‘Walter Benjamin has said that Baudelaire’s writings on Paris were often more real than the experience of Paris itself. Both drawing and writing contain a compaction of themes which in their conceptual density deny reduction and exfoliation for a reality of another kind: together they reveal and essence of architecture itself.’
- Peter Eisenman (on John Hejduk‘s Poetry)
The annual All-Ireland Thesis Symposium gathered on 1st February in the auspicious surrounds of the Aula Maxima, on UCC’s main campus, hosted and organised by Jason O’Shaughnessy of the CCAE. In front of an audience comprising mostly recent graduates and current thesis students, eleven graduates from six schools across Ireland showcased their final year projects, along with a keynote lecture from Professor Marcos Cruz of the Bartlett in UCL. With projects focusing on iterations of the Irish vernacular in the Connemara landscape to the challenging theoretical connotations of quantum entanglement in the European City (namely Prague), this year’s symposium served to exemplify the diverse considerations of the contemporary architectural profession, both nationally and internationally. This in turn initiated broad discussion of the divergent curricular configurations of the ‘Thesis Year’ within the architecture colleges of Ireland. With a number of new courses having opened in the last decade or so, added to the long existent colleges, the forum provided insight into both the variance of design and intellectually interrogative positions adopted across the country within the discipline. In turn, this showcased the much broader typology of architect that we are now producing.
The morning session negotiated a series of social challenges currently facing the profession, and the urban environment. These thesis projects challenged architectural panacea regarding mental health, industrial collapse and fluvial defences. Discursive urban strategies proposed contextual solutions to socially inclusive mental health centres, through ‘salutogenic’ formulation in Warren Flavin’s (WIT) project based on Cork’s north main street. Meanwhile, Cormac Murray’s (DIT) project reflected on the legacy of Irelands 20th century modernists to propose an architecture in a post-theological, urbanised Ireland. A re-configurable event centre based on the site of the former Waterford crystal factory formed a democratic architectural thesis, which anticipated the city of Waterford re-establishing itself, in conjunction with the IDA (whom the entire DIT Thesis course worked with) as a commercially desirable locus. Laura Pembroke (SAUL) investigated the ways we negotiate cities, and formulated a new urban strategy of ‘edge cities’ for the city of Limerick, which would see unoccupied land surrendered to the whims of the Shannon to create a biotic park and reduce the pressure of flooding on the core(s) of the city.
With discussion turning to the relevance of writing within the discipline, the second session moved to the experience of architecture as an articulate. Alice Nickell (QUB) tested the atmospheric and spatial experience of Dublin, ‘a city of walls and enclosures’. Foraging forgotten sites, the largely modelled thesis postulated presence of ‘divine’ spatial navigation. The given programme of housing utilised this preposition to assemble a configuration of apartments, which would realise the complexities of dual-aspect planning through the act of ‘making’. Aisling Byrne’s (CCAE) thesis cartographed the historical and cultural strata that enveloped the tourist-resident hybrid in Prague. The temporal and dissociative accumulation of ‘tourist’ spaces in the European city was confronted through the exposition of Prague’s neglected waters edge, through hydrological devices, to an unprescribed emergent terrain. The following panel discussion centred on the architectural excavation of an ‘unknown’ city, and the authenticity of authorship, within the thesis year. The role of working methodologies and distillation of memory found pertinence in these idiosyncratic theses.
The afternoon session contrasted the ways with which we work with site and programme. Cillian Briody’s (UCD) artists and writers studio, negotiated the harsh landscape of Roundstone Connemara. This thesis utilised ‘asymmetrical geometries’ to investigate and formulate vista and programme, wherein the articulation became one of both self-reflection and reflex on the site. Eoghan Horgan and Kieran Cremin’s (CCAE) EAAE-award winning joint thesis devised the reconciliation between utility and perception in the city of Prague, tackling cultural dissonance. Juxtapositions of programme, timetable and route served to re-entangle mythology and the ‘enlightened’ city through the projection of anamorphic multiplicities upon antiquitous sites; an infiltration of binary towards the city, through both site and programme. Andrew Burger (DIT), again in conjunction with the IDA in Waterford, investigated the technology of the spaces in which we now work and the place this, and we, can take in a built environment. A test facility for drones, the thesis programme envisaged a spatial relationship between man, machine and form wherein reflection and contemplation became ‘story-boarded’ within the site.
Later, the final projects highlighted the ways we (re-)formulate thesis briefs. James Corboy (UCD) investigated the narration of sequenced space through a series of artists and writers cabin studios in Roundstone. The pedagogical attributes of movement and threshold created a labyrinthine programme, segmented and informed by projects such as Robin Walkers ‘Bothar Buí’, further investigated through a given propositional client relationship with Tim Robinson, a writer and cartographer. Alexandra Pickerell’s (WIT) thesis questioned whether, or how, we can reconcile 20th century modernist architecture with conservation and contemporary dwelling. Through matrixes of feasibility, the thesis tested the re-adaptation and re-purposing of three iconic buildings in Dublin, namely Liberty Hall, the Central Bank and Bord Failte complexes. Here, the thesis revealed in itself a personal methodology, or way of working, wherein engagement with our architectural history became a self-reflective thought process. Sarah Mannion’s (SAUL) Thesis on ‘Archaeology and travel writing’, compiled disparate fragments through the investigation of grecian antiquities, and reflected upon the new ways we can draw, or investigate site and programme. Re-occupation of a bog in Offaly, through carved earth and dissolved junction, formed a more coherent ontological landscape through further re-interrogation of the architectural process.
The showcase lecture from Marcos Cruz, ‘Simulated realities from conceptual illustrations to physical prototyping’, discussed the provocative nature of academic research in architecture, free from the constraints of reality. With specific examples and based in the Bartlett’s MArch Unit 20 that Professor Cruz leads, the innovations of agent-based architecture, biomorphism and biodigital material technology highlighted the possible synthesisation of both biotech and architecture, and furthermore curricular architecture and scientific theory.
In a subjective, and subjected, discipline such as our own, the symposium served to assure us of the possibility of new reactions and anticipations to architectural challenges than previously. The broad indexicalities of position and thought, react and reflect spatial and programmatic placements made, in part, possible due to the emergent implications of the ‘thesis’ in Irish architecture. The intellectual and practical implications of this engagement, and further to this, how we view the scope, or possibilities, the process of articulating a thesis, either through text, drawing, media or other forms becomes a freedom, liminal in formulation, on the precipice of reality.