Fifty years on from the broad strokes of student political activism across Europe in 1968, a self-perpetuated drive for student activation is stirring at UCD Architecture, led by students from its Masters programme. Unfortunately student activism tends to be a response to unsatisfactory conditions, but these conditions can be overturned when seen as a breeding ground for a new generation of architecture students who believe in the transformative potential of their own agency. This, I believe, is a positive situation considering the increasing need for bottom-up effort where the political polemic can be to be shifting away from socially driven policies and towards a more economically driven orientation.
Navigating the bureaucratic mire of UCD’s expansive institutional systems of hierarchy, students are calling on the University to pay more attention to its architecture school, which has been home to some of the most influential architects currently practicing globally. Notwithstanding the university’s own internal management platforms to settle disputes, students have also been in contact with the student union, national papers and the architectural media. The increasing international influence of UCD alumni such as Grafton Architects and O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects is starting to affect the current student body, who are becoming increasingly aware of their own agency in coming together to enforce change through shared action. The two year groups of the Masters programme are spearheading the call for change: fighting for better facilities; a more streamlined system of departmental organisation and transparency in the roles and responsibilities of staff members. As one of a number of students involved, I include my voice with theirs; we are serious about getting our opinions heard and addressed and are looking beyond Richview to garner support and provoke action; a positive change from the apathy traditionally associated with our generation of moping millenials.
In the year that the world’s architectural media attention focuses in on the Irish scene, we are responding by taking up the mantle handed down by Group 91: we are making the space for the change we want. The tone of our combined argument consciously suggests methods of direct action, offering a template for change rather than an empty list of childish complaints. One strand of this activity is a new student-led initiative to increase the critical discourse at the school through a programme of events that includes lunchtime talks, a roving summer exhibition and launch event featuring renowned international guest speakers. Students from both the Undergraduate and Masters programme have come together to highlight the lack of coherent polemic and consistency in our lecture programme and a severe lack of public and alumni orientated activity. The name for this new project is ‘Gender: An Architectural Agenda’.
Instigated by an initial forum held in September titled ‘Women in/and Architecture’, this new project aims to bring the widespread cultural critique of gendered power relations, and their relationship to institutional organisations such as education, to the localised stage of UCD Architecture. Widely supported by staff at the school, a small team has been busy working away to secure funding, confirm speakers and set the polemic. All the while they have also been slowly building a network of interested parties spanning across Ireland, Europe and also into the US.
Having secured funding from the UCD wide initiative SPARC, we have been able to organise a series of six talks over this semester by academics at UCD, NCAD and Queen’s. This programme of talks has been designed to gear the students towards a final speakers’ event and exhibition in the summer, both set to coincide with the Architecture graduate degree show in June. Organisation for the final events are well under way: speakers from the Bartlett (UCL), the University of Buffalo and QUB have been confirmed; alongside the agenda for the accompanying roving exhibition, which is set to travel over the summer from Richview, to the UCD Festival and an inner city Dublin location. There is an intention here to ensure the project has a wider university impact, orienting ourselves back towards main campus by tracing over the faded connections with other departments such as Art History, Social Studies, Geography and Engineering.
Speaking as the student initiator of this project, we hope that this project will engender long lasting change at the department: stirring the lower years into discovering their active potential for change and self-direction, whilst gearing the department towards maintaining an international presence in its lecture programmes, one which would give students a wider outlook over the discourse around Architecture.
In writing this column for Architecture Ireland, I intend to provide a platform for alumni and interested professionals to follow our programme of lunchtime talks running over the semester. We will also be uploading all talks to the UCD Architecture Youtube site, where you can already watch the video from the initial forum held in September. I will be summarising the talks as they go on and using this platform to share some of the ripples of student activity bubbling away in parallel with the waves Grafton Architects are making, as we move towards the anticipated opening of this year’s Biennale.
Illustrations by Daisy Kinahan-Murphy.