From now until September 27, the National Craft Gallery in Kilkenny hosts an exhibition of work from nine emerging architectural practices.
Called Nine Lives — with the sub-heading of ‘everyday stories of architectural design and enthusiastic use’, it’s self-explanatory in that it focuses on eight houses and one outdoor classroom designed and built on the island of Ireland since 2009.
Unlike other architecture exhibitions which focus on design and build, curator Emmett Scanlon took a different approach, the result of which is an exhibition showing that rooms have stories to tell and that people’s lives become bound up in the making and using of rooms and buildings.
“Nine Lives is a show about people,” he says. “Architecture is really exciting and only relevant to society when it is made by, for, and with people.”
The original concept was developed earlier this year when the London Festival of Architecture took place in June and the Irish presence was an exhibition entitled: New Horizon — architecture from Ireland, one of a programme of international events for Irish Design 2015 which will also show in Chicago and Hong Kong/Shenzhen later this year.
As part of it, Emmett had been invited to make an installation at the London Design Museum which was how Nine Lives came into being.
“The project manifested in Tank, which was a glass structure like a telephone box,” he says. “People could walk around it and look in and see what’s going on in Irish architecture.”
Drawing on the work of architectural practices AP+E, A2, Clancy Moore, GKMP, Hall McKnight, Ryan Kennihan, Steve Larkin, TAKA, and Urban Agency, the concept has now been taken a step further and adapted for the exhibition in Kilkenny — with the owner of each completed project initially approached by their architect about having their home included.
“All were interested and enthusiastic,” says Emmett, who subsequently visited to get testimonies from the occupants and to make a photographic record of the spaces in use. But he stresses this was not a survey on whether the space had succeeded or failed as an architectural work.
“Houses take on their own personalities,” he explains.
“I wanted to see the value of the space and how they occupied it.”
For Emmett, who is also a practising architect, the subject of how domestic space is used and how architecture impacts on people’s lives, is one he takes a special interest in beyond this particular curatorial job as it also forms part of his PhD studies at the School of Architecture in Sheffield.
The interest reflects strongly in the exhibition with a sense there has been real effort at engagement with the viewer, resulting in a show that is accessible but in-depth and plays to our natural compulsion to look into the homes of others— voyeurism, of sorts, but in the best possible way that maintains the anonymity of the home owners and occupiers.
It’s further helped by how the content is presented, thanks to a design collaboration between Emmett and architect Matthew Mullin, with construction by craft makers, Alan Meredith Studio which shows the projects in the best possible way, while maintaining the anonymity of the home owners and occupiers.
For a visitor to the National Craft Gallery, the viewing experience comprises shutter boxes built into the gallery’s windows showing photography of the houses being lived in; how the Irish use domestic space and how architecture has impacted on their lives. In all, it aims to show architecture’s social value.
Emmett has also made what he describes as a “kind of open library” which involved gathering together models and pages from architectural storybooks for all nine projects to show how the buildings came to be designed, built, lived in, visited, observed and shared.
To understand architecture, he maintains, we must read our lives as told through our buildings.
He has also included an education space with tables and chairs to encourage visitors to sit and read materials related specifically to the exhibition and to the theme in general.
It’s a place to reflect and respond to what the viewer sees, and even has drawing materials for that purpose if anyone is so inclined.
Certainly, it comes across clearly in Nine Lives that architecture can provide a way for people to connect meaningfully with themselves, their families and their designed and built environments, something not necessarily evident in exhibitions relating to architecture generally and which feature pictures of buildings taken prior to occupancy,
Emmett explains the exhibitions in this way: “Here it’s real with real people living in [buildings] and not like in a magazine — and it shows a side of architecture that people are responding to.”
* Next week: the Irish presence at the London Design Festival.
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