First encounters: George Boyle and Elizabeth Francis

George Boyle runs her own practice, George Boyle Designs, a not-for-profit organisation that assists people in starting their own businesses and fostering innovationElizabeth Francis runs and was the commissioner for Ireland’s representation at the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale, an exhibition of which is coming to Dublin from May 10th


George on Elizabeth:

We started out in 1987 in architecture together in UCD. Liz is from Donegal. We were all there to learn and graduate and have a fine career – how little we knew what lay ahead of us. We found ourselves living for Friday night. Everyone would stay up all night Thursday and have complete nervous breakdowns and then get chewed to bits at the “crit” on Friday. Then we’d all go to the pub, Ashton’s or O’Neill’s. The story would go that we all got royally inebriated, but really we were living on two or three pounds a week. Two pints or something and then you’d probably go for a kebab in Luigi’s and head back to your bedsit.

Liz was elegance personified. She was so chic and mysterious. She had this “in from the wild” feel about her. She has that really magical Irish quality of someone who doesn’t tell you very much, but there are infinite depths behind those eyes.

We wouldn’t have socialised a lot together in college. We would have moved in the same circles and we all went out en masse. Most of us judged each other by our work. That sounds a bit intense, but it was the nature of what we did. Developing an architectural language and style was very personal and everyone dressed how they designed. Liz was very understated and elegant and her architecture was the same. It took me a while to realise she wasn’t this ephemeral person, but an incredibly warm and mischievous one.

There’s something that brings me and Liz into the same sphere all the time. What sparked it off again was when I started up the Fumbally Exchange. Liz was interested in it having started her own practice. Meanwhile she was becoming more involved with the Venice Biennale. She was becoming a superstar in architecture and I was wandering around the fringes of social entrepreneurship.

I love the counterpoint we have. I would be very different to Liz, but we share the same practical sense of humour. We’re both optimistic realists, we’ve both been buffered about by life and we have a wry, cynical outlook, but it’s founded in an appreciation for fine things in life.

I’m kind of in awe of her. She’s really quite a perfect person. I don’t think she sees herself that way at all.

She’s architecturally very strong as well – she’s up there with the elite while still being very practical. She works very well where architecture meets with lighting, she blurs the boundaries of installation design, stepping neatly in and out of other disciplines which I find very refreshing because it gives her a very holistic approach. And she’s a great mum.

Elizabeth on Francis:

It was around October 12th, 1987. I remember very clearly the first day in college. George played in the National Youth Orchestra and that was something very special about her, that she had another incredible talent in a completely different field. Architecture was the art side, the design side, the scientific side, and then she had this creativity with music – she played the cello. It gave her a spiritual aura in some ways.

George would have been the youngest in the class. She graduated from architecture when she was 21, which is very young. I have to say it was an interesting year in our class in college. It
was very much dominated by a strong group of females, very strong personalities, very creative, very talented, and George would have been one of those. She was always very articulate as well. There were a few guys who were interesting, but our class was noted for a strong female group.

In fourth year, I went away on Erasmus, which was very unusual for the time in architecture. After my exams I went to France and then took a year out and did an extra year in college in Normandy. We sort of separated at that point. When I came back, George had finished. I did my thesis and after that moved to Paris.

We were looking into each others lives on Facebook, and then at one Christmas drinks we met up and were connected again. There are some very interesting parallels in our situations. I was interested in what she’d done with the Fumbally Exchange, and how she and her husband had both lost their jobs and what a huge impact that had, and how incredibly she just turned that around in a short space of time.

I think George is very modest. She’s very warm. Very optimistic and enthusiastic. She’s incredibly intelligent and determined in a very quiet way. When you look at what she’s achieved and how she’s done it, she’s very modest about it, but she has that way of thinking creatively. It’s not only thinking about outside the box, but making it happen.

I hope great things are going to come out of how we share things together. Right now we’re thinking about a project together to make a connection with Fumbally Exchange – a similar set up in Italy. It’s also very much a cultural project, bringing Irish art and design into Italy, with a very strong architectural presence as well.

The conversations I have with her are very inspiring and motivating. She has that confidence that says “you can do it”.

She’s also great fun. We have a lot of laughs. God, I feel like going for a pint with her now.