Shaping the future

 

ARCHITECTURE:Four Irish women architects are currently making their mark as elected presidents of architectural organisations in Ireland, Europe, Britain and Canada. So what are their aims, asks EMMA CULLINAN

ANGELA BRADY

President of the the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba). She runs Brady Mallalieu Architects with her husband, Robin Mallalieu.

What do you hope to achieve in the job?

I hope to bring home the value of good design to the Government and the public. I have instigated a task force to improve the procurement process that is the bane of our professional lives and I have launched a Riba housing campaign for better home design (homewise.co.uk) and a commission to look at how we live today. We need to rethink the way we live, and design around that.

What is your favourite building?

Sydney Opera House, for its organic beauty and clever design. I also like what Hampshire county architects have done with schools since the 1970s, with each site as individual as the client group. In housing, I admire the Danish co-housing projects that began in the 1960s, in which you buy into a lifestyle of sharing and caring. These now account for 1 per cent of Danish homes. The Chrysler Building in New York has a great art-deco silhouette on the skyline.

My Brady Mallalieu Architects favourite is our Cor-ten steel Barra Park open-air theatre, in Hayes, west London, which is sculptural and functional and serves the artists in the community well.

Least favourite building?

One New Change, by Jean Nouvel, near St Paulüs Cathedral in London. This new shopping centre is hardly complementary to Christopher Wren in any shape or form.

What is your favourite design object?

The iPhone because it is slick, functional, full of information and a great communication tool. I wish I had had one when I was working and travelling around Europe as a young one.

Who do you admire?

I admire people who stand up for what they believe in, including the late Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.

I am influenced by the Dutch architect Herman Hertzberger, whose designs are based on how people use buildings and spaces, and encourage interaction in a non-institutional way.

I admire Richard Rogers and Terry Farrell for their influence on the contribution of design in politics and planning.

What was your best holiday? Do you inevitably look at architecture when youüre away?

Being married to an architect and business partner for 25 years, our work and leisure time are seamless and we always seek out interesting places. Last time we were in Cork we revisited the Liss Ard Estate, with its wonderful Sky Garden by James Turrell, and David Putnam opened his fantastic walled gardens to the public with an arts and crafts show of unbelievably high quality.

Probably one of my best short trips was with a film crew to Venice, for The Home Showon Channel 4. We visited one of the grand palaces and more modest canal-side homes, and met some great people who told us the histories of their homes and families. On a visit to the Murano island glass factory and silk-weaving business, it was enthralling to see how everything was hand-crafted. My hobby is fused glass craft, so it was extra special to see these artists at work.

Why did you choose to be an architect?

I had great imagination and liked to draw, so I thought it could be the highest art form to work in creatively.

Was it what you thought it would be?

Our profession has changed hugely over the past 30 years and we need to know so much more now. We are surrounded by regulations. As a student I thought the [architectural] vision would get built with ease, but the realities are different and the obstacles many.

What do you like and dislike about it?

I like to solve problems and create new solutions. I like having a client who appreciates your contribution to their quality of life. I like returning for the Open House event and showing off the projects to the public and really engaging them in the full design process.

You get a great sense of satisfaction about a job well done when you have made a great effort to make a project work on all levels. It is worth it in the end, and with a bit of luck they will come back for more.

What I dislike is how difficult it is to get a new project today, like a local school that would normally come your way. The procurement method used by government is a long and arduous process of elimination that favours large practices with higher turnover and professional indemnity insurance over the quality, design-led smaller practices with innovation and skill. I have set up a Riba task force to challenge current risk-averse UK and EU methods and to promote a better, fairer procurement process.

What new trends are coming through?

Retrofitting, alternative ways of living, and community experimentation. We have a huge energy crisis ahead, and people ignore it at their peril. We need new business in retrofitting 90 per cent of existing homes. We need to actively reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, and, as architects, that is our responsibility.

I think people will start looking again at co-housing for a better quality of life. In Denmark, half a million people live in co-housing projects. We have an ageing population, and many single people and one-parent families and others want to live a richer, more social and greener way of life, in which they know their neighbours and can rely on a group of friends to make their lives fuller and more meaningful. With the new right to build, I hope to see more experimental projects that are diverse and question the way we work, rest and play today.

In these changing times, where should architecture go now?

There is only one way to go: towards zero carbon, zero energy and self-sufficiency in a community environment. I like to see architects lead the way with vision and ideas for a sustainable future.

GERRIE DOYLE

Immediate past president (and still on the council) of the Ontario Association of Architects. She went to Canada in 1981, after graduating from Dublin Institute of Technology.

What did you hope to achieve in the job?

To work towards a better appreciation of what architects bring. I think that our profession has been maligned a lot. Weüve lost a lot of ground over the past two decades: weüve lost out to intermediaries, such as project managers, and to low fees (and undercutting ourselves professionally), and itüs ruining our industry. The whole procurement situation is pretty bad right now. When a project is awarded to the lowest bidder we are not getting the best design. The less qualified people in the office will be assigned to such a project, so practices canüt pay their staff appropriately.

In Canada, lots of architectural graduates are being lost in the five to 10 years after university because they are not being paid well. So we have a very, very chronic demographic situation in Canada: that most architects are 50-plus.

What is your favourite building?

One of my favourite buildings is the National Gallery of Canada, by Moshe Safdie, in Ottawa. Itüs stunning, all glass. When you walk in thereüs this glass entrance canopy and an amazing atrium. Arriving in the centre of this is incredible. A soft ramp goes up to an upper level and another amazing atrium. Safdie is a fabulous architect with spaces.

Least favourite building?

One of the worst modern buildings Iüve seen is the expansion of the Royal Ontario Museum by Daniel Libeskind. There was a competition for this, and theyüve produced the book of other designs. One of these that was incredible was Bing Thomüs, which had an amazingly sculpted glass canopy that hung over the top of University Avenue Ÿ the shape from the side looked like a dinosaur.

What is your favourite design object?

It is by a friend of mine, Maxe Fisher, who is an industrial designer. It is a highly polished, solid stainless-steel cone called the Oyster. She drilled a cylinder out of a hollow in the base and when you lift up the cone this cylinder, ever so slowly, drops out. Itüs milled to within millimetres of its life. Inside is a piece of velvet and a pearl for my daughter.

Who do you admire?

My original admiration, while studying, was for Frank Lloyd Wright, particularly his most famous house, Fallingwater. Iüve been to see his houses in Chicago and the windows are always deeply set back in the wall, and the eaves and roof overhangs are always very deep, so youüve got shadow and relief, depth of character and a good interaction of rooms and spaces within the house. Houses donüt have to be huge to work well.

And now I admire Moshe Safdie. An interesting part of him is that his first work was his architecture-thesis project: the Habitat, a condominium building for Expo 67 in Montreal. The sad story out of that is that he didnüt get another commission in Canada until the National Gallery decades later.

What was your best holiday? Do you inevitably look at architecture when youüre away?

I travelled around Europe in the 1990s with my then boyfriend. It was amazing to drive around and stay all over the place and look at all these buildings. And I always do look at buildings; I'm interested in seeing the architecture.

Another trip was to Australia in 1989. The architecture in Sydney was so amazing because it is such a new country. Every time I go back to Dublin it is amazing to see the changed architecture, particularly the stretch along the quays from OüConnell Street out to the sea. Last time I was here I saw a beautiful conversion of a schoolhouse, to a house, by my friend Maria Kiernan, of Kearney and Kiernan Architects.

Why did you choose to be an architect?

I really loved art at school. I was a terrible student, so my mother sent me to boarding school to make sure I graduated. In the last couple of years I got very involved in studying gothic cathedrals, drawing flying buttresses and plans, and my art teacher steered me towards architecture. I didnüt go to college at first, but spent the year working in an architectüs office, for Burke-Kennedy Doyle. Ruair¡ Quinn hired me. I discovered that, all of sudden, there was a subject I loved, and it wasn't a chore to study. Itüs been that way ever since. I can work like a dog and, because I enjoy what I do, it doesnüt feel like that (well, nearly always).

Was it what you thought it would be?

Yes and no. When we were students, particularly in the last few years, we put in long hours and overnights. Little did we know that was a training ground for the rest of our careers, especially the first few years of them. I love the fact that the work is flexible: you can take it in a different direction, like I have as project manager. You can still be in the industry but not purely as an architect.

What do you like and dislike about it?

I like the client interaction and my biggest love is being on site, which is one of the pluses of being a project manager. What I donüt like is the current status of our profession in relation to procurement methods and the erosion of the architect being the person in charge of the design team. We really need to take that back. Some project managers have just taken a one-day course, which doesnüt equate with someone like an architect.

I like the trend for sustainable design, but there are pitfalls to the Leed green rating system in the US.

What new trends are coming through?

Sustainable design is one, and building information modelling is becoming huge over here. Architects no longer design with 2D AutoCAD, they design everything in 3D. It starts with the design team, then passes on to contractors and then to the client for maintenance of the building. It gives our profession the opportunity to take back control of the design process. You donüt draw just the line; you make a wall, put in windows, put in the door. You build the building on the computer. You can pick up where, for example, a mechanical duct is going through a beam. Picking that up on a model rather than when you are building saves a fortune.

In these changing times, where should architecture go now?

We need to have better procurement methods. Public bodies always award a contract to the lowest price. As a project manager I instil this in clients: if you are throwing out the highest bid, then you should also throw out the lowest fee because, if you are known to do this, it will stop the bottom feeders from bidding low and everyone will want to be in the right spot in the middle, which is the right fee. We have firms here that bid astronomically low, a half to a third of what a fee should be. They are usually bigger firms that have the resources to go after fees for changes, and the client ends up paying what the middle-road fee was, or more. That is wrong; itüs ruining our profession and is having a huge effect on small and medium-sized firms.

SELMA HARRINGTON

President of the Architects' Council of Europe, which represents the architectural profession at European level. She was born in Sarajevo and now lives in Ireland.

What do you hope achieve in the job?

High visibility for architectural issues (in society and the economy) among the European public and officials. We donüt get consulted enough and are not fully seen as problem solvers, as people to be called at an early stage when strategic planning happens to decide where development is going.

What is your favourite building?

In general, I like buildings with lots of light and adequate space, which contribute to the people who use the buildings. I like roof terraces, such as the one at the Chester Beatty Library. A building needs to work inside and outside, and there are many ways to do that, to connect it with the daylight.

Least favourite building?

My worst building isn't the house but a space within it. The basement of King House in Boyle, Co Roscommon, really made an impression on me; the enclosed space, used to house prisoners, really shocks you. It is a stark example of how a building can make you feel.

I'm also a bit allergic to the so-called wow effect in architecture.

What is your favourite design object?

Scissors by Fiskars of Finland, because they are very ergonomic, very well made yet mundane in a sense. So much care has been given to something a lot of people use every day. You could compare it to an Apple product: a perfect object with perfect usability.

I love chairs by Peter Opsvik, from Oslo, or any of his designs Ÿ they are poetry, fabulous and fun.

Who do you admire?

My parents, who taught me honesty, integrity, perseverence and striving to do the best within reach.

I've been influenced by a lot of people, but probably the strongest influence comes from my home country. In Sarajevo and Bosnia there is a resilience, creativity and resourcefulness not unlike that of the Irish: getting up and dusting down, and music and literature, which were my roots and which gave me my wings.

I admire the architect Zlatko Ugljen, who successfully expressed his creativity and modernity, drawing upon traditional cultural heritage while being modern in his work. In his mosque in Visoko you can see a Gaud¡ discourse, between local tradition and modernity.

What was your best holiday? Do you inevitably look at architecture when you're away?

A few years ago I went to India, which was fascinating and absorbing, such a rich and varied culture. Varanasi is a super, chaotic, fascinating place.

I inevitably look at architecture, old and new, and like to see the diversity of architecture and architectural traditions. A trip to the Asian part of Turkey was a trip through the history of architecture as it used to be taught, from the Neolithic settlement in €atalh”yk, cave settlements and early Christian settlements.

I love travel because it reveals the richness of the world and the world cultures before globalisation.

Why did you choose to be an architect?

It responded to my creative interest: I like to write and draw. It gives you a wonderful opportunity to explore different aspects of intellectual curiosity. I also like to see how things are made and constructed.

Was it what you thought it would be?

It was more. I feel very blessed as an architect because I can touch a lot of disciplines and realise projects in different countries. I have worked in Zimbabwe, Finland, Malaysia and Mozambique.

What do you like and dislike about it?

I like the fact that you are always faced with a new challenge. Every task is different, and even if it is a bit similar you can always apply a different, really creative approach.

I dislike overregulation. There are so many different departments with different guidelines to deal with, which results in too much running around and architectural work becoming a kind of ticking-the-box process to check that things comply with regulations. You just canüt evaluate the quality of architectural work by ticking boxes.

What new trends are coming through?

Pauvre chic? I'm joking! But I think that in the last few decades architecture has been seen through signature buildings that are often completely disconnected from their context. Vive le contexte.

I donüt think it serves architecture well to be compared with fashion. Good architecture strives to push boundaries, not because we want to be trendy but because we have that skill to offer. We can't be trendy, because architecture lasts so much longer than clothes.

I predict neo-regionalism, rediscovering our local cultures using new materials. We have to look at the strengths of our own communities to be global in our thinking. It saddens me that young architects have to emigrate, and to see the lack of opportunity here, because there is so much to do in Ireland.

MICHELLE FAGAN

Will become president of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) in January. She runs FKL Architects with Gary Lysaght and Paul Kelly.

What do you hope to achieve in the role?

The role of the RIAI president is to connect with members and with the public on what architects do. Itüs still a huge problem: in medical terms, we are still seen in a consultant role and not as a GP, which is terrible, because architects can be used in so many decisions. They are good at identifying what the real problems are and how to solve them in buildings and the built environment. I want to get architects to engage actively with their communities. Iüve seen a few architectural practices that now have shopfronts, and that is to be encouraged. Buildings affect your health and have an influence on your potential as a person.

What is your favourite building?

I don't have a favourite building, although the Pantheon in Rome made an impression on me when I went there as a student. It is a dramatic and intimate space at the same time. The Bank of Ireland building on Baggot Street is a really polite intervention and doesnüt take away from its context.

Least favourite building?

My least favourite buildings are wasted opportunities; not necessarily bad, but mediocre. I wouldnüt want to name them in light of my upcoming role. I donüt like the way people have designed to a minimum in this country, dividing places into tiny rooms, some of which wonüt even fit a wheelchair.

What is your favourite design object?

When I went through that phase of nesting in my late 20s and early 30s I bought an Arne Jacobsen teapot, which is well used. The iPhone is a beautiful object with a fantastic interface that you can make your own and that reflects how I live my life. The interface thing is what Apple has nailed.

Who do you admire?

The people I admire are contemporaries; people I know and have an interaction with. You can admire people from afar, as heroes, but it is not the same.