‘We shape our buildings’, said one-time Dublin resident Winston Churchill, ‘thereafter they shape us’. So what shape are we Dubliners in?

On the eve of Open House, the Irish Architecture Foundation’s phenomenally successful annual festival, Dublin.ie spoke to the IAF’s Laura Wolfe and Jennifer Halton.

Dublin.ie: Open House opens the doors of special buildings all over Dublin and beyond to the public. What’s that about, Laura?
Laura: It’s about giving Dublin people back ownership of their whole city. It’s saying to them ‘you know the city, you use the city, here’s the chance to rethink where you live’.

Open House speaks to a lot of people – and of course it appeals to the voyeur in us all

Dublin.ie: You got an amazing 33,000 visitors last year. They can’t all be nosy neighbours…
Laura: Obviously you get young home buyers, people who are looking to renovate their home or looking to buy a new home. Then you have the architects who are very interested in going to the trendy new-builds. There’s your history buffs who want to go to all the historical buildings. And then there’s the people with niche interests – we met a retired railway worker who loved visiting Inchicore railway works in last year. Open House speaks to a lot of people – and of course it appeals to the voyeur in us all!

Above: An Open House tour group.
Kearney House images used with this article courtesy of Ros Kavanagh.

Dublin.ie: What about the kids, Jennifer?
Jennifer: The IAF runs the National Architects in Schools Initiative. It’s bringing architectural education to second level students in Ireland… at the moment we’re in 32 secondary schools – it’s a fantastic programme and it’s going from strength to strength.

Dublin.ie: There’s no built-environment education on the curriculum at the moment. So how do you sneak it in?
Jennifer: Basically architectural professionals go into a school and hold workshops for transition year students. It works very well with construction studies, art and technical drawing. The idea is that the teacher and the students collaborate with the architect. They pick a project: some aspect of their school that they would like to improve – they might take the canteen of their school for example.

The IAF runs the National Architects in Schools Initiative…it’s a fantastic programme and it’s going from strength to strength

Dublin.ie: The canteen?
Jennifer: That’s right. In fact we had a school in Stoneybatter that got funding to put their ideas into practice. Their canteen was a bit like a prison cell before, apparently. Now it’s all colour and brightness and luminosity. The students are thrilled with it.

Dublin.ie: I suppose a skate park is out the question?
Jennifer: Recently the IAF curated a competition to design a new park in Ballyfermot. It’s going to have a state-of-the-art skate park, one of the best in Europe, with an adjoining play area as well.

The Provost’s House. Image courtesy of Trinity College.

Dublin.ie: So say I’ve checked out Open House, I’m impressed by the skate park plans and I’m interested in learning more about architecture. How can the IAF help?
Jennifer: Our director, Nathalie Weadick, and other colleagues curate a lot of lectures here in the IAF and in other venues. Then we have New Now Next which is a talks series which we hold annually and pecha kuchas too which are more light-hearted. Check out www.architecturefoundation.ie/activity

Dublin.ie: The theme of Open House this year is ‘The Presence of the Past’. How does that resonate with Dubliners’ actual interests and needs in the here and now?
Laura: People are definitely thinking about living in the city and how you work with what’s there already. There’s a lot of renovations and refurbishments this year. And then there’s something like the Kearney House in Rathmines – it’s a modern home but the site for it is absolutely tiny. People are getting cleverer about how they use spaces in the city and how they work with streets that have already been made. We’re working with Peter McVerry Trust this year too because Open House is a great opportunity to put the spotlight on the use of space in our city in the context of homelessness and housing supply.

People are getting cleverer about how they use spaces in the city and how they work with streets that have already been made

Dublin.ie: Favourite house in Open House this year?
Laura: McCullough Mulvin’s Hidden Garden in Ranelagh.
Jennifer: The Provost’s House in Trinity.

Dublin.ie: And if you had to name one bit of our city that we don’t appreciate
enough it would be…?
Jennifer: Docklands. Not the silicon ones. The real ones!

‘All professions’, said George Bernard Shaw, another one-time Dubliner, ‘are conspiracies against the laity’. Thanks to the efforts of the IAF, Dublin.ie reckons we can let architecture off that particular charge.

Open House Dublin takes place between 13th-15th October 2017. Please see openhousedublin.com for more.

Laurence is a writer, cyclist and gardener. He’s always finding new things to like about Dublin, the city where’s he’s spent most of his life.