Re: Re: Future for Irish Architects..

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I decided to divide my response into two parts for clarity sake.

Response, Part One

Just eight months earlier, Douglas Wallace was still in expansionist mode and talking about acquiring an architectural practice in Prague.

It is not so long ago since I was standing in wellington boots beside Seanie Fitzpatrick watching a building being construction in the docklands. A lot has indeed changed in such a short space of time. But heh, I am still optimistic. I think Ireland as a nation will do a lot better when it has less time to analyze and more time to focus itself on some important driving problem. The idea of studio space out in UCD, while a step in the right direction, is nowhere near grand enough in scale. We do need some problem that is large enough to encompass very many disciplines, and requires cooperation between them. At least, that is what I had in mind when I wrote the following:

I hope that the new North Wall Quay project in the future will build around some grand idea as I outlined in the blog. Rather than being so shrouded in secrecy and cloak n’ dagger stuff. (On both sides) The following is really a chronology of various contributions and discussions I have had Archiseek, since the mishap of ‘North Wall Quay’ and the subsequent disintegration of a certain Dublin based developer’s in-house design office. Maybe some people feel that a stake has been driven into the vampire? ? ? I don’t agree, and as a consequence I had to write something. Frank McDonald has mis-diagnosed the problem. He is being fed very misleading information by a couple of well meaning established architects, who really don’t know the full picture. Because they have never worked outside of architecture. Ali Grehan I do give credit to, as she has spent a lot of her career in the public service. She has brought some kind of ‘new dimension’ into the debate.

Frank McDonald and Grafton Architects have been getting air time to express their views on the architect’s situation within Ireland since the 1980s. And quite frankly, they don’t speak for me. I respect the views of all of them, I always listen. It is all worthwhile stuff. Frank’s books are wonderful and so is Grafton’s architecture. But in these times we need to find some new voices, especially when neither of them have worked in the development field. Another qualification I need to make is as follows. Far be it from me to instruct the likes of James Pike or Sean O’ Laoire about recessions. There is nothing those guys don’t already know. They could write the book about the ups and downs in the architectural trade. They are battle hardened veterans of the campaign to make private architectural consultancy viable in Ireland for the past half a century.

Last October we were discussing the Open House debate, Has Dublin Changed for the Better? A debate organised at Liberty Hall theatre by the Architectural Foundation of Ireland. It was a very well run affair and quite entertaining and informative, to be honest. Thumbs up.

At the debate that night, I listened to James Pike expressing his dismay at the current situation. It occured to me that Mr. Pike’s is still trying to wrestle with the issue (even in his mature years) of why this keeps happening to me? I build up the consultancy practice, it is all going well and then wallop. Mr. Pike mentioned something about the fluctuations of the value of land being particularly problematic in Ireland. The urban land economist and architect, who works at Feasta described Ireland as ‘the home of the free hold’. I encourage anyone at Archiseek who seriously wants to understand the Irish situation and do something about it, to pay attention to what is going on at Feasta and read their documents on land value taxation. One of the best basic tutorials I know on the subject of land taxation, is to be found here: Beating the Bust: Land Value Taxation by Dave Wetzel, 10th April 2008

I met Dave after that lecture and we have become good correspondence friends since. Exchanging our views on a lot of different matters to do with design and planning. Dave told me he started his life as a bus conductor. I told him I flunked out of Bolton Street Architecture, and we seemed to hit it off. It is nice to bounce ideas off people from other places than our little island. Even if it is only through the limited medium of electronic mail. If you are the book-ish type, then investigate Balchin, Bull and Kieve’s classic, Urban Land Economics and Public Policy. There is a particularly good chapter in that, which discusses the Labour party’s attempts to introduce land value taxation in post WWII Britain. Readers of Kenneth Galbraith’s book, the History of Economics will know that John Maynes Keynes was at the height of his popularity post WWII. The second world war still has a lot of influence I think on the context we live in today, regarding the architectural profession. I spoke about that much earlier in this thread.

I believe that professions such as engineering and cost control professionals received an artificial boost to their status as the result of the war. And that architects, in consequence lost a lot of theirs. I liked working for Liam Carroll because it afforded me a great opportunity to have a ‘go back’ at engineers and cost control personnel, in an equal terms setting. Because we all worked for the one company, all we could do was bawl at one another, and then get on with the job at hand. Another interesting development from WWII was project management, which I am most interested in myself. It really was the American ability to organise production efficiently under the influence of theories of John Maynard Keynes that helped to swing the war in the allies favour. An excellent document which I like myself, and it does give some insight into the ‘roots’ of the project management tradition can be found at Carnegie Mellon University website here:

I wish Grafton Architects would look at documents like this more often and discuss them in an open forum, as I did while working for Irish developers. Notice those lovely illustrations of shovels and pile drivers and drag lines etc. It feels like being back in the sand pit as a kid again, only this time you get to play around with higher maths equations. You get a sense of how this rigourous efficiency was held in high esteem later during the construction of Ballymun. You could even stretch the point and argue that Fianna Fail politics in Ireland is very much about the project management and construction ethos. Yvonne Farrel’s comments in the Irish Times article would seem to back that up.

I tried to refine my own statements about Ireland the construction industry last December:

I quoted Ali Grehan from her speech about Ballymun regeneration. A speech which owes a lot as I understand to an interpretation of Ballymun today, from a certain Boston based property developer, who circulated his opinions via correspondance to the authorities in charge. It was unfortunate that Ali gave her speech that night at Ballymun, without giving some note of credit to the said Boston based developer.

Bearing in mind what I have said about land value taxation, I spoke a little about the Urban Forum last February, and I complemented Frank McDonald on his excellent books. You can read it here:

The Urban Forum is a combined attempt by the Institute of Architects, Landscape Architects, Engineers, Chartered Surveyors and Planners to look at the national spatial strategy. There was a very good joint architecture and planning conference back in 1998 around the time of the Bacon Reports, on the issue of densification of development here in Ireland. A copy of the publication arising out of that conference is now available at the RIAI headquarters. I think in many ways, the 1998 conference was a test run for what the Urban Forum is attempting to do today. The Urban Forum is a clever invention. It allows the Department of the Environment to minimize on the amount of ‘communication overhead’ needed to enable bi-directional communication between itself and all of the ‘land professions’. I like to use the expression ‘land professions’ because it sets it in context of James Pike’s comments about fluctuations of land values in Ireland being central to our problem. Indeed, when I worked for Liam Carroll, I believed that having access to a large amount of land would guarantee me good employment. So did a lot of consultant architects.

Brian O’ Hanlon

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