100 buildings in 72 hours.

Open House, October 2013.

Alzheimers Respite Centre, Blackrock

The Orchard Day & Respite Care Centre, Blackrock – Niall McLaughlin Architects

By way of contrast the recent Open House weekend of architectural events purports to embrace a basic theme each year. For 2013 this was to be ‘100 Great Buildings – from the obvious to the overlooked’ with the promise ‘to surprise and delight the public’. Indeed it would be some achievement to get to see anywhere near that number of buildings in the few days they are accessible. With such a variety of building types, styles and historic periods covered there will be something to engage even those visitors with just a passing curiosity in their city’s buildings and spaces. (In 2012 the theme was ‘Architecture Alive!’ whilst in 2011 the theme was ‘Architecture of Change’)

The fact that the list of buildings on offer mutates each year means there is always something new to explore or make a trek for. There is that sense of a sneak preview, of being allowed behind the scenes in places where the public are not normally welcome. This is perhaps most evident in large security conscious institutes such as the Central Bank of Ireland on Dame Street in Dublin, the Commissioners of Irish Lights offices in Dun Laoghaire or the Google Docks building in Dublin’s Grand Canal Basin.

But the range is substantial. Many of the buildings are recently completed and deflate the notion that all construction during the property boom was overpriced, insubstantial in nature and speculative profit-driven leading to unwanted ghost estates and mediocre architecture. Educational projects such as Scoill Mhuire Ógh in Crumlin or Ballyroan Library in Rathfarnham demonstrate that great architecture is still being created in spite of the dire state we find ourselves in. In addition the on-site engagement in the case of such contemporary buildings with the actual architects and engineers who designed and built them affords a unique opportunity for a clearer understanding of the buildings requirements and achievements.

Those private houses, which are open to viewing, whether they are one-off individual projects or social housing schemes, give a real ‘through the keyhole’, experience without the excess of a Keith Lemon or Loyd Grossman. Many are only accessible to the public for that one particular day through the generosity of private owners, management companies and institutes.

Oratory of the Sacred Heart

But it is often the less obvious that elicits the most rewarding experiences for the visitor – the somewhat unknown, the quirky or the forgotten that we ignore on a daily basis. Examples would include the wonderful Victorian terracotta tile work at the bustling Fruit and Vegetable Market in Smithfield or the extraordinary wall paintings by Sister Concepta Lynch that cover the interior at Oratory of the Sacred Heart in suburban Dun Laoghaire.

For a few days of the year it is worth pausing to admire with fresh eyes the multiple facets that add to our lives by way of the surrounding built environment. A new insight and perspective can be achieved. In a small way it helps build that visual language that we are often accused of lacking in this country. We are in many ways inured to our surrounding built environment and yet it impacts on us daily. We don’t have the surrounding rich fabric of cities such as Paris, New York or Barcelona. But anything that encourages us to open our eyes to what we do still posses has to be a good thing.

Open House Dublin http://openhousedublin.com/index.php

Heritage Ireland http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/

The RIAI http://www.riai.ie/

Irish Architectural Archive http://www.iarc.ie/

DocoMomo Ireland http://docomomo.ie/

Parsons Building TCD

Parsons Building, Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Trinity College Dublin – Grafton Architects

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