Seeking the vision to match progress by design
How do you assess the relative potential of architecture in a country like Ireland which is in free-fall change and, if holding on to anything, is passionately in love with the sung, spoken and written word?
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It is indeed a pity that now, as there was in the early days of this state, that there exists little or no official interest in architecture from the government. In the 1930s, Government Ministers regularly attended AAI lectures, and architecture was used to put forward an image of the state. Look at the contrasting buildings of the Department of Commerce, Kildare St and Stormount Castle in Belfast to see how two governments of states of similar age but with different attitudes and aims portrayed their ambitions through architecture. Stormount is a massive and heavy example of an old architecture while Kildare Street although still rooted in the past has a more streamlined and modernistic feel.
But now, there is no such representation of the state through its architecture, or a realisation in the government ranks that Ireland can be presented as well through good modern architecture as any amount of Riverdance / Bord Failte / Celtic Tiger self-promotion.
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For me, the reason is simple: 100 years ago almost all Irish Catholics were peasants, or were at most one or two generations removed from being peasants. These were the people who drove out the people with power, money and "cultural memory" (1916, etc,.)and took over the running of this country from them. Nothing has filled this vacuum since.
It is on this point that McCullough's paralleling of Irish historico-cultural experience with that of the Czech Republic or Finland breaks down. In these countries, the ruling class, with an urban culture, was never ejected within the space of 10 years.
Our almost non-existing planning laws, apparent urban environmental awareness, etc., etc. are all caused by our roots as the peasant class on this island 100 short years ago.
A peasant mentality is not interested in the built environment. Its true spiritual home is the fields and the misty mornings of an Irish autumn morning and the open fire. This is what we are. It will take some time before we become a truly urban people, if indeed we ever do.
- a cold eye, etc.