The Open Debate kicked off Open House weekend this evening under the baton of John Bowman again, but in the new surroundings of floor four in the Aviva Stadium. The problems with reduced capacity didnâ€™t materialize in the end. No it turns out that thereâ€™s actually only a certain number of people whoâ€™ll go to something like this, and it doesnâ€™t really matter what the title is either, as the debate always comes around to the same conversation about Dublin sooner or later.
Sooner, as it happens, this time with Frank McDonald first out of the traps with his thoroughly familiar and thoroughly justified rant about the urban sprawl of Dublin into Leinster and â€˜even parts of Ulsterâ€™. Frank may have written three books and a thousand newspaper articles on the dysfunctional planning of Dublin, but he can still portray convincing bewilderment that â€˜bits of Dublin are showing up in Gorey and Carrickmacrossâ€™. This would have gone on for some time, but Bowman, sensing that everyone in the room could already recite whole passages from the Book of Frank, interrupted proceedings and passed the mike on to Alan Mee.
Alan Mee is a top floor planning consultant and guys like this read the brief, so we got a couple of minutes on-topic â€˜size does matterâ€™ before a particular Mee hobby horse made itâ€™s appearance [that architects need to be re-trained to deal with the vastly different challenges associated with designing a chair and designing a town]. Good common sense stuff, until he appeared to exhort young architects to get aligned with a political party, join up and get work. Jaws dropped, Frankâ€™s face went a funny colour and there was an audible gasp around the room, but the moment passed and composure was regained.
Sean Love [real name unknown] of a creative writing agency called Fighting Words was next up and he was less certain if size mattered, but knew instinctively that creativity mattered and discussion ensued around this subject and on the general theme that quality was a more valuable yardstick than quantity.
Shih-Fu Peng, in the absence this year of Shelley McNamara, was the panelâ€™s star architect and the serial competition winner brought the discussion back to topic of size, as you would do if youâ€™d just designed a Grand Egyptian Museum that is so vast the engineers had to take the earthâ€™s curvature into account in setting out the foundations. By way of contrast and in a nice gesture to a fellow sage, or as a veiled criticism of the current Venice Biennial Ireland pavilion - you take your pick, Peng expressed his admiration for Tomâ€™s [ - de Paor, late of this parish - ] 2m.sq. peat briquette pavilion in Venice from a few years back. In general Peng wore his star architect status lightly with little more than a slow delivery and extended pauses to give any hint that one member of the debating panel was a global player in the contemporary architectural scene.
Even if Peng had worn his citations on his jacket, I donâ€™t think it would have phased the final member of the panel, one Pauline Byrne, Strategic Planning Manager of Treasury Holdings, Beijing division. This lady plans small cities for a living, she doesnâ€™t just believe in â€˜planningâ€™, she believes in â€˜master-planningâ€™ and it helps that â€˜in China there isnâ€™t a democracy to deal withâ€™.
I mean Byrne might look like an air hostess on the outside, but on the inside weâ€™re talking Albert Speer, and this isnâ€™t the first time Iâ€™ve detected totalitarian tendencies in Treasury Holdings. There was that time I tried to get a few shots of the back of the former Dutch Billys in the Treasury complex on Stephenâ€™s Green only to approached by several menacing heavies in stain resistant suits all talking into their shoulders, but thatâ€™s a digression.
There were several contributions from the floor including a question from a software engineer [with a designer girlfriend] on the possibility of introducing visual awareness and design matters into the mainstream education system. This brought Mee back with the opportunity to pose the question â€˜didnâ€™t deValera once remove art, physical education and possibly civics from the school curriculum?â€™ It sounded plausible, but compared with mooted government cut-backs today nobody was getting too excited about it.
Ali [the City Architect] popped up in the audience to pronounce out of the blue that â€˜architects are heroesâ€™ and, in a pointed rebuke to Byrne, she continued that â€˜the architect has to have a conscience . . . we are a democracyâ€™. There was more too, stream of consciousness stuff, about â€˜joy in buildingsâ€™ about architects starting off wanting to be artists and then getting ground down by the compromises inherent in delivering buildings, about how it is that â€˜extension architectsâ€™ often shine because necessarily they engage one-to-one with their clients across the kitchen table and one-to-one featured again as the scale at which you experience cities, even vast cities like New York. There was good news too for anyone who thought that the Dominick Street new-urban-prototype-on-a-Georgian-plot competition had died and been forgotten, thereâ€™ll be something happening on that next month, according to Ali [the city architect]
Pikey chipped in with a few recollections about how long the process of carrying out urban development can be, but that the right guidance, if stuck with, may bear fruit even thirty years later, so now all we have to do is plan something properly and then try and live long enough to see if it worked.
The American-born urban market gardener from last year reminded us from the audience of the value of metropolitan green space, and it was no surprise to learn from Peng that Cairo has less square footage of green space per inhabitant that any other city on earth. I didn't think they had any.
After that Frank fielded an unintended put-down from Love and the evening finished with a vignette from Conor Skehan along the usual lines.
Reasonably stimulating stuff, free Dart ticket, and a good start to Open House weekend