Thursday, 21 July 2016

Design in Dublin #2: Framework

A Hidden Rooms workshop hosted by Dublin City Council and PIvot Dublin in 2014

Following on from part #1, which looked at the Dublin Honey Project as an example of agile design in Dublin, here is part #2 of my series of posts on Design in Dublin, this time looking at some of the work being done by Dublin City Council which I class as being responsive design. Design in Dublin is also published in full in Iterations issue 3, available from the IDI.

A Pivot Dublin workshop hosted by Dublin City Council

Responsive design: Hidden Rooms and Framework
In November 2014, Dublin City Council hosted a two-day conference across the city called Hidden Rooms. Groups of 20 or more people from a host of backgrounds and professions gathered in locations all around the city, each given a brief by a different member of Council staff looking for a pilot project to address a different civic need. With names such as The Universal City, The Fair City and others, each sought to tackle an issue the city faces – few of them new – with a view to suggesting a pilot which the Council could potentially put into action.

One such proposal being acted on is The Empowered City. The challenge faced by the group dealing with The Empowered City was how you enable city dwellers (apartment dwellers being identified as a particular group of people in need) to collectively make and act upon decisions that will affect the place in which they live. City dwellers are dependent on and subject to their neighbours, and apartment dwellers particularly so. I speak with Dublin City Architect Ali Grehan, who initiated Hidden Rooms and led the discussion on The Empowered City as part of the event, and she explains to me the need for examination of apartment living in Dublin:

'I wanted to focus on apartments, particularly existing apartments. The talk is always about future apartments, and future standards, but the reality is that we have an enormous amount of apartments in Dublin already and how are they going to play out over time? When you look at them you realise that they're in very important parts of the city; they're in prominent places. They're along the Liffey quays, they're in the city centre; they're not hidden away. The fortunes of those buildings do matter. It's not a case of saying they're privately-owned apartments and they're not our problem. They will become our problem if we don't figure out how to value them better.' - Ali Grehan, 2015

And while the fates of apartment buildings have ramifications for the city's built environment as a whole, on the micro level there is a key design problem in apartment living, namely how you negotiate a shared space, which in an urban environment, we all need to do to some extent:

'When you come to apartments you're dependent on how somebody behaves two, three floors away. You don't even know their name, you wouldn't know them if you passed them on the stairs, but if they behave badly, you will suffer. And there doesn't seem to be any effective framework in place to manage that.' - Ali Grehan

Looking to the American Institute of Architects' Design Assistance Programme as a tried and tested model for enabling communities to come together and use design expertise to solve their own problems, big or small, The Empowered City is moving on to a pilot called Framework. Having run workshops to introduce the idea to design professionals who are willing to volunteer to help a community or residential association with an issue they're facing, Grehan is now on the hunt for the right community group to begin work, whether they are apartment dwellers or not, because as she says, 'The solution [to the problems of living together] lies in some kind of collective action'.

Framework, a pilot project to introduce the Design Assistance Programme to Ireland

Framework is very much a work in progress and it remains to be seen just how this mode of practice will work in this context, but it shows not just a willingness but an ambition to better use design in Dublin's civic life. It also shows another key characteristic of design in Dublin that I have identified: that of responsiveness. Framework has sought to respond to a very particular issue in city living: that of the negotiation needed when we share living or urban space. In fact, the whole Hidden Rooms project was based on responsiveness – establishing a whole host of citywide issues, big and small, that need addressing, and bringing together a wide range of people to respond to them with recommendations. Other pilots being progressed from Hidden Rooms include a recently-launched scheme to assist businesses to use design called Design 4 Growth and the rerouting of traffic in the city centre's busy College Green area. The Council is in a unique position to respond to a great many of the city's issues, and appears to be taking advantage of this. But it is not doing it alone, and is collaborating with the city's wide range of designers and communities in order to respond cleverly and creatively.

Read part #1 of this series on design in Dublin, and stay tuned for parts #2, #3 and #4, coming to I Like Local soon. Thanks to Ali Grehan for chatting to me about Hidden Rooms and her plans for an Irish pilot for the Design Assistance Programme.

Images via 1 | 2 | 3