G aug in gt he mar­kets

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - PATRICK FREYNE -

Ire­land gets cre­ative at the Venice Bi­en­nale

A team of Ir­ish ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers is rep­re­sent­ing Ire­land at this year’s Venice Bi­en­nale with a rather un­usual project – the mar­ket squares of Ir­ish coun­try towns

Drive through al­most any Ir­ish coun­try town and you will see aban­doned shops, empty houses and dis­cover a gen­eral air of slow de­cline. You will also find plenty of places to park. “There is a car park­ing space for ev­ery sin­gle adult in Ballinrobe,” says Miriam De­laney, with an air of be­mused won­der. De­laney is part of the team of ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers, six in all, rep­re­sent­ing Ire­land at this year’s Venice Bi­en­nale, which has just opened to the pub­lic.

Al­ter­nat­ing with the Venice Art Bi­en­nale, the event is both an in­trigu­ing spec­ta­cle as ar­chi­tects from around the world imag­ine pos­si­ble, and of­ten im­pos­si­ble, built fu­tures; and an in­tense thought-ex­per­i­ment into how build­ing and, more im­por­tantly, plan­ning, might solve some of the world’s more press­ing prob­lems.

It’s a sig­nif­i­cant year for the Ir­ish, as Shel­ley McNa­mara and Yvonne Far­rell, of multi-award win­ning Grafton Ar­chi­tects, have been cho­sen to cu­rate the sprawl­ing in­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tion and lend a theme for the over­all event (see panel); while 63 coun­tries join the con­ver­sa­tion via ex­hi­bi­tions in in­di­vid­ual na­tional pavil­ions.

Venice is a fas­ci­nat­ing city in which to ex­plore ar­chi­tec­ture. Fa­mously “float­ing” on the La­goon, it is a city that ap­pears al­most im­pos­si­ble it­self, built on mil­lions of wooden pil­ings, with wa­ter taxis ply­ing canals in­stead of cars on roads, and de­liv­er­ies made by barge and hand­cart. Frag­ile, fre­quently re­ported to be in peril from ris­ing tides, and ris­ing tourist num­bers, Venice it is a tes­ta­ment to what hu­mans can build, and also what hu­man­ity and na­ture can de­stroy.

At the east­ern edge of the city, gar­dens made by Napoleon at the end of the 19th cen­tury, house 29 na­tional pavil­ions - each de­signed in a style that be­trays the am­bi­tions of its host coun­try at a cer­tain point in time. There’s neo-clas­si­cal France, crisp mod­ernist Fin­land, and the neo-colo­nial USA for ex­am­ple.

Be­hind the Giar­dini is the Arse­nale, the huge former de­pot that built Venice’s war­ships, back when the city was a na­tion state and a world power. The Giar­dini and the Arse­nale are the main Bi­en­nale sites, and while Ire­land doesn’t have a per­ma­nent pavil­ion within the Giar­dini, our na­tional ex­hi­bi­tion is housed within the Arse­nale.

Tak­ing the theme Free Mar­ket, the project fo­cuses on that quin­tes­sen­tial fea­ture of Ir­ish coun­try towns: the mar­ket square; and looks at how its de­cline might be halted. It ex­plores the pos­si­bil­i­ties that these spa­ces, which were once hubs not only of com­merce, but so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, con­tain.

One of the prob­lems fac­ing any ex­hibitor at Venice is vis­i­tor fa­tigue. Ar­chi­tec­ture is best ex­pe­ri­enced as we live it – through build­ings and cre­ated space, and yet in Venice, in the sum­mer, the thou­sands of peo­ple who come to the ex­hi­bi­tions pass through pre­sen­ta­tion af­ter pre­sen­ta­tion con­tain­ing a kalei­do­scope of ideas, too many to take in at once; and too fre­quently, ex­hi­bi­tions that might have been bet­ter off as a book.

“We were con­scious of the dif­fer­ent vis­i­tors,” says De­laney, when I meet her with Tara Kennedy just be­fore they set off for Venice. The rest of the team are al­ready there, in­stalling the ex­hi­bi­tion, and we are also joined by the lat­est mem­ber of the Kennedy clan, baby Gwen, just a

We have a his­tory of out­door marts, of out­door trade, and with­out those the town won’t func­tion as a purely so­cial gath­er­ing space, but it has to be in­te­grated

cou­ple of months old. “There is quite a lot of deep con­tent, but we have em­bed­ded it in a news­pa­per. We thought that could do some of the heavy lift­ing.”

Free Mar­ket News con­tains es­says, re­ports, case stud­ies, photo-es­says and po­etry, and its pages paint a pic­ture of sad de­cline, cou­pled with some op­ti­mistic ini­tia­tives, such as the [email protected] com­mu­nity book­shop, pi­loted in Louis­burgh, Co Mayo; Long­ford Nua, a story shar­ing project; and the Work­house Union of arts, ar­chi­tec­ture and com­mu­nity events in Cal­lan, Co Kilkenny. “That’s one el­e­ment,” con­tin­ues Kennedy. “Then there’s the spa­tial ex­pe­ri­ence, trans­lat­ing or evok­ing the mar­ket place in an Ir­ish town.” Asortofret­ro-fash­ion

With this in mind, the team has built pan­els rem­i­nis­cent of those mo­saicked Ir­ish shop fronts of the 1930s that fell out of favour and are now com­ing back in to a sort of retro-fash­ion. These shape the space, cre­at­ing seat­ing spots and places to ex­hibit images and in­for­ma­tion. Au­dio tracks will broad­cast thoughts, po­etry and other texts. “It’s quite play­ful,” says De­laney. “We had al­ways said it had to be a sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence as well as vis­ual – much more than a book.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tle, Free Mar­ket, draws on Far­rell and McNa­mara’s over­ar­ch­ing theme for the Bi­en­nale – Freespace. How­ever, the use of the word “mar­ket” in­evitably begs the ques­tion: are there ideas be­yond com­merce that might an­i­mate our towns, or is it, at the end of the day, all about con­sumerism?

De­laney draws my at­ten­tion to Pa­trick Shaf­frey’s pre­scient pub­li­ca­tion from 1975, The

Ir­ish Town: An Ap­proach to Sur­vival, “we in­ter­viewed him for the project. He made the point that peo­ple should live in towns.”

I re­mem­ber Dublin in the 1970s and 1980s, when the pol­icy was to move peo­ple out of the city cen­tre, and how the heart of Dublin died as a re­sult. “A small shop isn’t just about re­tail,” says Kennedy. “It keeps track of peo­ple’s so­cial cir­cum­stances.”

Per­haps it’s eas­ier in other cli­mates. I’m think­ing of the typ­i­cal French small-town squares, where trees shade groups play­ing boules, or chat­ting on benches. Per­haps the Ir­ish re­quire­ment to pro­vide shel­ter from the rain ne­ces­si­tates that a shop or café takes the fi­nan­cial, and se­cu­rity re­spon­si­bil­ity? Af­ter all, we frown on peo­ple drink­ing in door­ways, but not at ta­bles out­side bars.

De­laney dis­agrees. “We have a his­tory of out­door marts, of out­door trade, and with­out those the town won’t func­tion as a purely so­cial gath­er­ing space, but it has to be in­te­grated. While they need play­ing pitches, schools and col­leges should be within towns, not moved out to the edges.”

There’s a vi­cious cir­cle at play here, how­ever: as land gets valu­able, city cen­tre schools and col­leges are en­cour­aged to con­sider sell­ing up and mov­ing out, get­ting more space, and vi­tal funds. Their ab­sence then im­pov­er­ishes the ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties they have left.

Kennedy picks up on the theme of in­te­gra­tion, as their re­search project looked at towns across Ire­land. “In Mac­room and Bantry they do events, they tie in the mar­ket with other things, danc­ing, bands play­ing. The mar­ket al­lows these things to hap­pen.” An ar­ti­cle in Free

Mar­ket by Cork County Ar­chi­tect Gi­u­lia Val­lone, draws at­ten­tion to seat­ing spots, a re­designed square and a new pocket park that have been cre­ated in Clon­akilty. “We’re try­ing not to be nos­tal­gic,” says Kennedy. “We want to notice the pos­i­tives of what ex­ists. And it doesn’t have to be huge. A lot of the work in Clon­akilty has been small-scale.”

Some of these ideas will also be picked up sep­a­rately in June, when the an­nual congress of the In­ter­na­tional Academy of Ur­ban­ism comes to Cork. A key­note speaker will be Richard Florida, who has been con­tro­ver­sially dubbed “the god­fa­ther of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion”.

Warm­ing to the theme of mak­ing small towns great again, De­laney de­scribes the pro­pos­als as “mod­est”. These in­clude mov­ing car park­ing out of the town squares, re­an­i­mat­ing the old mar­ket houses (“there’s fa­mously one that’s now a petrol sta­tion in Por­tar­ling­ton,” she says), en­cour­ag­ing the ren­o­va­tion of some of the fab­u­lous, but de­clin­ing Ge­or­gian and Vic­to­rian hous­ing stock, and link­ing civic space within towns. She shows me a pho­to­graph of the town square in Tip­per­ary’s Tem­ple­more. “It’s this phe­nom­e­nal Ge­or­gian planned square that is 400m long. In terms of grandeur it com­petes with Venice and Rome, and at the mo­ment it’s all car park­ing.”

“We’re not anti-car,” adds Kennedy. “Cars are nec­es­sary and fine. When you go in and talk about town squares, peo­ple get ner­vous that they’re go­ing to take away all the car park­ing,” says De­laney. “In­stead we might have to take away the idea that you can park right out­side the shop door. There are back­land spa­ces that could be used in­stead.”

En­gag­ing and pas­sion­ate, Kennedy and De­laney are ex­cited about the up­com­ing Venice open­ing, but they see the real op­por­tu­nity aris­ing when the ex­hi­bi­tion comes home. “The big­gest is­sue is pol­icy, and that’s what we want to hap­pen when we re­turn to Ire­land in 2019,” says De­laney. The ex­hi­bi­tion will tour to Ir­ish ru­ral towns, tak­ing place in mar­ket houses and town squares. “This should be a cat­a­lyst. And that’s a big ask, but the prob­lems have been shaped through poor plan­ning, bad choices on the ground, and yearly pol­icy cy­cles that are detri­men­tal to long term think­ing. But the in­fra­struc­ture is there, so it’s a ques­tion of how can they be reimag­ined. We want peo­ple to come away aware of these spa­ces and how this can be re used.”

“We’re ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers, but we’re cit­i­zens and neigh­bours first,” reads one of the post­cards that will be avail­able at the Ir­ish pavil­ion. So next time you’re driv­ing through one of our ru­ral towns, stop and take a longer look at these beautiful mar­ket squares, and won­der where else you might be pre­pared to leave your car, so that they can be­come ac­tive, civic spa­ces, places to be proud of once more.

The cu­ra­tors of Freemar­ket at the Ir­ish Pavil­ion at this year’s Venice Bi­en­nale are Jef­frey Bol­huis, Jo Anne But­ler, Miriam De­laney, Tara Kennedy, Lau­rence Lord and Orla Mur­phy. The 16th In­ter­na­tional Ar­chi­tec­ture Ex­hi­bi­tion run sat the Giar­dini della Bi­en­nale, and through­out Venice, un­til Nov 25 th. See la bi en na le. org for more. The In­ter­na­tional Academy of Ur­ban­ism Congress takes place in Cork from June 27th to 30th. See congress.acade­my­ofur­ban­ism.org.uk­for­more.

From far left: Hair­dressers in Bun­clody, Co Wex­ford; Shop en­trance­way in Bun­clody; Mar­ket House, Castle­blayney, Co Mon­aghan. Be­low: the Free Mar­ket team - Miriam De­laney, Jef­frey Bol­huis, Orla Mur­phy, Jo Anne But­ler, Tara Kennedy and Lau­rence Lord....

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