The recent news that Grafton Architects had won the competition to design a significant new building for the London School of Economics was almost unsurprising. In many ways, the past few years have been good for architects working out of Ireland. Grafton's co-founders, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, were the recipients of the Jane Drew Prize last year, while O'Donnell Tuomey took the Riba Royal Gold Medal. In fact, it is not unusual for Irish firms to contend against one another, as well as against international "stars", in the shortlists for major prizes.
The level of debate about architecture has flourished in Ireland over the past decade. This might be traced partly to a more widespread interest in the human-made environment, but it has also been helped by certain initiatives. These include the Arts Council's funding of projects that address architectural culture, the RIAI Simon Open Door campaign and the work of the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF), which promotes public engagement with architecture and organises the annual Open House weekend and the National Architects in Schools Initiative.
For those interested in thinking and learning about architecture, the next month is particularly exciting, with debates, symposiums and other events being held over an intense few weeks. For example, this weekend sees a series of traditional building skills demonstrations and talks in Galway, while the annual
Historic Houses of Ireland
conference is on Tuesday and Wednesday in Maynooth.
A morning seminar on Monday, May 16th, addresses the beauty of inner Dublin, and the city hosts two important conferences at the turn of the month, one with a transnational focus, the other more specifically relating to the 1916 centenary.
Outside Ireland, too, there are important happenings. On May 19th, the IAF is hosting its latest iteration of We Built this City in New York, focusing on the involvement of Irish people in the city's creation. Ten days later, the Venice Architecture Biennale opens. The Irish representative this year is Niall McLaughlin, whose installation is a reflection on the lessons to be learned from designing buildings for people with dementia, such as his firm's Alzheimer's Respite Centre in Blackrock, Co Dublin.
The Who's Afraid of Mapping Beauty? seminar on May 16th addresses the aesthetic of Dublin's city streets and is the latest outcome of the Redrawing Dublin project (see redrawingproject.com). Overseen by Paul Kearns and Motti Ruimy, this was originally a book, published in 2010, which used new forms of mapping and graphics to comment on the shifting shape of Dublin. Unlike more celebratory takes on individual architects, this analyses and visualises the everyday lived experience of Dubliners.
The most concentrated thicket of architectural discussion will take place at the end of this month and in early June. At Liberty Hall, the Conflict and the City conference (see conflictandthecity.ie), on May 31st and June 1st, will look at how street conflict in Dublin, from the 1916 Rising through the War of Independence and the Civil War, shaped the built environment through the force of destruction and subsequent rebuilding schemes that reimagined the city.
This is followed by the biennial conference of the European Architectural History Network (EAHN) in Dublin Castle. Between workshops and bus tours and the conference itself on June 2nd-4th, its activities cover five days (see eahn2016conference.wordpress.com).
The EAHN’s is the biggest architectural history conference in Europe and is an opportunity to hear some of the most important current perspectives on the built environment. Its reach is international: among this year’s keynote lecturers will be Sibel Bozdogan, known for her work on the ways modernist architecture was valorised in Turkey following the “republican revolution” of the 1920s, and the French historian Jean-Louis Cohen, renowned for his book
Architecture in Uniform
, on the impact of the second World War on building and design.
At a fairly frantic pace, the programme includes five blocks of five parallel sessions, each with five speakers. The sessions focus on specific topics, from architectures of waiting to models for housing finance. Although some individual papers focus on Irish matters, a feature of the conference is that it breaks through the borders of the nation-state as an all-containing, all-constraining category.
It is almost a default position to think in terms of nationality, but one of the excitements of architectural history is the interplay between networks and settlement, the way ideas, technologies, styles and architects travel and circulate but make do with what is at hand, in terms of materials, local sensibilities or language.
At Conflict and the City, Irish architect Grainne Hassett will discuss her role in designing and building infrastructure in Calais, while the EAHN has announced a public talk on Thursday, June 2nd, by Michel Agier, a writer on refugee camps, where movement, settlement and making do remain central concerns.
Dr Lisa Godson is a lecturer in design history and material culture at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin. She is also a board member of the Irish Architecture Foundation