Been out in Rialto lately? You might be wondering why there’s a cold war era listening post off Reuben Street. Fear not! Tis only Dublin’s first geodesic dome, the centrepiece of the capital’s latest community gardenproject. Rashers tierney spoke with two of its four creators Jamie Roche and Niall O’Brien.
I remember a wet horrible day at a protest camp against George Bush’s visit back in 2004, me and a gang of others trying to erect a geo-dome. It was a disaster. Can you tell me what they are and how one of them suddenly ended up opening in Fatima?
Jamie: A geodesic dome is the lightest, strongest and most cost-effective structure ever developed. When first conceived it was earmarked as a breakthrough in shelter design, not only in cost effectiveness, but in ease of construction. At first glance it can appear to be complex in design, however the principle is relatively simple. It relies upon a series of pentagons and hexagons nestled tightly against each other that form a sphere.
You mention an “an off-grid hydroponic technique” that can produce something mental like 1,000 lettuces each week. That’s a lot of caesar salads. Explain?
Niall: It’s a system developed quite recently in the University of Hawaii by Prof. Kratky. It’s crazy simple really. No pumps, no air stones, no electricity. Seeds are placed in a growing medium, we’ll be using rockwool, the lower portion of the pot is immersed in the water/nutrient solution. Plants are automatically watered due to capillary action. As they grow and drink, the water level reduces creating an air gap, the lower portion of the roots remain in the water absorbing nutrients and the upper section transform into air roots so the plant gets everything it needs. You literally set it and forget it until harvest time. The produce will be donated to local community centres.
Is there a social justice element to the project so? Does it point towards a totally different model of sustaining and nourishing our communities?
Niall: Very much so. When you realise just how much can be created by simply harnessing the sunlight, rain and air all around us, in the tiniest of spaces, your mind begins to boggle at the potential. Communities creating substantial amounts of their food and energy requirements, by themselves for themselves, is an incredibly exciting and liberating idea to me. As I’ve become fond of saying lately, money does grow on trees… We have many collectively minded plans to follow; this really is just the beginning.
How are your relations with the council? Did you have much bureaucracy to get through to see this vision come to fruition? Excuse the pun.
Niall: We were lucky in the fact that the local residents’ association had a very strong working relationship with the council. They asked on our behalf and that was that. We really must commend them for doing all the initial hard work in making Flanagan’s Fields community garden a reality.
What’s the story with the land the project is situated on? Is it just derelict? What happens if it suddenly becomes a viable commercial prospect again? Should the city be doing more to start transferring these plots and areas of environmental regeneration into the hands of the local communities?
Jamie: Currently the Back of the Pipes residents’ association holds the lease on the land. Each lease is for a period of 11 months and the land must lie vacant for a period of one month every year. Should a situation occur where DCC wanted to change the use of the land they are within their rights to do so considering they own the land. But for the moment they have been very gracious in allowing us and the residents use the asset.
To what extent are locals in the area involved in the project? Will there be a process of handing it over to them once its up and running?
Niall: The project couldn’t exist without local support. The Back of the Pipes residents’ association literally knocked on every front door in the area to ask for permission for it, no matter how well intentioned, you must have consensus. Every single resident is a part owner of the dome – that’s why it works.
Can you tell me about some of the other projects in Dublin that might have inspired your own one to get off the ground?
Jamie: There are many projects in Dublin that have inspired us as a group, however two that stand out in my mind are the F2 community centre and The Upcycle Movement. I see that both of these groups have a huge amount to offer local communities both socially and environmentally. The work that F2 do is outstanding, covering a huge range from food education and social groups working with the local community, bringing the people with them as they work tirelessly to achieve their goals. The Upcycle Movement show what can be done with disused and discarded materials finding a different use for what would otherwise be discarded. Then there is of course Flanagan’s Fields garden group, they have done a huge amount of work over the last three years sculpting a space into something beautiful for all the people in the area.
Niall: Granby Park absolutely has to get a mention. Outside of Dublin, Cloughjordan Ecovillage is one of those rare things actually deserving of the word ‘awesome’.
The dome is going to function as a band space and a community meeting point. Can you shed some light on what’s lined up there over the next while?
Niall: We are talking with nine local schools about conducting regular classes in the dome, we are delighted to have received interest from local social enterprises, men’s sheds groups, the amazing F2 centre around the corner and the myriad local social groups they work with, we’ve also been contacted by Antrim council about a possible cross border collaboration. It’s only been a couple of weeks since we started letting people know about The Grow Dome Project and every day another great idea for collaboration pops into our inbox. It’s an exciting time.
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