Nice website, featuring all the award winning projects from the various years. What the pictures don't show anyone though, is the deep flaws in some of the projects. Not nearly enough effort goes into post occupancy evalulation of projects in this country. There are many projects there, which are fine projects no doubt, but hardly good examples for what any architect should follow.
The technical expertise required to pull off some of those projects, was away beyond what small boutique architectural pratices in Ireland can manage. The fact that many of the projects got done at all, was down to the resourceful-ness of our Irish contractors, and sometimes the over-bloated budgets lavished on projects. But there are sometimes awful crimes committed in how building technology was employed to make some of those projects achieveable at all. Architects need to realise this, in a recession time much more than any other time.
We need a real discussion about getting the best value for money in this country from construction. The best way in which to do that, is to train architects to a much higher level of technical competence. This would require more post graduate study in materials and building technology. The energy centre at UCD being a good example of that.
From the 2006 best public building awards:
When Kildare County Council, in partnership with Naas Town Council, decided to relocate to new Civic Offices and Town Park, they determined that the importance of the Project warranted International Architect Competition. They believed that the building carried a significant level of symbolism for the Local Authority, as seat of local democracy and as statement for how the town and county sees itself and is seen.
I am sure a statement for the town is important. But how did a place like Kildare ever get the kind of money required to build a project like its Civic Offices? A small island nation, what are we thinking? To be honest with you, I would have preferred if architects in 2006, had spent a lot more time/effort in learning how to build good buildings more cheaply. If that was the case, then the profession of architecture would not be facing the level of unemployment it now faces in this country. I think that Eddie Lee's documentary on RTE television explained what was really happening during the Celtic Tiger. Everyone was being paid to keep their mouths shut. Architects and local authorities into the bargain. http://www.rte.ie/news/2009/0322/howweblewtheboom.html
I received the following comment from an observer working in the US recently. Under the current compensation system, design fees are calculated as a percentage of cost, difficulty, and/or complexity of the design. So there is no (economic) incentive for A/E's to work harder to design high performance buildings or sub-systems that are simpler and/or less expensive. Under the current system, to do so would not only cost them more but earn them less: Lose-lose.
So proponents of integrated whole system building design (e.g. Lovins & Hawken, EDR, et al) are working on ways to restructure compensation based on real-world performance.
The reason some of the projects featured in the RIAI awards appear so wonderful - even though they are nice projects - is because none of us here, have developed a skill to assess what sums of money went into the building works. Architects are more or less blind as far as technical complexity of building works goes. There is no incentive for the main contractor to educate them either. The larger the sum goes, to the better the main contractor will do in the end. Remember, that design itself on paper doesn't cost anything. It is nice to get your design on paper translated into reality. But most of us working in the field of architecture don't know much more about costs, that how to balance our weekly groccery bills.
Viewers of these awards galleries are not unable to look at the pictures and assess where unnecessary costs were accrued owing to poor technical knowledge and detailing. The architectural technologist is unlikely to blow the whistle either, as he/she is not compensated in any way, for finding a simpler or better construction detail. They are simply working by the hour. Anything more than a rushed together detail, printed on paper and posted out to the builder is wasting the architect employer money. Money that he may not recover from the job. So the incentive not to develop technical competence is embedded deep within the system. The results of which I could clearly see when visiting many award winning projects.
Brian O' Hanlon