‘If there is a canon in Irish architecture, it seems to be one of ambiguity, of refined cross-pollinations, of great thought in small things’, writes Andrew Clancy. He offers an Irishness in relation, between home and away, one that traverses and returns, to stand at the edge of Europe and before the open ocean. By sending this issue to press at the end of May, the idea was to have caught the islands just two months after the UK’s formal departure from the European Union, with whatever strained solution might have been wrought into the land around the border. We remain, however, afloat in the unknown; and as the interminable process grinds on – as Maria McLintock writes – our language around it remains insufficient, the messy and pulsating borderlands collapsed into ‘backstop’.
Ignoring the rigid, often arbitrary, frontiers dividing countries, choosing to encompass instead the entirety of ‘the islands of Ireland’ is itself a provocation. But in this issue, we ramble the land from end to end and over the sea to Inis Mór, the ambiguity of our appelation proving productive, to rove around rich seams and difficult terrain to cast an eye over a land in the middle of something.
In the keynote, Shane O’Toole traces the developments of a critical culture of architecture across Ireland, starting in November 1974 when the AR paid a visit to Dublin, and following on through to the threats posed to the culture today. ‘How long can architects survive on house extensions and other small private commissions before their potential atrophies?’, he asks. In reflection, Eleanor Beaumont considers the ambitious architecture packed into Dublin’s domestic projects, such as those by Clancy Moore, TAKA, Ryan W Kennihan Architects, and Arigho Larmour Wheeler Architects, and Noreile Breen features as this issue’s AREA profile. Going back to Group 91, and the introduction of Irish architecture to an international scene, we also feature a retrospective on Grafton Architects, and their offers of silence in the cacophony of the city.
We go to Galway, on the Republic’s western coast, to review the recently-completed Pálás cinema by dePaor, a small and fantastical gem fourteen years in the making. Further out in the remote western reaches of Rosmuc and the Aran isle of Inis Mór, we also feature two new school buildings by Paul Dillon, the simplicity and clarity of which does not undermine their value. Looking back to a school rooted in 1970s ideals, we revisit Birr Community School by Peter and Mary Doyle, a school found to be ‘no museum piece’, as John McLaughlin and Aiobheann Ní Mhearáin write: ‘the values it embodies are as pertinent today as they were when it was first built.’
In Belfast, Mark Hackett asserts that the roads that profess to connect the city can be as divisive as its walls, and Gary A Boyd reviews the transport hub designed by Hackett’s former partners, Hall McKnight, as part of a masterplan hoped to catalyse regeneration of the city’s dislocated fringe. In Outrage, Dawn Foster writes that inequalities in access to social housing continue to perpetuate the divide between Catholics and Protestants. In Cantrell Close in Belfast for example, the banners hung around the purportedly mixed community constitute a warning: symbols become violent, even lethal. As Darran Anderson writes, the land is one of iconographers – but also one of iconoclasts, the violence of the conflict mirrored by symbolic acts of destruction carried out on architecture as a receptacle of collective memory.
In this issue we also feature The raingod’s green, dark as passion, a lyrical story of Cork by Kevin Barry, while Reputations looks at the life of States-based architect, Pritzker laureate and County Cork native, Kevin Roche.