translating Eni’s vision into an architectural agenda. Gellner combined lessons from English landscape gardens and Olivettian urban planning, in a new form of Alpine regionalism [9]. Mattei hoped for a complex structure that could be appreciated by "technicians and connoisseurs", yet understandable to all [10]. Critic Bruno Zevi insists that the following architectural moves underpin Villaggio Eni’s success; these become particularly interesting when compared with the Irish precedents:

      Insertimento nel paesaggio – Insertion into the landscape.

      Organismo urbano – Urban organisation.

      Ambiente communitario – Community environment.

      Espressione architettonica – Architectural expression [11].

Today, the wider public beyond Eni employees can visit and stay in several of its accommodation types. Dolomiti Contemporanee, an art organisation working on the prioritisation of the Dolomites’ physical and cultural importance, launched Progetto Borca in 2014. The project enables new readings to be undertaken of both Villaggio Eni and its neighbouring villages, and proposes an expansion of their function beyond solely tourism. Such organisations enable holiday villages to engage and contribute to their long-term preservation and future. The adaptation of Eni Villaggio has allowed it to retain continuity, function, and perhaps most arguably, relevance. Their initiative emphasises how facilitated studies of holiday villages can assist in their reintroduction into today's world and enable further insight into aspects of twentieth-century life.

The economic success of the Center Parcs holiday resort in Co. Longford demonstrates that today, holiday villages do have to function as micro-cities to compete with the AirBnB market and the convenience of the city break. The transient nature of holiday villages presents itself as a valuable characteristic to interrogate how our existing holiday architecture can be reimagined. As demonstrated in Eni, it does not take a lot to begin reaffirming these places into the twenty-first century. Through understanding, enhancing, and preserving our existing holiday villages, we may even encounter a new, nuanced approach to leisure; just as the typology originally so amply provided. One could hope for a national programme of documenting and reviving small-scale holiday villages in Ireland that would generate vibrancy throughout the country, helping us understand our recent past and adapt for our uncertain future.

Future Reference

The typology of the holiday village surged in popularity in post-war Europe. Typically organised in small clusters of dwellings, these villages gave short-term visitors fleeting, authentic-seeming experiences of being embedded in a community, often close to nature. Using examples from Ireland and Italy, this article explores the legacy of these villages and their relevance to today.


Fragmented territories: the spatial infrastructures of occupation

Shelly Rourke
Present Tense
Shelly Rourke
Ciarán Brady

Prior to entering the West Bank, one cannot ignore the large red warning signs indicating that entrance by Israelis is dangerous and forbidden. Passing through the checkpoints, barrels of machine guns are pointed directly at passing buses, ready to fire at any unexpected occurrence. Multiple soldiers in their 20s hover around the gated barriers and concrete pods, scrutinising the documentation of the people passing through.  

Growing up singing Christmas carols, I became familiar with Bethlehem, only to realise that it is not just a mystical place existing solely in religious stories but a real city. The people living here are subject to a dystopian reality, living under brutal occupation. They are observed by snipers, hindered by military checkpoints restricting their movement, and surrounded by the constant sounds of gunshots, keeping them in a perpetual state of fear. Facial recognition cameras subject them to discrimination, while AI-controlled machine guns ensure pinpoint accuracy if fired upon [1].

In August 2023, I arrived in Bethlehem, West Bank, to participate in an international camp at the Lagee Centre in Aida Refugee Camp. Aida is surrounded by a nine-metre-tall wall made of precast panels that encircle and spatially confine the community. Under the vigilant gaze of the Israeli military, watchtowers punctuate at irregular intervals along the wall of occupation and control, overseeing the 6,000 refugees, displaced since the Al Nabka (the catastrophe) of 1948. Ask any child in Aida about their origin, and they will instantly name their grandparents' townlands, showing keys that no longer unlock any door. Following the initial tents of the 1950s, their grandparents were given a 7m² plot of land on which they built their home. As families expanded, each generation added a new floor. Reinforced steel bars pierce the rooftops, inviting the next generation to build upon them, resulting in a densely populated 0.5km².

Streets in Aida Refugee Camp (Image credit: Shelly Rourke)

Even in the Palestinians' places of refuge, the Israeli military dictates harsh living conditions. Aida is often used for military training exercises, and under the cover of darkness, they forcibly enter Palestinian homes, arresting and abducting blindfolded youths for interrogation [2]. From a distance, tear gas canisters are fired into the camp, and remnants litter the streets, playgrounds, and soccer pitches of Aida. The lingering toxic fumes persist for days, ruining clothes and exacerbating respiratory illnesses. Artists repurpose discarded metal into jewellery for tourists, who can narrate stories of visiting the most tear-gassed place in the world. Here, Palestinians are subject to the overpowering presence of the Israeli military occupation which oversees every aspect of their daily life.

What remains of the West Bank is further gobbled up and reshaped by illegal Israeli settlements, continuously expanding and threatening existing Palestinian communities in contravention of the Oslo Accords. These settlements are connected by segregationist roads inaccessible to Palestinians, further isolating them and marking them as ‘other’ in the mindset of occupation. Thousand-year-old olive trees are uprooted and placed near Israeli settlements to create an appearance of historical continuity. Contrary to the spacious Israeli settlements, with hundreds of flags fluttering, Palestinian housing is densely packed, with water towers on roofs – another signifier of a population controlled by others. Water infrastructure is regulated by Israeli forces, unpredictable, and necessitating storage for a consistent supply.  

West Bank Checkpoint (Image credit: Shelly Rourke)

Hundreds of checkpoints permeate the West Bank, and sudden roadblocks imposed by the Israeli military paralyze movement at will. This military occupation distorts distances, compelling people to wait at road gates, borders, and checkpoints for permissions to be granted. Soldiers interrogate Palestinians about their origins while they themselves stand on confiscated, occupied land. Complex routes circumnavigate Jewish settlements and Jerusalem’s suburbs, elongating journeys unnecessarily and confusing the region's geography. Palestinians cannot guarantee arrival times, as these are subject to the soldiers' mood at checkpoints, and disturbances in northern cities such as Jenin can affect movement in the south. Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third most-holy site, is a mere 7km from Aida Refugee Camp, yet accessing it without an unattainable permit brands one a criminal. Along routes between various West Bank cities, Israeli settlers operate diggers and bulldozers, disfiguring the landscape Palestinians once carefully tended to.

Restrictive planning laws deny Palestinians the right to construct on their own land, gradually forcing them out of their communities. This became evident in Beit Eskaria, a village between Bethlehem and Hebron, where settlements strategically perch on hilltops, ominously overseeing Beit Eskaria below. In Israel, Arabic is no longer the official language [3] and navigating the legal system without Hebrew exacerbates the complexities of the exclusionary planning laws. In Beit Eskaria, Israel demolished thirty-five new homes and a mosque with no warning, making it difficult for the community to sustain itself for future generations. All that remains are the remnants of the former building projects, serving as a gentle reminder that unlawful construction is a futile endeavour.

Cities like Jenin and Nablus defy military rule, and this results in every wall being adorned with countless images of male martyrs. In Jenin, roads have been purposefully destroyed by the Israeli Military, disrupting infrastructure, extending the time taken to undertake everyday activities whilst strategically impeding ambulances from reaching injured victims. A new cemetery, established on a recently flattened vast wasteland, has soil that is speckled with coloured rubbish and glass. Family members and friends sit beside fresh mounds, grieving for the young lives lost. Parents spoke of receiving the exam results of their murdered teenagers on the day of their funeral.

Jenin Graveyard (Image credit: Shelly Rourke)

Returning to Israel (referred to by Palestinians as ’48), from Bethlehem, necessitates passing through ‘Checkpoint 300’. Depending on the time of day, the line may be dense with Palestinians holding permits to work in Israel. Once again, the Israeli military subjects them to waiting in spaces resembling farmyard milking stalls, tightly packed, scrutinizing their identity cards at a sluggish pace, and degrading them at every possible opportunity. Before the turnstiles, signs in Arabic are mounted on the walls, emphasising that the checkpoint was built for them, and it was their responsibility to maintain its cleanliness. Emerging on the other side, an advertisement announces that the metropolitan city of Tel Aviv is just a short one-hour distance away. Passing through, I mounted the bus to Jerusalem only to be hit with a wave of emotion. I felt as though what I stepped out of is a life under brutal occupation and it so far removed from the free reality we live in. For the people of Aida, it is the only reality that perhaps they will only ever know. I had the choice to leave.

At the airports departure gates, the questioning fluctuated between the serious and the absurd, asking had you visited Bethlehem, Jenin, Nablus, and Hebron in the West Bank, knowing that a slip of the tongue would deny a chance of ever returning. The Israelis are the masters of the house and for now they determine everything.

Present Tense

Navigating through the West Bank, the omnipresence of military checkpoints and the daily challenges faced by Palestinians under occupation are laid bare. This article offers an intimate exploration of the physical and psychological landscapes shaped by decades of conflict, inviting readers to witness a world where freedom of movement is a luxury and the echoes of history resonate in every street.


The urgency of slow analysis

Jonathan Janssens
One Good Idea
Jonathan Janssens
Eimear Arthur

The COP28 climate talks in Dubai concluded one week ago at the time of writing. Astonishingly, it is the first time in COP's thirty-year existence that a 'transition away from fossil fuels' [1] has formed part of the final discussion. Experts argue, however, that despite the significance and potential ramifications of this outcome, we are still nowhere near to achieving our goal of a 43% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 [2].

In part, this problem arises from how we see value in our world. The traditional value systems which we have always adhered to create a dichotomy of what is and is not valuable. Case in point: we still value fossil fuels enough to accept the destruction that we know they cause.

We judge everything in terms of value: monetary value, historical value, cultural value, political value, and so on. And of course, value systems exist for a reason – they are the decision-making processes through which we determine where to focus energy and interest. However, the flip side of this coin is the invalidation of that which we have decided is of lesser – or no – value. The inequality inherent in these systems is evident when we consider which cultures are prioritised, whose traditions are supported, and what narratives are encouraged.

Considering value systems as they relate to architecture, that which is discarded also comes at high cost. Engaging with the built environment requires engagement with physical resources and materials. In the context of the climate emergency, how might we reassess architecture's value systems, perhaps in a way that might better equip us to address the crisis at hand?

Journey from front door to nun’s bedroom. © plattenbaustudio / UCD Architecture students, March 2020

We might first look to the existing value systems that prevail within architecture. Traditionally, we assessed built fabric for its historical significance, cultural importance, aesthetic qualities, craftsmanship, and so on. We rarely question the value of a 100-year old town hall made from local stone in the middle of a country town; and why would we? It's obvious.

In recent years, the lenses through which we measure value have diversified, from Assemble's Granby Four Streets project in Liverpool, arguing for community strength and pride as a value to be supported and strengthened through even the most everyday of housing estates, to Forensic Architecture’s studies of the built environment for its value as evidence in legal and political processes.

Or, to the value of architecture as a vessel for the accumulation of everyday collective memory, be that positive or negative. We, as part of CoLab81-7 [3], recently undertook such a study with students from the School of Architecture at UCD within the former Magdalene Laundry buildings on Sean McDermott Street, Dublin. Within the format of a month-long drawing workshop, the students were tasked with examining the constructed fabric of the remaining buildings, including any – and, importantly, all – traces of inhabitation that they observed during their visit.  

To begin, students carefully surveyed a route through the convent building from public to private; from the heavy timber front door at street level, to the (almost) empty nuns’ rooms on the top floor. Along the way, the students recorded everything they witnessed: every tile, door handle, window, electrical box, light fitting and curved handrail, but also every scrap of newspaper and piece of detritus, even the long-dead pigeons littering the staircase. The study raised as many questions as answers: why, for example, the formica vanity sink with five inbuilt toothbrush holders, installed in the bedrooms of nuns expressly forbidden from ever starting a family?

The CoLab81-7 study fed into the efforts of a larger advocacy group known as Open Heart City; the name a reference to open heart surgery and its system of precise yet radical intervention. The aim of this intense and comprehensive survey was to unearth both the seen and unseen qualities and questions of the laundry‘s spaces, studying permanent and temporal traces made by both time and occupancy to examine how the building's architecture supported or facilitated its carceral past. The ambition was to identify some precise yet radical move that might bring new life to a lifeless place.

Photo taken during visit to former Magdalene Laundry in 2020. In recent years the abandoned site has been used as a storage yard for building materials. © CoLab81-7, January 2020

But what about the ugly 80's prefab office block on a lucrative city-centre site? Such buildings are routinely demolished due to market pressures and public disinterest; the effort, energy and material resources which went into their construction still falling on the not valuable side of our value coin.

The architecture collective Material Cultures argues that 'whenever we build, we either contribute to or counteract processes of change' [4]. If we are going to address the looming climate disaster, the greatest change humankind has ever known, then we must act in radical and unconventional ways. We must start by seeing everything as valid – the 100-year old town hall and the 80s office block, the 90s housing estates and the abandoned institutional buildings with difficult pasts. As architects, we are in a unique position to both influence and facilitate this change; to act like physicians, working to identify the most efficient, least harmful way to treat the patient without ever debating whether the patient deserves saving in the first place.

Protest placards spotted in the window of an architects' office in central Berlin. © plattenbaustudio, December 2023

As soon as possible, the world must free itself from fossil fuels, and we must recalibrate our understanding of what is valuable and what is not. We could begin, for example, by eliminating the idea that anything is without value; instead starting with a baseline of 100% value in our existing buildings, materials and resources and working backwards from there. Like a doctor presented first with symptoms and then with scalpels, we would endeavour to spend time understanding the 'patient' in their entirety, synthesising their past history and present condition, before using the tools available with precision to ensure a healthy future and a long life.  

One Good Idea

In the wake of the recent COP28 talks, it is increasingly necessary to challenge traditional value systems in architecture, with a radical reassessment required in the context of the climate emergency. This article delves into how our default judgements, often skewed towards certain structures, need reevaluation in light of environmental sustainability, drawing insights from various architectural examples and their historical, cultural, and material significance.


North Street, Belfast

Mark Hackett
Working Hard / Hardly Working
Mark Hackett
James Haynes

Located in the centre of Belfast, North Street is one of the older arteries of the city. Over the last three decades the street has been at risk, blighted by developers’ land banking and through forced vacancies. In large part, this process was initiated by government strategies in support of retail and the promise of "comprehensive redevelopment" powers and grants. The first developer to tackle the street bought up and emptied much of it, while their agents drew up one set of overblown and unrealisable plans after another; at one point pursuing the incorporation of the public street into a private shopping mall. Some may be surprised then that I see North Street as a space that is "working hard" despite its current perception as a place that is "hardly working".


The 2004 arson attack on the listed Art Deco North Street Arcade marked a key moment in the street’s history, destroying a unique and vibrant route to Donegall Street and the city’s "cultural quarter". Many of the art groups based there were burned out and lost everything. At the time of the arson, the site was coincidentally the centrepiece of a major planning application for a department store and accompanying 750-bay car park. This development failed in the 2008 crash, however, it has been followed by repeated iterations scuppered by bad loans before being passed on again to another developer.


Keats and Chapman, North Street

Despite this, the street and its buildings are still here, closed shutters are textured with artwork high and low, a few businesses hang on. Tenants such as the Fenderesky Art Gallery at No. 31 are heroes of the city. The nearby bookshop, Keats and Chapman, maintains its position as an enduring independent. And to the streets end, Brennan’s chippie still exists, cooking in real lard and clasping its cult fame as the place where Rihanna danced on tables for the video of We Found Love. While masquerading in the clothes of decline, the street is full of life, a life characterised by the action of individuals. Through its continued existence, it holds the potential for something new.

Opposite the arcade, the curved Garfield Street intersects and adds further charm despite the listed Garfield Building being encased in dense scaffolding. Underneath this lies the remnants of the Tivoli Barbers Shop, a third-generation business now in a temporary premises on North Street. Over 400 people came through the original Tivoli Barbers doors for snippets of live opera during the second Belfast Culture Night in 2010, an illustration of how in the right circumstances these streets can work hard and support that which is already there.

The meeting place of North Street and Garfield Street

History plays a similar role in maintaining the significance of these places and their potential to work hard again. At the top of North Street, the striking Art Deco Bank of Ireland remains, and is now the subject of a major public investment programme, while at the other end, the Assembly Building at Four Corners holds strong, remembered as the place where Belfast's mercantile class were persuaded not to engage in the slave trade. Both are places of memory pivotal to the current and future history of the city.


Some adept infill and repair is all the street needs with a key move being the reconnection of the arcade through an otherwise long city block. On the south side of North Street, a large vacant plot cries out for the creation of an urban green space, a crucial move in a contemporary city pleading for the lungs it is missing. In the last decade, this northern sector of the city has seen a resurgence of its nightlife through the MAC arts centre and the new university building bringing in thousands of students to the city core. North Street has the potential to be part of this, holding both latent joys of old and an ambition to do more than survive.


Belfast has had a number of large shopping malls imposed into its street grid; informed by misguided strategies for renewal that have removed streets, squares, and vital connections. Castle Court was such a scheme from 1985-90 and Victoria Square took a similar approach between 2002-08. Both wiped out key civic squares; spaces the city now badly lacks. The North Street area was to be the third of these retail interventions.


Few, if any, of the city’s structural problems have been addressed during the last three decades of development ‘churn’. The key to understanding Belfast are the edges created following decades of ring road building, large urban housing clearances, and barrier making. No credible strategy or work has advocated for active living in the city, reconnection and much needed green spaces, street trees, nor the reinvention of the wide ring road that currently acts as a grey moat around the city centre. These failures to make urban repair hold the city's natural renewal back. The city engages in slow clumsy interventions but neglects to bring the whole back to health.

2011 mapping of Belfast’s ‘grey doughnut’, a zone of ring roads and motorways planned in early 1960’s but only inserted into the city in the 1980’s in the midst of conflict and rehousing schemes. Most of the city's arterial streets lost their active frontages in these clearances with pockets of housing  rebuilt in low density enclaves. This leaves much of the city centre like an island disconnected from the wider city, reinforcing car use and inhibiting walking.


North Street then is a reminder that our cities are made of street grids and connections, buildings form and line these streets in a symbiotic relationship of residence and activity. Like any patient, Belfast needs a good diagnosis and careful nursing. Despite all of this neglect, North Street endures. It is resilient, working hard, waiting. As I walk down North Street, I am filled with hope and the words of Gloria Gaynor ringing in my ears: ‘I will survive’.

Working Hard / Hardly Working

Through an exploration of North Street (Belfast), architect Mark Hackett discusses how considering a single street can aid our understanding of the wider cityscape. In understanding the continuity of places such as North Street, Hackett presents resilience as an important strength of the street as part of its role within a connective grid.


Dublin's remaining Victorian pubs

Rodhlann Mossop and Alex Pollock
Open Space
Rodhlann Mossop and Alex Pollock
Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell

‘It is indeed by uneasy steps that the pub has wandered through the paths of history, buffeted by storms of public controversy, assailed by the slings and arrows of temperance reformers, sometimes harassed, and sometimes supported by instruments of legislation. That it has survived in so ubiquitous a way is remarkable’ [1].

The success of the architecture of Victorian Dublin is typically understood through the grandeur of the Curvilinear Range at the Botanic Gardens, the Reading Room at the National Library or perhaps the Museum Building at Trinity College, each an example of intricate architecture, engineering, and craftsmanship. Deane, Woodward, and Turner are rarely forgotten in the discourse around the built fabric of Victorian Dublin, nor are Harry Clarke, the O’Shea Brothers or Carlo Cambi. However, this article focuses not on such grand artefacts and their architects. Instead, it is inspired by Dublin’s sixteen remaining Victorian pubs [2].

This visual essay takes The Swan Bar as a case study and aims to highlight the wealth of materiality to be found in these pubs, enjoyed by generations passing through. This map highlights the sixteen remaining Victorian pubs across the county of Dublin.

The Sixteen Victorian Pubs of Dublin

  1. The Hut
  2. Gaffneys
  3. Slattery's
  4. Ryan's
  5. The Norseman
  6. The Palace Bar
  7. Bowe's
  8. The Stag's Head
  9. The International Bar
  10. Kehoe's
  11. Toner's
  12. Doheny and Nesbitt
  13. The Long Hall
  14. The Swan
  15. Cassidy's
  16. Finnegan's

The Swan Bar (Lynch’s of Aungier Street)

The Swan Bar on Aungier Street in the heart of the city centre takes its patrons on a journey of materiality: mahogany, mirror, mosaic, clocks, brass, stained and tinted glass. Owned and run by the Lynch family for generations, the original materials which have remained in place from its 1890s refurbishment bear visible representations of the time that has passed. The tile and timber floor, patched in places, slightly sunken in others, is both a testament to its original craftsmanship and a palimpsest displaying evidence of former configurations. Quality materials not only last the test of time but often improve; a mahogany handrail is worn smooth by the million hands that have run across it. These architectural details were crafted with care and yet made to endure the thumping, scratching, cleaning, and polishing we have done for over one hundred years.

Under the front window where there now sits a cosy snug, a tea shop once faced the street. A common feature of the Victorian pub was to lend its shopfront to the selling of groceries - further suggested by the call bells in brass on mahogany and pitch pine. Division and threshold are strong features of the Victorian pub, and The Swan is no different. Within the central aisle, a forgotten porch is inscribed on the tiling revealing a large depiction of a swan which one would otherwise encounter upon entry. This patina allows for immersive engagement with the pub's history, going beyond appreciation for the craftsmanship itself.

It's an easy thing to romanticise Victorian craftsmanship. In reality, the maintenance of these buildings poses its issues, with contemporary publicans often having to navigate tricky legislation surrounding protected structures. The reasons for repairs vary, from obsolescence and natural decay, to wear and tear and intoxicated disregard. The manner and material of replacement speaks to the priorities, interest, and means of the owner. In the case of The Swan, the damaged yet original tile work tells of the stabilisation works undertaken beneath the ground floor, and a scratched mirror tells of blatant vandalism. While there is no lack of interest on the part of the owner, replacing triple bevelled mirrors and yellow stained glass panes, and bringing original brass pumps back into use is additional to the everyday demands of the service industry. Irish Licensing World claimed ‘A publican must be a democrat, an autocrat, an acrobat and a doormat’, in order to manage the wear of these pubs and fulfil contemporary conservation requirements; that list could continue [3].

There is a balance to be struck between reconfiguration to fit current purposes and the erasure of former use. A surface on which to light a match can be rendered obsolete by the lighter, a cashier's kiosk by modern-day payment methods, a whiskey cask by bottled spirits. While these physical Victorian details may be anachronistic, they add to the experience, as do the clock hanging centrally above the bar and, importantly, the Scottish granite countertop to keep a resting pint cool. Whether functionally obsolete or not, their presence ought to be valued by the publican and appreciated by the patron. The decision to retain such details is not driven by nostalgia but by appreciation of craft, in seeing the hand of the craftsperson in the everyday. 

As artefacts in themselves, in their ornamentation and craftsmanship, these pubs should be valued. The decay and destruction of the city in the lifetime of these pubs is starkly contrasted by their permanence both materially and in operation. Their provision of an ‘escape from bleak tenement life’ and ‘a surrogate domesticity’ suggest that they were as rich and lavish an oasis then as they feel today. These materials, explored in the photographs below, offer a window through which we can gain another perspective on Victorian Dublin, scarred, rounded and smoothed by time. It is through our patronage that these pubs will continue.

Open Space

Known mostly for its grand civic buildings, the architecture of Victorian Dublin is rarely appreciated for one if it's most enduring spaces - the pub. Inspired by Dublin’s sixteen remaining Victorian pubs, this article offering a unique lens through which to view the city's architectural and cultural history.


Sam, Arthur, and the Solomonic Judgement

John Dobbin
Future Reference
John Dobbin
Cormac Murray

In Bride Street in Dublin’s Liberties, one of the most curious incidents of Irish planning history has recently repeated itself. The striking 1970s brutalist facade of the former headquarters of architectural practice Stephenson Gibney + Associates has been retained, while the remnants of  a much-storied eighteenth and nineteenth century structure which formed a part of the same building, have been quietly demolished. In its place will be a significant new hotel, which uses the retained near-fifty-year-old facade as a contextual umbilical to the past – an arts themed relic. While the redevelopment of this site for a demonstrably more public use is certainly welcome, the brick shell will now have a merely tenuous connection to the new.

Retained Facade of Molyneux House, 2023. Photograph by John Dobbin

When Stephenson Gibney + Associates acquired the old Molyneux Chapel on Bride Street in 1971, their clients and collaborators must have thought they had lost the plot. Impacted by generational poverty, planning neglect, and demolition as a result of Dublin Corporation’s road-building efforts, it must have been a considerable cultural shock for the practice and its staff, moving from leafy Dublin 6 where the studio had been spread out over three separate Victorian properties, on the site of what became the practice’s Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club in 1973. But like knights charging into a windmill bedecked landscape, Sam and Arthur clearly saw this approach as a way of spearheading a new colonisation of the city centre, which would inspire others into the same action, reclaiming one of the most historic parts of Dublin for makers and creators. And of course, it was reasonably cheap [1].  

But what kind of practice was it, with the ambition and confidence to propose colonising this historic part of the city, with the buccaneering gumption, and not least the funds to do so?  Sam was born at 80 Manor Street in Stoneybatter in 1933, while Arthur from Fairview, was a year older. They were almost exact contemporaries of the Anglo-Italian architect Richard Rogers and his one-time partner, Norman Foster. It’s remarkable to think that Sam and Arthur’s practice was substantially more accomplished, and certainly much larger at an earlier date, than the offices of these later titans of British hi-tech. By the early 1970s, when Norman Foster and Richard Rogers had dissolved their partnership of Team 4, the high-flying Stephenson Gibney Associates had completed the ESB buildings on Fitzwilliam Street, won in international competition, and were in the midst of design work on the Central Bank, the enormous Agriculture House on Kildare Street, the beautiful School of Theoretical Physics on Burlington Road, and projects in London and Brussels, as well as working on their custom-designed offices with space to accommodate a team of 130 staff.  

At the same time as the practice were completing Molyneux House, it was also concluding one of its more controversial developments on Hume Street near St Stephen’s Green. Having originally gained consent for a series of modernist office blocks, the practice was forced by public outcry over the loss of historic Georgian fabric, via government intervention, to amend the design to incorporate a Georgian pastiche facade. Stephenson lamented this approach as an architectural response in a historic cityscape, declaring it in Hibernia Magazine “a misguided Solomon’s judgement”, opening the door for anything to happen, as long as the external image of apparent streetscape continuity was maintained. His words would prove remarkably prophetic.

Ground and First Floor Sketch Plans of Molyneux House. Drawing by John Dobbin

Designed as a striking statement of intent, in a vigorous transatlantic style which referenced exemplars like Louis Kahn, John Carl Warnecke and Hugh Stubbins, the facade of heavily modelled brickwork extends about three metres in front of the existing frontage, which is retained, entombed in a brick skin. It is a remarkable brutalist essay in hard wire-cut textured masonry, carefully relating to the spaces formed between it and the gothic curiosity of the existing chapel. The facade itself was shockingly modern – aggressively so, even. Like an elaborate billboard, it heralded a world decidedly exotic, science-fiction like, most excitingly of all, American. A place where people in tan suits with wide lapels, even wider ties, and moustaches à la mode, were manufacturing a new Ireland through a haze of Rothmans' smoke, echoed in the bronze tint of the floor-to-ceiling frameless glazing. This stylish stretched veneer of modernity over the more prosaic historic backdrop, incorporated a stained-glass window spanning the first and second floors, preserved in situ as a relic behind the brick screen. The strength of this elevation as corporate identity clearly made signage superfluous. Only a small limestone tablet, insert into the Bride Street frontage, provided the name – Molyneux House – in vaguely Gothic lettering.

Much more nuanced than often credited, the facade treatment extended downward into a carpet of pavement finish, and smaller protective pyramidal forms, a kind of undulated brick carpet which remade the street edge robustly, terminating with a single specimen tree planted in the protective niche formed to the adjacent Victorian houses. The entrance sequence, lost in 2001 in favour of a car park, must have been a dramatic, even flamboyant space. Entering via a narrow passage between towering flanks of brickwork, with the obligatory chamfered corners and parapets so redolent of the period, the visitor entered a release space protected from the harsh environment outside. It was filled with a feature planting scheme and a waterfall, enlivened by the play of light entering from the west. Even the adjoining perimeter party walls were finished a textured brown render, colour matched to the ubiquitous brick finishes which continued unbroken from courtyard into the reception space adjacent. A remarkable introduction and one of the most extraordinarily theatrical spaces ever designed by an architect for their own use.

It couldn’t last, of course. By 1974, a collapse in the property market had already impacted on the work of the practice, eroding the kind of projects that had kept it so busy over the previous fifteen years. This pre-empted Arthur’s departure from the partnership in 1976, keen to practice in a smaller organisation, leaving – according to Sam – on the same good terms that they started together. The construction of Canon Court, across Bride Street, obscured the view of the cathedral from the upper ‘periscope’ viewing room, decontextualising the reason for the facade. In the 1980s, Sam moved much of his practice to work on London-based projects from both Dublin and a new base in London, having arranged a merger with commercial architectural practice Stone Toms. Another downturn in the early 90s in London, resulting in the sale of the building, provided the impetus for a new owner to erode the key components of the original, in search of more standard spaces. The process of denuding the qualities of the original work, had already begun.

Second and Third Floor plans of Molyneux House. Drawing by John Dobbin

Molyneux House represented a particular time in Irish architecture, reflecting the vigorous confidence of a brave new republic full of the optimism of the times, before the first vestiges of the energy and environmental crises of the 1970s closed the door on this period. As a bespoke environment for an architectural practice, it was absolutely unique in the country, with a facade albeit skin-deep, boldly proclaiming brutalist modernity. 

In a world of city planning increasingly obsessed with the value of image as opposed to content, how do we decide what to protect? This is a particularly difficult question, given modern architecture’s supposed ambivalence to context, in contrast to the gentle formalism of classicism, which ensures that individual buildings are less important than the effect of the unified streetscape – despite being what Sir John Summerson described in the Georgian Society Bulletin as “simply one damned house after another” [2]. In addition to the obvious imperative for retaining carbon-rich structures for new uses, the bluntness of our Protected Structure system will need to be better refined, to allow status to be conferred on particular building elements of significance, rather than on a blanket basis. In the case of Molyneux House, perhaps the most humane thing would have been to allow it to go, rather than endure a slower, undignified demise.

In contrast with the theatre of practice it once contained, it is now sadly a pantomime mask. The personages behind the facade, along with their pioneering spirit, are long gone.

Internal office space prior to demolition. Photograph by John Dobbin

Future Reference

In Dublin city centre, several notable erasures of twentieth-century buildings, through demolition or complete remodelling, raise questions about how we value the architecture of the recent modern past in relation to its context. Stephenson Gibney + Associates’ Molyneux House illustrates that, when architectural context is eroded, it’s often not long until the original fabric is reduced to scrap value.


The map and the story: theatre, the built environment, and the potentials of collaboration

Phoebe Moore
Present Tense
Phoebe Moore
Ciarán Brady

I would like to explore the potential synergy between architecture and theatre by drawing on two examples of experimental practice which highlight their effective combination. The Parliament of the Species (POS), a performative event in Norway, and the second, Home Sweet Home, an immersive installation which has toured four continents over a period of sixteen years.

The Parliament of the Species

The Parliament of the Species (POS), a multi-species place making event, used the theatrical technique of role play and applied it directly to the realm of urban planning. Fjord City, one of the largest and most ambitious waterfront developments in Norway’s history is described by Oslo’s government as aiming to "create attractive common areas and good vibrant urban spaces that are inclusive and accessible to the urban public" [1] yet at the same time, through concrete dominated landscapes and landfill operations, the natural habitat of marine organisms is threatened with destruction by the construction of the scheme [2]. The creators of the project, two artist scholars – Cecilie Sachs Olsen and Elin T. Sørensen – wished to challenge the development’s stated commitment to sustainability by experimenting with a more authentic engagement with the "non-human" stakeholders of the site. The result was a multi-species "parliament event" which included a group of fifteen to twenty participants representative of different ages and backgrounds, thus deliberately broadening the vary narrow definition of "expert" often used in urban planning contexts [3].

To facilitate expression of the non-human voices, the participants were split into three groups and asked to find multi-species "stakeholders" of the site. These inhabitants included: the swan family, the common periwinkle, the acorn barnacle, the grey alder, and the bedrock. Once each group’s stakeholder was identified they were asked to "get to know it better" including identifying its concerns and requirements for the site in question [4]. A democratic council session ensued in which the human participants gathered and acted as spokespeople for the multi-species stakeholders.

The theatrical tool of role-play worked to highlight the plurality of stories that exist in any one place and urban planning context. It effectively recast the dominant story of Kongshavn from a wasted or "empty industrial site", to a site beloved and inhabited by a multitude of species who use it as a "refuge" and a "shelter" protected from humans [5].

POS was positioned by Sachs Olsen and Sørensen as an "experiment" into the potential for this kind of work, using theatre as a forum to listen and account for the multitude of narratives present in planning contexts [6]. In this case, a very specific form of role-play helped to initiate and form connections and insights hitherto impossible to reach by a practice working in isolation.

Parliament of the Species gathering. Image credit: Morten Munch-Olsen


Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home by artists Abigail Conway and Lucy Hayhoe is described as a durational, live-art experience that is spectator-led. In its essence, it is a "miniature flat-packed cardboard town" [7] which has life breathed into it as residents, in this case participants of the project, step into and engage with the installation. At the beginning of each installation, a large white canvas is set up featuring the bare necessities of the town or area it is being held in. These will include the pre-marked boundaries of the town, key geographical features and infrastructure like unmarked roads, streets and, importantly, the plots for future residents. This decision allows audiences space to "reimagine their city, to really have fun with what they think it needs or could be" [8].

As the cardboard town expands with more and more dwellings, neighbourly interaction begins to take place and citizens are encouraged to communicate and to take advantage of the services available which include a postal service, a local radio station (Residents FM), the community noticeboard, and the local council. It is through these conceits, facilitating interaction, that the life of the piece "really begins, the stories really begin to grow" [9].

Home Sweet Home’s relationship to the built environment is recognised by those in the profession: "architects see it as a model for an exchange of ideas between citizens and designers" [10]. Its connection to architecture is found not just in its ability to act as a conduit of ideas but also its ability to include and facilitate place-making for people who are "often excluded or oppressed from the architectural project" [11].

The project’s flat-packed cardboard dwellings are also uncannily reminiscent of the scale models used in architectural planning. Urbanist and critic Jane Jacobs famously felt that these scale models worked to conceal the necessary messiness of urban life and the "complex social intricacies that make the city work" [12]. Perhaps the brilliance of Home Sweet Home is its ability to replicate these ‘social intricacies’ through immersive theatre and interaction, while still maintaining the nostalgic vision offered by the scale model.

I would contend that through Home Sweet Home’s unique aesthetic and its invitation to imagine and to create, it has the capacity to interrupt the seemingly "fixed geographies of scale" of which we find ourselves a part [13].

Locating an urban future that works for us all, human and non-human will require interdisciplinary work. Ideas and practices are not rival entities, but tools to be harnessed and reinforced with one another. I believe that this collective energy and imagination can be translated into better urban planning in the future through the performative and transformative elements of theatre. At the heart of this is a call to action: to play, design, disrupt and imagine, combining the world of the stage with our city stage. For social and spatial justice let us apply theatre to the city.

Present Tense

The connection between theatre and architecture may, at first glance, appear tenuous. Theatre operates in the fantastical, the fictitious, and the playful whereas architects tend to concern themselves with the tangible, the spatial, and the concrete. This article suggests that their connection is more important than initially meets the eye, but what can the world and narrative building practices of theatre offer to built environment practices and, crucially, could this enable possibilities for participation and imagination?


Re-thinking the construction of the coastal edge

Helen McFadden
One Good Idea
Helen McFadden
Eimear Arthur

The immediate presence of the Atlantic Ocean is felt on any exposed edge of Ireland’s 7,678km coastline [1] where sea winds force their way many kilometres inland.

Physical systems acting on the geology of the western seaboard – from Malin Head, Co. Donegal to Bandon Estuary, Co. Cork – have created indentations which account for approximately 75% of Ireland’s coastline. These western indentations hold 203 of our 250 saltmarshes [2]. A saltmarsh is a low-lying distinct ecosystem in the upper coastal intertidal zone that is regularly flooded and drained by salt water carried in by tides.

Approximately half of Ireland’s salt marshes occur on the north-west quadrant of the island, from Malin Head to Galway Bay. Along this stretch, counties Mayo and Galway share the most indented coastline, with ninety-one saltmarshes.

Drone shot of Mulranny seascape showing causeway and saltmarsh to foreground. Image courtesy of Mulranny Park Hotel

Many of these saltmarshes are on mud or sand, but almost a third are on peat. This is highly unusual, both nationally and internationally. Examination of these peat substrates – usually two metres deep and often embedded with tree stumps – suggests these landscapes were originally freshwater-fed blanket bogs fed, but rising sea levels approximately 2000 years ago altered their composition, creating saltmarshes. These wetlands are constantly being authored by myriad forces: physical, cultural, ecological, geomorphological, technological, and political. They are dynamic landscapes, always evolving to become something else.

In a thriving saltmarsh, sediment carried in by the tide becomes trapped by grassy swards and peat soils accumulate as plants decay, allowing the saltmarsh to rise in tandem with sea levels while absorbing tides, attenuating waves, and buffering the coastal edge. This process supports a carbon sequestration rate of 218 g/m2 per year (In comparison, a forest sequesters 4 g/m2 per year) [3].

Recently, however, saltmarshes have become anthropogenic landscapes. Humans have adopted the role of time and two resultant accelerated changes are at work: overgrazing is causing saltmarshes to sink, and climate change is causing the tide to rise. When we thoughtlessly speed up and slow down natural processes, the effects cascade through time.

Today, sea level rise is surpassing sediment building or ‘accretion’ capacity, and saltmarshes are ‘drowning’. When this happens, grassy swards die, habitats disappear, wetlands holding 40% of the world’s ecosystems tumble, and saltmarshes become mudflats, before disappearing beneath waters of expanding bays. The weight and force of the sea then breaks the sub-surface, releasing millions of tonnes of sequestered carbon into the atmosphere.

Studies show Ireland has already lost 75% of its coastal wetlands [4] and we can lose no more. The saltmarshes come closer to vanishing with each tidal wash. This is a time of unprecedented change and urgency. Taking the view that problems get the solution they deserve, according to the terms by which they are created as problems in the first place, humans must repair what we have damaged and intervention is required. However, we must move away from our historic tactics. To quote architect and cultural geographer Dr. Anna Ryan Moloney, ‘when we see change happening, our language and actions tend to emerge from engineering. We try to “protect” our land and use “armour” to “defend” ourselves from the sea’ [5].

The Anthropocene demands a freshness of seeing and new ways of working. If we continue to adopt the role of time and if speeding up and slowing down landscape processes is a design challenge of our time, we need a structure through which theory and practice directly respond to each other. Interdisciplinary research should guide design-thinking when intervening in physical and cultural landscapes, or what sociologist and academic Barbara Adam calls ‘timescapes’ [6].

I am developing this theoretical and pragmatic structure while studying and working with the community in Mulranny – a historically, geographically and culturally significant village located on an isthmus between Clew Bay and Blacksod Bay in County Mayo. As a pilot Decarbonising Zone [7], Mulranny must reduce its carbon emissions by 51% before 2030.

Map of Mulranny Seascape. Drawing: author

Analogous to many coastal towns and villages, Mulranny’s coast has become culturally and physically estranged. Its saltmarshes, sand dunes and machair are depleting, and its pumphouse, causeway, bridges and pier have fragmented through neglect. Both as independent pieces and as a collective system, the wetlands and the associated infrastructural assembly have been pushed out of sync by anthropological forces.

However, there is still time for innovation. As a first step, I conducted a site-specific M.Arch. thesis which examined how Mulranny’s historic coastal infrastructure could be used to help natural processes in the wetlands meet decarbonisation objectives for the future. This ‘one good idea’ was explored by mapping, modelling, drawing and photographing the relationship between the seascape and technical infrastructural details, which contain embedded ideas from generations within the community and thus represent ‘material culture’ [8].This approach sought to balance Mulranny’s cultural and physical context to help the community meet its objective of creating a thriving biosphere for future generations to build on.

Satellite View of Mulranny. Image: Google Earth

The proposition saw conservation interventions, guided by local ancestral constructive-logic, intended to attune the existing coastal infrastructure to today’s environment. For example, extending the pier landwards to protect a drumlin from tidal undercutting; raising the causeway level above spring tide; and fitting cross-drains to prevent saltmarshes from being flooded. Proposals at the bridges included flap sluice gates which mediate between, and respond to, the weight and force of the sea and river on either side, while mixing freshwater and seawater to form brackish water for the saltmarshes to thrive on.

These protection measures represent a starting point for more work to be done. There will be no ‘one-size fits all’ ­solution to every coastal challenge presented, as all landscapes, communities and built environments require their own site-specific approach. However, lessons learned from this thesis can be carried forward.

The protection measures demonstrate that when coastal challenges arise, rather than building imposing seawalls that stop the sea from entering the wetlands, or standing back and hoping natural processes repair human damage, we need instead to consider alternative protection measures which, in performing their function, could balance the cultural and physical context to ‘provide new spatial forms and experiences that combine use with beauty in ways paralleled by the historic lighthouse, harbour, pier, and promenade’ [9].

1:200 model of Clew Bay coastline from Mulranny to Newport. Model: author
One Good Idea

Saltmarshes are complex wetland ecosystems which perform a vital role in attenuating wave action, sequestering carbon, and buffering the coastal edge. Human-instigated overgrazing and climate change have accelerated the depletion of Ireland's wetlands. But by carefully studying and adapting our historic coastal infrastructure, we can work with natural processes to preserve these crucial landscapes.


Whose home? Let's discuss homeownership ideology

Julia Meazza Clarke
Working Hard / Hardly Working
Julia Meazza Clarke
Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell

The pervasive belief that owning one’s home is the only path to qualitative living has not only hindered the emergence of alternative forms of tenure, but has influenced the under-reform of the rental market for decades. Why is it that in a post-modern world, in which so many resources no longer have to be owned, but can be shared or rented, homes still have to be owned to feel truly ours? It is worthwhile taking a step, back and above, and looking at how homeownership ideology has served a precise purpose in governments’ agendas. 

As seen over and over throughout history, the link between politics and housing is an untieable one. During the twentieth century, governments began to market the ownership of one’s home as a basic need of society. Interestingly, as Richard Ronalds writes in The Ideology of Homeownership, there is no evidence to suggest that owning one’s home is an indigenous need of the modern individual [1]. Rather, it consists simply of a preference, forged by policy-making and social norms. The consolidation of such preference and the marginalisation of other forms of housing provision through specific policies can be observed predominantly in anglophone countries in the latter half of the previous century. In England, the Conservative movement recognised the full potential of homeownership as an activator of social stability. For a citizen to own one’s home meant having an active stake in the state and an invested interest in maintaining lifelong employment. The owner-occupied home becomes the only other space in which the labour class spends time outside the workplace, and family life inside the home becomes a societal ideal. Homeowners, through their choice of tenure, were believed to form an instantaneous conservative constituency [2]. Moreover, Kemeny (1992) contends that the preference towards homeownership stemmed from a re-moralisation around privatism and individualism. 

Both Protestant and Catholic beliefs favoured a tenure that facilitated privacy and family life, reinforcing the perception that the ownership of one’s home was the sole path to virtuous living. The ‘superior’ idea of privacy materialised tangibly in the structure of the middle-class home with its dividing walls, separated accesses, series of rooms, gardens, and hedges. Private property was seen as an individual right and homeownership ideology became intrinsically linked to class perception, exacerbating class differentiation. Additionally, rented tenures became stigmatised as precarious and ontologically insecure, further solidifying homeownership’s superior status. The marketed idea of owning one’s home becomes an obdurate ideal and a “self-fulfilling prophecy” [3].

With the commodification of housing, from being a tool for social stabilisation, the purchase of one’s home brings forth another phenomenon: the mass entrance of the population into the financial sphere. Arguably, the government's push for privatism in housing could be attributed to its desire to distance itself from housing provision responsibilities, capitalising on the public’s inclination towards homeownership. With homeownership becoming the preferred form of tenure, and with a significant part of the population becoming homeowners and entering the financial market through private mortgages, housing prices start to soar. As housing became closely tied to processes of consumption, the market became the primary agent that facilitated the freedom and progress that the middle class required. Saskia Sassen [4] writes that the financialisation of mortgages for modest-income households becomes a circuit for high finance for the benefit of investors, with a total disregard for the homeowners involved. The appreciation of housing becomes interlinked with the foundation of the global economy [5]. An additional bias is made through the middle class’s perception that estate assets would be of eternally growing value and that investing in a home is not a mere need but an opportunity to store wealth. Owning one’s home is now perceived not only as preferable but also as highly desirable because of the monetary gains associated with it. The idea of a ‘home of one’s own’ was no longer simply seen as a practical necessity but also as a marker for self-identification and self-realisation [6]. As a result of these complex, somewhat stochastic processes, the rented market lost all desirability and remained under-reformed.  

Since post-war times, homeownership ideology has grown roots so deep in the public imagination that despite it now being financially impossible for a new middle-income family to purchase a house in a larger city, the paradigm remains unquestioned. In Ireland, The recent unsustainability of homeownership and the shortcomings of the market-based provision of housing are evident in the numbers contained in a recent report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) [7]. The report states that, in Ireland, while 80% of adults over forty years old own the home they live in, only a third of adults under forty are homeowners. 

High rents, precarious contracts, and a shortage of rental housing make it virtually impossible for young adults to make consistent plans for their futures. The imperialist manner in which homeownership-centric policies have dominated the public and private housing provision system has resulted in a residualised rental market and a deeply undiversified housing landscape. The trajectory that homeownership ideology has traced in the twentieth century tells a compelling story of how policies influence preference. The problem of the persistence of a preference becomes evident when the ideology gains so much ideological weight that it becomes self-evident and perceived as ‘natural’ (Kemeny, 1995), not allowing other strategies to even be considered or imagined. Architects must detect the fallacies of the standardised ownership-based housing system and advocate for additional ownership solutions, to create a counter-speculative strategy for housing. 

Architects and housing experts must not limit their focus solely on typology, because the systemic issues embedded within the housing crisis will not be improved by alternative typological formulas alone. We need a fundamental revaluation of how we own and access housing, not solely relying on a bottom-up process through the work of building cooperatives, but also through the development of national frameworks for alternative ownership models. By challenging the entrenched preference for homeownership, we can begin to imagine forms of tenure that truly meet the needs of our diverse society.

Working Hard / Hardly Working

In the attempt to understand today’s housing challenges, it is worthwhile to explore the concept of homeownership Ideology and critically assess its role in shaping an undiversified housing landscape.


Rebalancing movement and place in urban areas

Christopher Martin
Future Reference
Christopher Martin
Cormac Murray

Plans for transportation or public realm enhancement, and initiatives like the government’s Town Centre First programme, are delivering real and tacit change in the Irish context, creating the conditions whereby towns and cities can really thrive. With this increasing realisation and attention given to the power that transport can yield, when it comes to thinking about and setting a brief for transport changes, I think it is important to understand what makes a place ambitious.


Firstly, the places we have previously designed, the places we have created and are living in, have defined our culture. This is because the urban settlements in which we live affect our behaviour, and behaviour over time becomes culture. If we live in a town where the only way to get to the shops with any joy, dignity or ease is to drive, then that behaviour starts to define our urban experience; driving becomes, simply, what we do. A key issue here to consider, however, is that when designers of the built environment look to improve options for moving in an urban context, some people can see it as an attack on their culture. We have seen these kind of reactions globally in recent times around Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods and 15-minute cities.


To move forward, we need to reflect more on the fact that transport is a tool for us, for people and society. It should be a servant to our quality of life rather than defining us and our urban experience. The shaping of our towns, cities, and urban areas must be governed by the maximum return on investment yieldable from the space we have available, both for individual people and broader society.


That said, investment in our public realm, in our streets specifically, is uniquely placed to target an enormously broad set of issues and deliver large returns against policy objectives. In other aspects of society we do not accept poor investment of assets, so we shouldn’t accept poor investment in our streets. Investment in streets can – and must – help us better manage surface water, reducing flooding and protecting habitats. It can target the urban heat-island effect, making better places to live. Streets need to continue to be the democratic heart of communities and neighbourhoods, combating urban loneliness and isolation. We need investment in our streets to enable active travel, because inactivity is killing over five million people every year globally, and ruining many more lives. Investment in streets is needed to tackle the affordability crisis; in the last quarter of 2022, 86% of UK adults said they were concerned about day-to-day living costs; just over half (54%) said they are very concerned. However, last year the average cost of owning a car was €3,500 a year in the UK – or upwards of €6,000 for those with car finance [1]. With around 20% of people in the UK having no access to a car whatsoever, investment in our streets needs to target the eradication of transport poverty, making sure that everyone has access to opportunity in their lives, and that access is not predicated on owning a car.


Coupled with community, health, and mobility imperatives, we need investment in streets to yield economic benefits for our neighbourhoods and struggling high streets. When more space is given over to people; for spending time, walking, and cycling – and less to cars – the absence of customers arriving by car is more than compensated by people arriving on foot or by bike. For example, in San Francisco, the first trial ‘parklet’ increased pedestrian traffic in the area by 37% on weeknights and increased people walking at the weekend by 350%. A similar scheme in London increased takings in an adjacent shop by 20% [2].


The term ‘Climate Urbanism’ describes the way in which we think and act in urban areas under climate change, something we are all engaged with. ‘Climate Justice’ is the link between climate changes and social, civil, and human equity. Streets are on the front line of delivering climate justice, repairing our relationship with the environment and improving quality of life. Looking forward, we need to view our streets and transport systems as the valuable assets they are – moving away from historical views of streets as simply movement corridors – to ensure that streets are delivering a public good at the very least.


This is why programmes like the aforementioned Town Centre First are so important, giving towns and urban areas the opportunity to (re)think the way people can move about, to (re)set quality of life outcomes. Recently our practice have worked to do this at the city scale in Glasgow – developing a ten-year regeneration framework – as well as at the town scale in Roscrea, Co.Tipperary, with O’Mahony Pike Architects. Looking at the public realm and transport aspects, projects like this allow us to work with communities and afford us the space to ask, ‘What If?‘; to envision a future town or city with better a quality of life, delivering on the investment opportunities available, and developing a step by step action plan to deliver it. These strategies (re)frame the conversation so that we’re not thinking about what we might lose from making changes to our streets and spaces, rather we’re thinking about what we are losing right now in not innovating, and what we’ll be losing in the future from being left behind.

Extract from the Glasgow Regeneration Framework by Urban Movement with Austin Smith Lord and Studio for New Realities
Future Reference

In the design of towns and cities across the globe, we are increasingly seeing a transition in the way people think about movement. There is a growing realisation of the power that movement and transport have in unlocking opportunities to improve quality of life. This article explores the potential our streets have in improving liveability, health, affordability, economy, and in tackling the climate crisis.


Articles to your inbox

Website by Good as Gold.