Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Moments in Irish Design History

Irish Design printing blocks, image via ID2015

All this recent talk of Irish design thanks to Irish Design 2015 (from places other than this blog, cos obviously I Like Local is always banging on about Irish design...) has got me thinking about Irish design history. Collected below is nothing comprehensive and doesn't even stretch back that far (I'm useless at knowing anything that happened before the 20th century, in this field or in any other) but it's a selection of 10 important things that have happened to help make Irish design what it is today. And speaking of today, what better time to share this than St. Patrick's Day! Have I missed something? Probably, so tell me!

Kilkenny Design Workshops, image via Alice Rawsthorn

1963: Kilkenny Design Workshops open
Following the Scandinavian Report of 1961 which invited Nordic experts to evaluate design in Ireland (to paraphrase, they didn't think much of it) the Kilkenny Design Workshops were set up to incubate and develop design practice. The first state-sponsored scheme of its kind, it housed workshops for prototyping and production, acted as a design consultancy and produced some iconic work (Holger Strom's IQ lamp was developed there, for one). While it gradually lost its design edge in favour of the craft production its site is associated with today, it played a key role in waking Ireland up to design as a profession and a valuable service.

Work by Eileen Gray at the Aram Store

1973: Eileen Gray grants worldwide rights to the Aram Store
Eileen Gray was born in Ireland in 1878, studied at London's Slade and then went to Paris where she spent most of her working life. She became an icon of modernist design and is now one of the most well-regarded women in design history, after periods of being overshadowed by her male contemporaries. Having worked on architecture projects, interiors and a whole host of product designs, in 1973 she gave exclusive rights to Zeev Aram of the Aram Store to reproduce her work. Testament to the regard he has for her work, a full floor of the Aram Store in Covent Garden is dedicated to it.

Busáras by RIBA Gold Medal Winner Michael Scott

1975: Michael Scott wins the RIBA Royal Gold Medal
Considered one of the world's most prestigious architecture awards, the RIBA Royal Gold Medal, awarded annually since 1848, has had three Irish recipients: first by Scott in 1975, then by engineer Peter Rice in 1992 and this year by O'Donnell + Tuomey (making Sheila O'Donnell the third ever female recipient).

1989: Philip Treacy meets Isabella Blow
While studying at the Royal College of Art Irish milliner Philip Treacy met British style editor Isabella Blow, an eccentric, flamboyant lover of fashion. She mentored and inspired him and he made over sixty hats for her, all the while building his profile all over the world. Some of his most extravagant and iconic designs were for her, and he undoubtedly owes a degree of his success to her encouragement and championing of his work.

Irish Architecture Foundation at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2008

2005: The Irish Architecture Foundation is founded
While there are much older architecture organisations in Ireland, nobody communicates the value of the built environment better than the IAF. The IAF has curated and commissioned some of Ireland's best contributions to the Venice Architecture Biennale, delivers a great architects in schools programme, presents talks, curates exhibitions and delivers Open House Dublin, Ireland's biggest and best architecture festival. And all this comes from a team of four people on a shoestring budget.

2008: The Irish Design Shop opens its doors
Hard to imagine it now that we can choose to buy design from Makers & Brothers, Industry, Article, Designist and a host of others, but back in 2008 the Irish Design Shop, now on Drury Street, were trailblazers in their promotion of young Irish designers and their offering of attractive, affordable homewares and wearables to people getting a little sick of the selection in the Kilkenny Shop. Buying design in Dublin is a totally different experience now to a few years ago, and we have the Irish Design Shop and others to thank for it.

Universita Luigi Bocconi by Grafton Architects

2008: Grafton Architects win World Building of the Year
At the inaugural World Architecture Festival it wasn't a globally famous starchitect who took home the biggest award on offer, it was Dublin office Grafton Architects for their incredibly accomplished Universitá Commerciale Luigi Bocconi building. While Irish architecture had been maturing for some time, this marked its arrival on the international stage and encouraged more Irish architects to work internationally with confidence and pride.

2009: Offset arrives
Two weeks ago thousands of creatives descended on Dublin for the sixth edition of Offset, what is now one of Europe's (maybe the world's?) most reputable - and enjoyable - design conferences. Irish designers and artists take their place alongside legendary designers and rising stars from around the world on the stage of the Grand Canal Theatre and people travel from far and wide to attend. Hard to believe it was started not so long ago by three Dublin guys in Liberty Hall...

The view from the stage at Offset 2009

2011: The Pivot Dublin bid is submitted
In 2011 a team led by Dublin City Council's Architects Department bid for Dublin to be World Design Capital, calling it Pivot Dublin. It seemed like a crazy idea at first, but it soon made us realise the city's potential not only as the home of heaps of great designers and artists but as a place shaped by design and where design could make a really positive difference. We didn't become a World Design Capital in the end (though we did make it to the shortlist) but that didn't matter: bidding gave us confidence and made us realise that design and Dublin were meant for each other.

2012: The 100 Archive is founded
Making design in Ireland is one thing, but recording and recognising it is another. And while the former is a new enough endeavour on the island, the latter is only just off the ground. The 100 Archive aims to connect the past and the future of Irish graphic design through open submissions (future) and selected archive inclusions (past). It will chart the development of the discipline in Ireland and is already presenting the best examples of Irish graphic design from recent years. A browse through the website will immerse you in work you'll recognise and love.

2015: A Year of Irish Design?
I imagine it's one of the intentions of ID2015 to become one of these key moments in the development of Irish design. Once the year is over we'll see if they've managed it.

If you want to delve more into Irish design history, you could start with Dr. Linda King's Irish Design: History, Context and Possibilities which formed part of the Pivot Dublin bid and is available to download as a PDF. She's also edited - along with Elaine Sisson - one of the most useful books about 20th century Irish design and visual culture entitled Ireland, Design and Visual Culture: Negotiating Modernity 1922-1992. You can read more about the Kilkenny Design Workshops in an online exhibition catalogue called Designing Ireland by Joanna Quinn, and recently design writer Alice Rawsthorn shared her Irish design moments over on Instagram. Have your own thoughts on the people or events that have changed Irish design? Share them with me!

Images via 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7