I was awarded the Artist in the Community Scheme Bursary Award 2015: Collaborative Arts and Architecture to explore questions around the practice of architecture. My proposal stated that If architecture is to retain social relevance it is urgent to rethink the way that we practice.
My specific motivation was to engage with this question of the way that we practice in the context of an engaged and collaborative reading of architecture. My research reflected on the possibilities that architecture practice can have with a shortened distance from the overlapping practices and fields of collaborative arts and community development. Architecture is communication. It is a contingent practice, and one continually shaped by circumstance. Therefore taking a position on the way that you practice fundamentally shapes the projects that you make, the community, construction and client collaborations that come about, and an understanding of architecture that values operational logic over compositional logic, that is less about what you make but how you go about it and what it does. Trying to separate ‘architecture’ from the processes of collaboration and social engagement that surround it, as a traditional definition of architecture might do, is to severely limit architecture’s potential. This applies to what we do, how and where we do it, how the relationships surrounding this are accommodated and how wider structures of support enable this. I am interested in design as constant collaboration, and in how architecture can encourage new ways of probing existing situations.
As well as a period of reflection, the bursary supported my work on a new event with the Irish Architecture Foundation, ‘Beyond Participation’, which brought together international innovators, provocateurs and activists in a vital discussion about architecture and community, democracy, consequence, responsibility and the meaning of the things we design.
The bursary period was primarily introspective and involved some focused reflection on my past practice as well as a key research trip. The dissemination of ideas through a seminar and ancillary events later emerged as a significant outcome stemming from collaborative conversations.
The research period included reflecting on, researching and demonstrating ways of working that address barriers and limitations to collaborative approaches to architecture within communities and within the profession. Barriers and limitations within the profession include regulatory issues such as professional registration and insurance; an underdeveloped culture of self-initiated work practices among architects; and an ingrained culture which celebrates individual (typically male) genius over collective empowerment. Limitations within communities include a disconnect, perceived and actual, between people and the processes of making and managing their built environment.
My reflective time included drawing, reading, evaluation and a focus on expanding the possibilities for engaged and collaborative practice. The bursary also supported a key research trip to the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale ‘Reporting From The Front’. This Biennale sought to present an activist and engaged approach to architecture. On his appointment as curator, Alajendro Aravena stated that “The 15th International Architecture Exhibition will be about focusing and learning from architectures that through intelligence, intuition or both of them at the same time, are able to escape the status quo. We would like to present cases that, despite the difficulties, instead of resignation or bitterness, propose and do something. We would like to show that in the permanent debate about the quality of the built environment, there is not only need but also room for action”. This was an informative and inspiring trip, and also proved directly influential on future practice as I was subsequently part of the team chosen to represent Ireland at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale with the collaborative project ‘Free Market’.
In terms of personal artistic outputs, the bursary period supported practice development which has directly influenced my future projects including ‘Free Market’ and other ongoing work. It supported defining my long term practice aims around designing and producing really high quality architecture with an engaged approach – where this process includes being involved in the process from start to finish and where the outcome is sometimes but not always a building.
The bursary proposal also sparked a collaborative conversation between myself and Nathalie Weadick and Rebecca Blake of the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF) around the way that architects practice, and this developed as a series of events in 2016 (directly supported by the bursary) and in 2018 (supported by an Arts Council Engaging with Architecture Award) titled ‘Beyond Participation’. This fulfilled the ambition of the bursary proposal to share experience and reflection with the wider community through publication / seminar / public event. ‘Beyond Participation’ speakers in 2016 included Relational Urbanism (London/ Spain/ Harvard); Irena Bauman (Sheffield/ Leeds); Grainne Hassett (Ireland); Adam Saltzman (Liberia/ Boston); Claire McManus & Dominic Stevens (Ireland); Alastair Parvin (London) with reflection by Diarmaid Lawlor (Scotland/ Ireland) and myself. Ancillary public events included discussions on ‘How to Practice?’, ‘How to build?’ and ‘How to fund?’ as well as a series of film screenings at the IAF. In 2018 international conference speakers included Hana Loftus; Lilet Breddels; Stefan Laxness / Forensic Architecture; Killian Doherty; Ana Jara and Lucinda Correia and Alex de Rijke. Participatory workshops were run by The Glasshouse and by Heather Morison / Create, expanding a conversation started through the initial bursary support into a collaborative partnership between Create and the IAF.
At the end of 2018 I undertook an evaluation of Beyond Participation #1 and #2, evaluating both events as a means to understand possible futures for ‘Beyond Participation’, and an ongoing collaborative conversation between the IAF and myself, Create, and others, around practice. The conclusion of this reflection document was that ‘Beyond Participation’ was working towards a framework for practice change. I wrote about the structural tension at the heart of architectural practice, and this seemed to really resonate with what the potential role of this work could be. These are ongoing questions at the heart of my practice.