“Slow Architecture and Place”

A travelling exhibition, curated by the Solearth Architecture taking the route of the Grand Canal from the river Shannon to the river Liffey. The canal provided a method of transport through towns and villages that would rarely be engaged by an architectural exhibition but nevertheless still have to grapple, on their own scale, with the same architectural challenges that our cities do. The mode of transport – the 107B, a converted canal boat – is of course the very epitome of slow, the enjoyment of travel being as much in the journey as in the arrival.

The “Slow Architecture and Place” exhibition explored responses to the challenges of our built environment as we were emerging from an era where the making of buildings was particularly influenced by time, speculation and financial deadlines and our appreciation of architecture and perhaps too our sense of place was largely anaesthetised by this sped of construction. Exhibitors were chosen on the basis of the quality of their proposal in relation to slow and also the breadth of issues that they addressed.

“Exhibitor & Architect Michael Carroll took the demise of the rural community as his point of departure for an investigation into the merits of self build as a means to resurrect the community spirit. He proposed the reuse of redundant communal buildings and erection of new public spaces using the pragmatism and economy of means demanded by the availability of skills and finance. Simple structures with infill panels of non-load bearing materials – from the site, labour intensive but cheap – to encourage a sense of ownership, partisanship and rekindle community use. Much in the manner that Rural Studio have used to create pragmatism in the rural communities in Alabama. The research raised questions as well as answers: including issues such as rural jobs and car dependence”

‘rural node for a disparate community’

Ireland’s countryside has changed drastically in recent years, with an unprecedented rise in the amount of single dwelling houses constructed. Ireland’s rural roads have become tributaries for these one off houses, whose occupants are heavily dependent on the car for mobility, with little or no public transport in these areas. Land that was once worked by farming families has now become home to a different type of country dweller. The new generation that now call the countryside “home” find themselves in an environment that possesses only distant memories of the traditions, values and activities that made rural Ireland so appealing in the first place.

The arguments for and against one-off houses are lengthy but little of them address the fact that many of these houses have been constructed with little regard to the impact on the surrounding communities, both today and in the years ahead, as the families of today become the elderly of the future. I believe that the increasing numbers living in isolation in the Irish countryside will present a number of interesting challenges, both socially and environmentally in the coming years. Individually, these houses do not belong to any city or town; there is no apparent settlement pattern. However collectively they are part of a disparate community, and collectively they now crave for a solution to reconnect with their locality.

The opportunity now exists for Slow Architecture to draw these individuals together and in doing so, help to create all-inclusive, sustainable & life-long communities. I believe that ‘Rural Nodes’ could be created throughout the countryside to establish this sense of inclusivity and community. These ‘nodes’ could be constructed around existing areas of local significance, such as disused national schools, churches, crossroads or even the local water pump. Structures such as small meeting halls, covered play areas or raised allotment beds could begin to generate daily activities that would attract people and groups of all ages from the surrounding locality.

By utilising the abilities of all within the local community in the process of building these structures, a certain sense of ownership and responsibility would be established. Local traditions & simple methods of construction could be revived & developed, allowing the hands of all participants to construct their own “node”, using materials sourced, or even donated, locally.

This would ensure that the fingerprints Slow Architecture would leave in establishing such “Rural Nodes” would be permanent and in doing so would help to create a sense of community strong enough to grow with future generations of the people they would serve.

Michael Carroll MRIAI