By chance, just before visiting the UCD MArch exhibition I read the November 1974 issue of the Architectural Review ‘A Future for Dublin’, with it’s Townscape in Action proposals for Dublin. The theme running through that seminal journal issue, of a humane approach to nuanced, contextual planning was a fitting backdrop in which to visit the This Must Be The Place (We’ve Waited Years to Love) exhibition at the Chocolate Factory, Kings Inn Street, Dublin 1.
The diverse range of proposals exhibited here, from the pragmatic to the provocative, carry the humanity of the 1974 proposals and make a significant contribution to the re-imagining of a 21st century Dublin. This exhibition presents the work of 30 MArch architectural students working in Phibsborough, North Inner City Dublin and runs from Tuesday May 2nd to Tuesday May 9th inclusive, from 9am to 5pm.
The work presented here by Out.Post.Office. (a community-based design unit of UCD Architecture) and Phizzfest / Reimagining Phibsborough (a local group concerned with the built environment and Public Space of Phibsborough), in collaboration with Lucerne School of Engineering and Architecture, is beautifully curated by Emmett Scanlon and Laurence Lord of UCD and shows the work of three separate student bodies. These include a group of nine visiting students from Lucerne, eight UCD Year 2 MArch thesis students (including one from last year) and thirteen UCD Year 1 MArch students that are part of the Rising Home unit run by Orla Murphy and Emmett Scanlon. The work of each student group is presented differently, and it takes a moment to understand the layout of the exhibition and positioning of the work (although the students hosting the exhibition are very willing to guide you through the exhibition and happy to discuss their work).
The Lucerne students worked on the most conventional architectural brief, each making an individual proposal for a new stadium for Dalymount, their work is presented with models and using virtual reality headsets to allow the visitor ‘walk-through’ the projects. It’s great fun, and the oohs and aahs of visitors swiveling around ‘inside’ the models, serve as a good reminder that participation and novelty go a long way to encourage engagement.
The second part of the exhibition is the work of the 5th year thesis unit (New Ideas for Living), led by Emmett Scanlon and Laurence Lord, which present the most complete work, each thesis student presenting a large ‘curtain’ of their proposals. The projects shown are again all based in Phibsborogh but across a range of scales and typologies, notable are the gorgeous abstract colour studies of Tecla Guzzardi, the very credible proposal for the re-use of the Phibsborough tower for student housing by Louis Walsh, and the close grain co-housing use of the Phibsborough lanes proposed by Claire O’Sullivan. The re-imagining of the maisonette tower block typology by David Kelly is also well considered.
The third section of the exhibition consists of beautiful framed drawings and models by the fourth year students as part of the Rising Home unit (A Public House), which show strategies for the public realm and what this means to live in Phibsborough. The students’ projects are presented here as fragmentary drawings and models, and rather than complete presentations offer tantalising glimpses of the full range of the work. This semester these same students are making proposals for reusing the vacant buildings in Dublin for housing in direct involvement with the Peter McVerry Trust.
The overall impression of the exhibition is very strong; the graphic standard is excellent and exhibition layout and design works well in the Chocolate Factory. The real strength of the exhibition is that it is both entirely grounded in its place and response to real local need, but the imaginative power of the student work is not diminishing by conformity to prescribed outcomes. It’s a reminder too of the power of a group, that twenty-nine people actively engaging with one community is a powerful tool for change. One hopes the work here informs and inspires local groups in their dealings with Dublin City Council and that this exhibition acts as a catalyst for the Phibsborough area.
This type of collaborative college project, working with community groups, housing charities, local interests and businesses is exactly what architecture schools should be doing. It’s not easy, juggling the needs of local groups, the dynamics of local interests, with the requirements of college outputs and deadlines, but it is critical to empowering students as they leave academia and enter practice. Too often great student work presented at End of Year Shows never leaves the colleges, and the full potential of architecture as a power for positive change is missed by the public. The lecturers, community groups and students must be commended for undertaking this work and for continuing to engage with the local community in collaboration and debate; it is of immense value to both the students and the citizens of Dublin. Critical to the success and impact of this type of work is its dissemination back to the community, the exhibition at the Chocolate factory is great, and I would love to see work here taken further and installed in the Phibsborough Shopping Centre, in the pubs and cafes of Phibsborough, or along the ticket stiles at Dalymount Park.
The exhibition closes this Tuesday evening (May 9th), and is well worth a visit.
Review by Miriam Delaney
Photography: Ste Murray