The SAUL Intelligence Unit research project entitled ‘Open Source Georgian’ focuses on one Georgian block in Limerick City Centre bounded by O’Connell Street (Limerick City’s main thoroughfare), Glentworth Street, Catherine Street and Cecil Street. The research project explored, interrogated and reinforced the current and future potential of the Irish Government’s Living in the City initiative through the use of a collaboration portal linked to an open, co-design process for the city. ‘Open Source Georgian’ 2016 is the continuation of ‘SAUL IU Georgian Lab – Housing Crisis’ 2014 research project. The SAUL IU has been building a body of research projects on the city over the past six years in Limerick City and Region including ‘One City’ SAUL IU Project 2009, ‘Limerick Smarter Travel’ 2013 and ‘SAUL Pilot Inventory of Limerick Schools’ 2012. This year’s research was directed by SAUL Professor Merritt Bucholz, SAUL Senior Lecturer Peter Carroll and SAUL Lecturer in Adaptive Governance and Urban Design Rosie Webb supported by SAUL Graduates Padraig Connolly & Michael McEllistrem, Urban Design Graduate Matthew Lascheid from University of Ohio U.S. and Architecture Graduates Andrew Reynolds from Marywood University New York U.S. and Alejandro Hernando from Madrid, Spain.
The SAUL Intelligence Unit at The School of Architecture University of Limerick was originally set up through the support of The University of Limerick and The Department of The Environment in 2009 to act as an independent ‘urban think-tank’ in order to look at and view Limerick in new ways, tilting the emphasis from City vs. Region to City + Region, and through placing great value on understanding the city (urban) and region (landscape) as an overall form. Through mapping, analysis and creative thinking, drawings and visions of Limerick that had not been coherently formulated before under one body were created, resulting in the ‘One City’ 2009 body of work. This paved the way for a continuation of the project over the subsequent years, whose scope of work has expanded taking in for example both regional (Shannon: ‘SNN+ ’ 2012) and national concerns (Fingal + Mayo: ‘One Island’ 2010)
The objectives this summer have been multifold: they assembled data and material that is available publicly and that is currently silo-ed as single-purpose information (for example planning applications, fire safety cert applications, disability access certificates) and examined the gathered information in an holistic manner. They interrogated legal instruments currently in place to see how these could be combined, strengthened, paired, etc. in order to explore the potential of acts such as the Derelict Order Act, Vacant Sites Act, Compulsory Purchase Orders, etc. They worked with and assisted Local Authority to prioritise the digitisation of all statutory requirement applications since 1963 in this block to allow for all this information to be collated on one publicly accessible platform so that a substantial piece of city fabric is made legible, given value across a number of criteria such as heritage, condition, ownership, cost.
They used an open source platform as a design tool for identifying future inhabitation, use, occupancy. In doing so they set out to forensically uncover / discover / comprehensive information about the composition / use / ownership / condition / size / quality / history of each building within the block and the public realm within and around the block. In doing so they identified the large gaps in publicly available information and how collection of and access to this information would facilitate development and change.
The sources have been many: Planning database (identifying shortcomings / incomplete nature of this information); Historical data – Irish Architectural Archive, previous SAUL IU research projects, National Inventory Architectural Heritage, existing survey from SAUL 3D Limerick City model project etc.; Development Plans over the past twenty years; Online data information such as Land Direct, Eircodes, CSO Census Information, Property Registers and Real Estate Information; They supplemented these sources with a careful survey done manually walking the block, knocking on doors, asking questions, observing and making enquiries.
The facts explored were specific to a single block, however the exploration revealed issues that could be applied to any city quarter highlighted in the Living in the City Initiative: an open-source database documenting use by floor of each building; condition and status of condition of the facades and interiors; clearly identifying derelict buildings, and derelict buildings that are not on the derelict building register; ownership (differentiating between ownership and use); and dis-use. This information was tagged to a 3D model which documents the entire block in plan and section. The public realm of the block was analysed: the pavement and the street and how it is composed (‘Protected Structures’ of less than 150mm in height), the publicly owned lanes and carriageways, changes in use and composition, and how the public realm corresponds to current understanding; acknowledging that to be a catalyst for change of the city the public realm needs to be beautiful and useful for all users of that public realm. The question was asked how could the public realm be activated to create value, catalyse diversity in development, granularity, and recognition that the city is diverse, the market is diverse and that bottom up planning, creative collectives and other similar such initiatives and groups should be prioritised by the Local Authority.
It is somewhat astonishing to believe that in Limerick the focus continues to be on new development and monolithic projects, when such a beautifully conceived and constructed the city is let decay. Limerick has great bones, which need to be valued. This research has revealed that there are many tools to reverse this decay – local government has the necessary statutory power to affect change and direct resources through its powerful statutory instruments. There is substantial funding available, yet our view is that there is no need to focus expenditure on one or another specific project; rather the ‘new’ idea about the identity of the city and from which its future evolves is that the city that was planned and built is fantastic – it just needs love. This love should come in multiple and simultaneous programmes of radical improvements to the public realm and streetscape; on the rollout of a well administered and strong grant programme for renovation of roofs and facades; on a creative help-desk to assist people with conservation, fire, and planning issues concerning Georgian buildings; on a connecting strategy for all of the city parks, suburban green spaces and the countryside; on a high speed link between city and UL building on Limerick Smarter Travel; on a multi-amenity park that serves as a municipal walk/flood defence around Kings Island; on a ten minute landscaped linear path/park from the city centre to the municipal golf club atop Southill (that boasts the most spectacular views); and on a serious street-based urban plan for linking the medieval and Georgian city centre. This research project reveals that there is far more untapped value in the existing Georgian city than is currently proposed by new development, and that the tools to untap this value are available to us.
SAUL are currently in the process of concluding the online pilot open source platform with Limerick City and County Council. Further information on SAUL IU research can be found on www.iu.saul.ie.