Re: Re: Architecture in the West

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@Thomond Park wrote:

A load of cobblers if you ask me](I have no problem with genuine locals building in their own rural area once they receive proper design advice and once the site has the capacity to absorb the quantum of development sought and once it is solely occupied by those with specific local need)[/B]

The average tower house took up a huge surface area – you are forgetting the large curtain walled areas and outlying turrets that often constituted the full scope of the structure – many of these curtain walls are of course now lost.

I have heard no arguments against building new structures to the same height as a tower house in naturally sensitive environments. You will notice that I mentioned stone clad structures above. Of course, any building built with garish building materials is unwelcome, no matter how small it is. However, I would bet my last dollar that if I wanted to build a nicely designed (stone and wooden materials etc) 5 storey structure somewhere near the Burren, for example, I would not be allowed. Why not? If it respected the vernacular tradition of tower house building in Ireland, why shouldn’t I be allowed to do so. I bet you I would find it easier to get planning permission for a nice little two room thatched cottage. In short, why does one form of ‘vernacular’ architecture have supremacy over others? To say that such one off high rise developments in naturally sensitive areas should be unacceptable is to negate one of the very few examples of indigenuous architecture which Ireland has in its cultuaral history.

It is part of a general mentality in this country that certain forms of historical architecture are to be seen as the only decent forms of architecture and all else should be either modelled on them or pay homage to them – in the countryside it is the traditional cottage, in the city, it is the typcial Georgian house. These are the benchmarks – anything that veers away from them in terms of height or design is seen as disrespectful to our cultural history or our natural or built environment. It seems to me, the picture of Ireland implicit in the ‘conservationist’ mentality is a countryside dotted with Peig type cottages and little farmsteads and a city (Dublin) with a largely Georgian facade. Certain exceptions are allowed – namely buildings designed with natural materials that would look good on the cover of a trade magazine for architects.

For many average bungalow dwellers, architect-designed houses that fit sensitively into the local environment are simply unaffordable luxuries. Bungalows are, for the most part, the working buildings of the rural community – they are homes, offices, stores etc all in one for many members of the farming community in exactly the same way that the ringfort, crannog and cottage were in their historical contexts. I don’t think any iron age farmer in Galway would have thought that a mud and wattle hut in the middle of a ringfort was a thing of architectural splendour – it wasn’t – it was never meant to have been. Ironically, however, such structures are now mostly protected monuments. I would wager that in years to come the average appalling bungalow with its PVC windows and Woodies fittings will form the centre piece of a folk-musuem on the west coast of Cork.

Before condeming these structures, should we not stand back and look at them for what they are – an embodiment of rural life in contemporary Ireland (as was the cottage before them). It is so easy to be critical of the present and celebratory of the nostalgic past.

Bungalows – personally, I hate them, but I accept them as part of the continually unfolding palimpest of Irish social archaeology. If people want it differently, they should give grants to the average farmer to design nice sensitive natural material structures. In the meantime, allow the people of Ireland to live on the land that is Ireland in a manner suited to the particular socio-economic circumstances of the present time. It would be interesting to travel back 150 years and count the number of festering ugly little cottages that lined the scenic and naturally sensitive coastlines of Galway, Clare and Cork. Quite a few I would imagine!

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