After being blown away by their final year exhibit, James Redmond talked to dit student Ronan Murray about NAMAlab’s vision for our derelict city.
Unless you keep your eyes and ears glued to current affairs, or the raft of pamphlets penned over the last few years by the country’s columnistas, it can be quite a pickle trying to get your head around the labyrinth of flawed politics and white elephant property developments, that brought our bloated economy crashing to its knees. Despite this, it’s become part of the recessionary lexicon to unfairly bemoan the populaces inability to articulate anger or alternatives to the current crisis. Yet, if you step back and think about it, little effort has been made to develop a political project that can offer truly, inspiring alternatives.
When the media honed in on the eerie ghost estates lying dormant around the country they became one of the chief motifs of our times and inevitable pub banter. We’ve all played the game of bar-stool expert, cooking up colorful alternatives for the hoardings and wasteland that scar our communities. Whereas these mostly involved pyres and bankers, last October a group of final year DIT architecture students took on the challenge of providing a constructive response.
As an exercise on architecture’s role, the class took up the mantle of tracking the failed developments disfiguring the capital’s landscape. As Ronan Murray, of NAMAlab, told me:
“For six weeks initially we spent time researching architectural ideas and how we could forward our thoughts on architecture and then it was the lecturers who decided to use NAMA as a basis to explore our ideas.”
Their project was stonewalled by NAMA itself, who refused to dialogue with them – in the end they delved into the hive brain of social media to find out the lay of the land. They collated data and produced a city wide map. Buildings are dotted across it, marked out as NAMA bound. The map itself is a remarkable document, fascinating in that it charts only a fraction of the NAMA portfolio in the city. Murray went on to tell me: “When we initially started mapping NAMA, it was October and November 2010 – so it was only Tranche 1 and 2. NAMA hadn’t started dealing with property or assets below the value of 20 million. So it was only half of the NAMA properties that was being mapped. It was a very time consuming process. We realised how powerful, how striking, how controversial it could be so we wanted to get everything as accurate as we could.”
Central to NAMAlab’s work was a watershed realisation among the class of the intense opportunity presented by NAMA – while arising as a poor, last ditch effort, Ronan and the others felt it could be re-purposed. As he explained:
“We own these sites, and they are significant sites in the city and across Ireland, and there is such a large development fund there we feel there is a chance to use NAMA to change things, thing we always wanted to change and to make a difference across the board in all different walks of life.”
Each of the class took responsibility for sketching an alternative, development that maximised the social, cultural and strategic value of NAMAlands. Breaking with images of architecture students as quite studious types, squirrelled away working on projects that would never see the light of day NAMAlab worked hard to ignite debate around their work with exhibitions and walking tours. Ronan summed up the feelings of his class:
“It represents just how bad things got, how crazy things got, the amount of greed that was in society. Its a physical representation of how bad things were. We see it as an opportunity and we don’t want it passed off behind closed doors. We want it to be a public debate on what could be done. We paid for them. It is ours and we should take charge of it.”
Walking through the exhibition, you are struck by the intense detail bringing the proposals to life. Some of the projects seem tongue in cheek. One wants to return the upper floors of Costa on College Green to their 18th Century use as a Gentlemans Club, this time for the elites of the IMF and other visiting agents of austerity. Paul O’Sullivan’s suggestion for the Anglo Irish head quarters cuts through the original developers budget like a Stanley blade. Ronan explained:
“There’s all this glass just sitting in Germany that was made for this building, and the cost of it, and erecting it was 8 million. And Paul’s idea to make this a public building was 2.5 million. So that’s really powerful. It’s so symbolic, the Anglo Irish head quarters and what they did, how badly run they were, to turn it into a public building was a really bold move. He wanted to take the art that all these banks bought and have in their reserves and put it on display in the building.”
Please see the DIT and NAMAlab disclaimer on data represented on the map. Also, make sure you pick up the NAMAlab book when it hits the shelves in October. NAMAlab will be holding a symposium on 14th October, at 1.30pm Room 259 Bolton Street, D1 online. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org