Saturday, 29 August 2015

Long-listed for the Irish Blog Awards

I started my little blog Concrete Stew ten months ago (thanks to constant nagging of my friend Dan,my writing version of a sky-diving instructor yelling at me to "jump!") and I'm delighted to be long-listed for the 4th annual Irish Blog Awards 2015 Concrete Stew was nominated as a personal blog for the Arts and Culture category. Thank you to the team at the Blog Awards for emailing me this very smart looking Long-list button. 
The short-list will be announced on Wednesday 2 September and the award ceremony itself will take back in Dublin on 22 October in The Tivoli Theatre. As blogging becomes bigger in Ireland I hope that more blogs which focus on architecture/architectural history/urban design emerge and hopefully it can be it's own stand-alone category in the future. The public vote opens next week so I will be tweeting like a mad woman asking for support. One of my favourite bloggers,Vice-President of the Irish Georgian Society won the award in this category in 2013 and I would be honoured to be in the same list as him. Getting long-listed was a fantastic opportunity for myself to refocus and re-evaluate how my blog has evolved, am I being vigilant when it comes to my writing style (keeping to my own 'voice'), frequency of posts and that in the true nature of a blog it is my personal take on things- my perpetual ode to how and why we document Irish architecture. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Image taken from

Open House Dublin: Seven Weeks to Go!

It is seven weeks until the Big Housing Debate on Wednesday 14 October which kick starts the 10th edition of Open House Dublin. This free weekend is presented annually by the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF), a celebration of the city's best architecture, when buildings of all types and periods open their doors to allow citizens to explore. The theme of Open House Dublin 2015 is titled This Place We Call Home which focuses on domesticity and urban space. 

Image courtesy of Carson & Crushell. Photo by
David Grandorge
I am so excited about the 2015 programme! It is killing me not being able to blurt out all the buildings, the walking tours, exhibitions, etc. As the Programme Coordinator I feel like I am the midwife to such an amazing October life force. An energy that inspires people to open their buildings to strangers and sharing their space, creativity and stories. In the length of time of a tour, all the occupants of that building are experiencing the same moment of getting inside the head of the architect or client and the realisation of the brief, together creating a living, breathing home. In my interview for the job back in June, even those I had first hand experience organising the first Open House Limerick in 2012 I was stumped at the question "describe Open House." I asked could I take a moment as I wanted to give this worldwide phenomenon the justice it deserved. I even got to meet Victoria Thornton who traveled to Limerick to launch ir's inaugural Open House. This was the woman who began it all in London over two decades ago. My most rewarding moments so far are those when I'm on the phone to a property manager and they are so surprised that their building was chosen by our curator as they didn't deem it special or important enough. We get to show them their familiar building with fresh eyes. They make the common mistake that good design means a certain cost located at certain addresses in the city.

All I will say is that there is the highest ever number of private houses and apartment blocks than there has ever been for Open House Dublin and over double the usual number of walking tours. Homes which have been confirmed in the first press release include Home in Rathmines, home of (and by) Ireland's most celebrated architects Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey; 23 Leinster Road, the renovation and conversion of an early Georgian townhouse by A2 Architects; Richmond Place, the home and studio of Carson & Crushell Architects and a "spiritual" home: the Holy Faith Spirituality Centre in Glasnevin by MOLA Architects. These are all new to the Open House programme. 

View from inside No.10 Henrietta St.
Photo taken by writer.
I am lucky enough to be able to count A2's Peter Carroll and Rosaleen Crushell of Carson & Crushell amongst my friends and it's a delight to be working with them for such a worthwhile event. Additionally I have my own fondness for MOLA. My father when I was little worked for Murray O'Laoire in their Limerick office. I can remember my mother sending me up to their brown brick office building on Glentworth Street, to let my father know we were outside during his lunch hour, as she waited in the car feeling ever so grown up. I can't remember being inside that first floor office but I can imagine I stood at the reception announcing something to the effect of "I'm here to collect my Daddy."
Returning favourites from previous years include the Iveagh Trust Museum Flat (Nellie's Flat) in Dublin 8 and No.10 Henrietta Street, one of the oldest buildings on one of the oldest streets in Dublin. The aim of this year's Open House is to highlight buildings that have shaped how we live now and the Big Housing Debate should hopefully inspire new ways of living better in the future. It really is one of the most pressing topics of our generation. Everybody needs a home and it's the one thing that binds us all together in this city. 2015 marks 30 years since the setting up of what is now Focus Ireland by Sr Stanislaus 'Stan' Kennedy. I was told by one of the architects giving a walking tour for Open House that her mantra was always "Everyone is entitled to a place called home." 
Former Pathology Building. Home of
IAF until they move in early 2016.
Home is such an evocative word. If I reach into the very pit of myself and meditate on the word 'home' it conjures up my family house in the 1990s. Our deep red brick bungalow, nestled in our sleepy little cul-de-sac in the suburbs of Limerick, before we got a proper driveway and landscaped the garden. At least once a week someone in the house would ask "will we go feed the ducks" which meant a walk by river, passing the Corbally baths and the 'red path' up to Athlunkard Bridge, down the Corbally Road with the Irish Estates on your left and St Munchin's on your right, turning at the junction down the Mill Road homeward bound completing the loop. The fields that once contained horses and cows are now housing estates. As an adult I found that in a short space of time Dublin fits me comfortably. It struck me that it does particularly on days when I cross the Liffey. I'm most at home in a city with a river running through it. It'll never have the same impact to me but the Liffey is a close second to the Shannon. Home is different things to different people, to those of us fortunate to have one. It is the most personal place you will ever invite people into so a huge thank you to everybody opening their doors this October in the wonderful city we all call home. 

Keep an eye out for all the latest Open House Dublin news on Twitter @IAFarchitecture and please use the hashtag #OHD2015 and on Facebook. Below are images of my home away from home until the end of October on Hatch Street.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Not being the One Doing the Asking...

This week I was proud to have an interview I did appear in a local paper of my hometown (the Limerick Leader). The contributors to this year's edition of the Old Limerick Journal were all invited to take part in the Arts Interview section. I'd like to publicly acknowledge the saintly patience of John Rainsford in dealing with all my endless edits and indecisiveness. It was my first time as an interviewee. The experience has given me an appreciation for the people I have interviewed and the nerves they must be experiencing, to varying degrees, at the prospect of family, friends and colleagues reading their words. 

I have in recent weeks did my first batch of interviews which is a fascinating process in itself. I have conducted three so far for print. I find it does get easier the more I do them. The second one I was assigned to do happened to be a friend of mine so he was almost interviewing me when we sat at his meeting table. I enjoyed listening back (apart from the shock at hearing how everybody else experiences my accent!) and hearing the tinge of awkwardness in both our voices as if we were strangers. Nevertheless the familiarity gave me a confidence to delve more and go on spontaneous tangential spurts in response to his answers. The third one was with somebody I never met before but the conversation flowed easily. Alas as soon as the record button was hit he was noticeably more conscious of his responses, which is often the case. I would never do it but a part of me wishes I secretly recorded the pre-interview banter. 

Yesterday afternoon I sat in on a more formal interview. I compiled the list of questions, which were edited by the interviewer, somebody I would consider my mentor. I was relieved I wasn't given the task of performing it but rather instead bearing witness to the exchange. The interviewer was so professional and so generous; subtly feeding the interviewee platforms to vault from in order to portray them in the best possible light. Somehow in her expert brevity she got to extract so much information in a series of smooth, continuous anecdotes and observations. Ah, and then there's the job of transcribing the interviews. It is like having to do the washing up after cooking and devouring a kingly feast. Again this arduous task is aided by practice. 

For my other job (don't we all seem to have at least two these days) I frequently end up 'interviewing' in a sense, people in their places of work. It is amazing how the physical environment affects conversation; the level of formality and familiarity. A few of these have been in their homes to collect forms for those who aren't the most IT proficient, their internet was acting up, etc. The last one was a good example of how the most familiar of surroundings, your home/studio where you work and create all day, has the ability to make new visitors feel as known to you as your furniture. I will never name them but due to the fact, I believe, that they were so relaxed in their home they asked me could they arrange a meeting of a more romantic nature. This in itself is a rare occurrence (I can count these on one hand). As flattered as I was at this question, I had to decline. I admire
the bravery- dropping your guard like that is terrifying. I can only put it down to the power of a familiar space rather than my appearance, conversation skills or bad jokes. I am happy to remain a Nick Carraway-like character in the background recording the brilliance of the Great Gatsbys of this world.

I am looking forward to seeing my article appear in the Old Limerick Journal this winter for the second time. It is an honour for me to be included in a publication that I have been consulting since my secondary school days. I have written on an early twentieth century building that I am very fond of, and deserves more attention. Yet again I have that feeling which makes one ask oneself "Me! Are you sure?"