A towering achievement? You decide
The Irish Architecture awards give the public a chance to have a say in which buildings, renovations and extensions deserve an award for beauty, originality, functionality, or that ‘je ne sais quois’
WE ARE all critics now – tweeting, blogging and sending Jedward to Eurovision – and this week the public can have a say in which of the new buildings around us deserves a special accolade.
The judges of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) architectural awards have put together a 32-project shortlist for an online public vote, as part of its broader competition.
“It engages the public with design,” says Kathryn Meghan, assistant director of the RIAI, “and gives us feedback about what people like.”
Judging by previous winners, the public like variety in their buildings. The first year they chose a dreamy glass house by the water in Donegal by MacGabhann Architects. Then it was Thomond Park in Limerick by Murray O’Laoire Architects, and next the Criminal Courts of Justice building by Henry J Lyons. Last year, Limerick was back, with the Milk Market outdoor space by Healy Partners.
While architectural judges go by criteria such as design, scale, function and the way a building fits in with its surroundings, it appears the public are more interested in how a building affects their lives – in the case of Thomond Park and the Milk Market – or how it might change their everyday world. The choice of the Criminal Courts must surely have related to its arresting visual impact.
This year, again, there is a variety of buildings to choose from, although what is striking is the number of extensions included on the shortlist. Recent years have seen a drop in the number of State and commercial commissions, and people have turned towards their own nests.
A new category (started last year) is that of emerging architects, which reflects the fact that many designers have been forced to set up their own practices. With work scarce, many buildings have not been completed, so this award allows them to enter unbuilt projects. “It highlights new thinking about design solutions,” says Meghan. “A lot of younger people are coming forward who had been working in bigger practices and abroad and they can bring a different approach.”
“It is encouraging to see Irish architects setting up their own businesses and creating impressive bodies of work in these uncertain times,” says Michelle Fagan, president of the RIAI. She highlights projects Irish architects have built abroad, such as Heneghan Peng’s Olympic bridge in London, which she says is “testament to how we are still competing at the highest levels internationally”.
The emerging practices shortlist is chosen by a separate group of judges – the Architecture Ireland magazine board. The shortlist for the public vote includes emerging practices and buildings from more established firms, such as LiD, DMVF Architects and Donal Colfer Architects. These projects demonstrate how good design does not have to be expensive.
Of course, the public is already involved from the start of the building process, when they commission buildings, and many individuals must be commended for being ambitious with their approach to their own homes.
“Which is more exciting? Conjuring up opportunities for new ways of living when you work with architects of creative ability, or the pleasure and fulfilment of living with the daring results, which give you a new way of living surrounded by materials, light and space scarcely imaginable in a typical redbrick house in Dublin 8?” say the owners of a house that was revamped by Donaghy and Dimond Architects.