Newsview: Matters architectural from tidy towns to market towns to cities

By Rose Martin 

The Venice Biennale is a familiar enough concept to most of us, be it art or architecture, but few have ever been, and fewer still have taken part. This year is different however, because two or our most pre-eminent architects are the curators of the biennial event, Shelly McNamara and Yvonne Farrell of Grafton Architects.

The multi-award winning pair have subtly created the environment where everybody in Ireland is getting behind the effort and the more high-falutin’ elements of the architectural profession are being backed by the more prosaic names in the Irish construction industry.

So, there are quite a few Irish entries over the run of the Architecture Biennale from May 26th to November 25th— it’s a bit like the Tommy Tiernan theory of Irish colonisation; we never use force — one Irish person goes into a room and the following morning, five Irish people come out. This year, the Irish are all over the Biennale.

The Free Market Curators at the Irish Pavilion, Venice Architecture Biennale (from left to right): Miriam Delaney, Jo Anne Butler, Laurence Lord, Tara Kennedy, Orla Murphy, Jeffrey Bolhuis (Photograph: Ste Murray)

So, there’s the top line concept for this year — Freespace and that’s been drilled down to the Free Market concept for the Irish Pavilion, (stick with me), and that’s further interpreted by a group of six, emerging architects and designers who’ve worked around the role of Irish market towns in the life of rural communities. A bit of critical thinking and sociological assessment later and it’s ready to go in the Irish Pavilion.

A fair few of the team come from such places — small towns with less than 5000 people and while most are now city-based, they are using a sort of ‘emotion recollected in tranquility approach’ to parse the past, present and future of our small towns using audiovisual and photographic elements in a Pavilion where the very space itself will act as a market place.

They will invite people in, show their work and create a small town hub in the Irish Pavilion — a conversation around the role the market place has in our lives — from commerce to community to care, in every sense of those terms.

Venice, for all its finery, it only the first phase of this interdisciplinary collaboration, as Free Market will return to Ireland in 2019 and will tour some of the towns cited in the exhibition, (including Macroom; Cork County Council is one of the sponsors) — they’ll be bringing it all back home.

“Curated by a team of six architects and designers, Free Market aims to reassert the declining rural market square as a public place of social, political and cultural exchange, central to community cohesion. In doing so, it will highlight the generosity, humanity and possibilities that are embodied in the market place,” says co-curator Miriam Delaney.

“Once the economic and social hubs of rural Ireland, many market squares in these towns…..surrendered their role as markets and are now used only for car parking.

“Many of the challenges facing towns in Ireland are common to rural towns throughout the world. We hope that by presenting Irish towns on the global stage in Venice, we can open a much-needed conversation about the resilience of rural towns in an international context.”

- And continuing with the twin themes of towns and architecture, Cork will be the base for this year’s annual congress of the Academy of Urbanism, which will look at ‘Cities on the Rise: Delivering positive city-region growth.

This will take place from the 27th to the 30th of June, and will look at the success of our cities in relation to the success of a nation and its culture and how cities form a base from which national prosperity can grow.

Cities are drivers of investment, tourism and should be an attractive base for the young, the educated and the creative, the Academy says, elements which in turns create the right ground for further investment.

Cities like Aarhus, Marseille and Rotterdam and presumably, Cork, are — wait for it, “mid level, non-capitals” but have a role in providing space for new ideas, enterprise, investment and even building types.

The question the conference will address will be how this growth and expansion can provide an economy and wellbeing, while also retaining a distinctive identity? Like.

This year’s choice of Cork as its venue prompts the Academy of Urbanism to describe it as “Ireland’s great maritime city on the Atlantic rim of Europe” which was “once the staging post for European emigration to the US, it now sees people and investment flow in the other direction.”

It also said this about us back in 2014: “Flooding is the main environmental challenge facing the low lying city centre, leading to recent restrictions on development areas and new building design. Non-car use is being encouraged through the City Centre Movement Strategy, through a planned cross town rapid bus route and enhancement of cycle and foot routes.

“Cork demonstrates that in a challenging climate of resource restriction, both vision and optimism can contribute to its continuing commitment to regeneration and the promotion of a vibrant sense of place.” Quite.

The speakers, programme and venues are on Academyofurbanism.org.uk

- Those who appreciate the theme behind the movie, Hot Fuzz, will appreciate the RIAI’s collaboration with the National Tidy Town Committees on issues around the built environment.

The Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland, will offer the opportunity to work with local committees on issues like derelict sites, signage, lighting, lack of quality public space, traffic or parking issue in an effort to develop solutions to built environment problems while creating new visions for derelict or otherwise neglected areas.

This new RIAI award will provide the winning Tidy Towns committee with the expertise of an architect for up to five days and the competition is open to small and large towns categories, with populations from 1,001 to 15,000.

“The quality of the urban environment is central to our lives. Quality of place contributes to the wellbeing of all who live, work and visit our villages and towns. Each town has its own unique characteristics, which should be valued and celebrated. Well planned and executed urban design, is a means to improve our environment for all to enjoy,” says the RIAI. Entries and applications should be made to tidytowns@drcd.gov.ie with “RIAI Town Challenge” in the sub-heading.

- And finally, the MIT Press, in collaboration with the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, (who’ve given a grant of $157,000 for the project) is set to digitise out-of-print books on architecture and urbanism, making them freely accessible online and on several platforms, including MIT Press’ own ebook service: http://mitpress.mit.edu/


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