Ok, Politics? Check, Music? Check, Football? Check, Architecture? well umm...... I haven't exactly posted much on my own area of expertise, saving my saloon bar punditry for topics of which my knowledge is more or less lay.
I wanted to write something about the new spire
on O'Connell Street, Dublin but I have decided to reserve judgement until I view it in person. I intend to offer some critiques of buildings, Irish and non-Irish but I thought I'd just do a little bit first on Irish Architecture generally.
Architecture in Ireland has improved immeasurably in the last decade or so. Three factors apply here.
1) Younger talented architects are getting to build.
2) Older talented architects are getting to build the types of buildings they'd like to build.
3) "Hack" architecture now is way better than pre mid 1990s.
There are several reasons for this. I think that we are fortunate in Ireland to have (at least) two very good schools of Architecture, U.C.D
and Bolton Street.
I don't know enough about the third school in Ireland, Queen's in Belfast.
I think that the standard of architectural education in Ireland has a lot to do with Cathal O'Neill
, becoming Professor of UCD's School of Architecture in 1972. Before he took over, UCD School of Architecture was a pretty moribund place. He encouraged a whole generation of tutors and students, students who went on to become tutors and inspire further students at both schools in Dublin.
I was fortunate to study architecture at Richview, the UCD Architecture and Planning Department being "semi-detached" from the main campus at Belfield. Richview began life as a Masonic school but was converted by Professor O'Neill, creating, from a cluttered yard, a quadrangle which all the buildings of the department faced. It was a very pleasant place to study and there was a collegiate atmosphere. I remember it being an apolitical place somewhat removed from all the student politics on the nearby main campus. The thing is, both UCD and Bolton Street produced generally well educated architects, but for a long time the majority of them would emigrate, there being few opportunities for employment in Ireland.
So what has changed? I imagine the left wing view would be that the government is taking design more seriously and spending more money on architecture and on projects that "rejuvenate" certain rundown areas but I think that this is back to front. While I recognise the importance of a project like Temple Bar
in showing people the possibilities of a contemporary contextual architecture, the simpler, more elegant (in my view) explanation is that, as Clinton said,"it's the economy, stupid".
Ireland's economic success has had a major impact on the quality of design. It's a regular assumption that, the richer a society gets, the "tackier", and presumably gaudier it gets. This is a lazy assumption, based on the excesses of bad taste of some extremely wealthy individuals. Here are a few effects of Ireland's economic success that have led to better quality architecture.
1) Increased spending power and cheaper travel means that more Irish people are travelling more often. Exposure to other cities broadens their ideas of "what buildings should look like" and raises their expectations. This affects not only the actual designers, but also the people architects have to persuade: clients and, maybe more importantly, planners who are in a position to grant or refuse planning permission.
2) Increased workload from economic success and the housing boom means many architects are in a position to choose the type of work they prefer to do and can mean there is a better "fit" of project to architect.
3) Increased consumer spending on luxury goods, designer clothes, in restaurants and cafes and nightclubs. These products and services generally require elegantly designed buildings and interiors.
These are just a few examples but each has a "virtuous circle" type effect of making better quality design more widespread.