Thursday 21 August 2008

Student architects transform an Atlantic village

DESIGN: SLEEPING ON scaffolding, mopping out shower blocks , and building a bird hide from bales of straw are not quite the activities that one associates with an architectural career.

However, several hundred students are challenging their own perceptions about their professional role, as well as testing their constitutions, as they transform the village of Letterfrack into one large architectural exhibition.

"We know that some people doubted us when we told them that Diamond Hill was right behind us," Sean Feeney, director of the European Architecture Students' Assembly, laughs.

"As for the Inagh valley, you could barely see it in the blanket of cloud and sheets of rain when we were coming through by coach."

The 360 participants from across Europe and Latin America are holding their annual assembly for the first time in Ireland, on the theme of "adaptation".

Relocating to the west from Dublin over the past week has been an integral part of the experience, in adapting to a change of pace, scale and context in a small village on the edge of the Atlantic.

On arrival at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology furniture college Connemara West campus, the students were allocated "lodgings" in bunks made of scaffolding under the shelter of two large circus marquees. They were given a roster for cleaning, waste sorting and meal preparation, and the schedule for workshops and lectures.

The workshops, based in canvas domes, outbuildings and in the campus crèche, range from furniture design to ethical architecture. "Kraftka", for instance, is a timber-built corridor space fitted with audio, video and light installations.

As tutor Dijana Omeragik of Macedonia explains, the structure is intended to make the observer feel "disoriented" as he or she walks through it.

"Too Cool for Stool" is the name of another workshop, led by Mira Uzonovic and Alexander Popovic of Serbia. "We try to avoid using any nails or screws as we make small pieces of furniture from wood and glue," Uzonovic says. "Zauna" is a mobile timber sauna built by Italian tutor Eros Laini and team. On completion, it will be transported to Renvyle pier and fitted with its stove. "You have your sauna, you jump into the Atlantic after!" Laini says.

The "Green Room" is a sustainable, mobile classroom which provides an alternative to the plague of portacabins in overcrowded Irish schools.

Out in the furniture college courtyard, a pavilion entitled "Lunch Box" designed by Dublin School of Architecture graduates Dermot Reynolds, Ronan Costelloe and Joe McMahon, is meant to represent "an inverted mountain contour range''.

Some of the students are also working with the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Letterfrack on a bird-hide made from straw bales which will be a permanent feature.

The projects will be finished this weekend in time for the final exhibition.

The exhibition is open to the public from 3pm until 8pm on Saturday, August 23rd. Some pieces and a photography exhibition will remain on show until September 1st. See

The Irish Times

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