Thursday 26 May 2011

Capital idea to become city of design

What are the chances of Dublin being named World Design Capital 2014? Today, a determined group of designers, architects and other professionals launches its bid, writes FRANK MCDONALD Environment Editor of the Irish Times.

INCREDIBLE AS it may seem, Dublin is bidding to be designated World Design Capital 2014. Given the unfinished state of the city, and its current penury, the bid is audacious and insouciant.

Nearly two years ago, after hearing that Helsinki and the relatively small Dutch city of Eindhoven had been shortlisted for the title World Design Capital 2012, City architect Ali Grehan floated the idea in casual conversations with other designers after a Pecha Kucha night in the Sugar Club on Earlsfort Terrace. (Pecha Kucha night is when designers get together to discuss “small ideas with big impact”.)

“Dublin? A design capital?” was the immediate response. Although it’s a city of many designers and some design achievements, Dublin hasn’t been known as a design city.

But what about its international profile in animation, computer games and graphic design? Not to mention its renowned architects?

Not only is Dublin the birthplace of internationally known businesses with strong design identities such as Ryanair, Aer Lingus, Guinness, Jameson, and home to many more, it is also where James Joyce “located his re-design of the modern novel” and is now a hub for “smart city” collaboration, according to Grehan.

Dublin is emerging as the new-media capital of Europe, according to the bid promoters. Decisions by Google and Facebook to locate their headquarters here were aided by the transformation of Dublin into a multi-national, multi-lingual city.

Úna Burke and Sorcha Ó Raghallaigh have both designed outrageous outfits for Lady Gaga, even though the flamboyant pop diva didn’t quite get Ó Raghallaigh’s name right on the Graham Norton Show (she pronounced it as O’Reilly). “So we realised there was a story to tell, but it was one we needed to tell ourselves, as well as the world,” Grehan recalls, adding that the bid was an opportunity to do that.

It drew together a variety of designers as well as representatives from Government, local authorities, the education and business sectors.

Some 100 designers met in Wood Quay Venue in March last year to discuss their hopes and fears. “It was an intense, animated afternoon of discussion, debate and dissent,” Grehan says.

Last month, a feasibility study to mount a bid for the designation set out a bold plan of action. The idea of “Pivot Dublin” was born, articulating the role Irish designers could play in meeting the fundamental challenges of a society at such a pivotal point.

The initiative attracted the support not only of the four local authorities and the Department of the Environment, but also design bodies ranging from the Crafts Council of Ireland to the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and many in between, including fashion designers and advertising practitioners.

“We looked for fresh eyes and new voices,” says Grehan. “Pivot was Maria Hinds’s idea. Maria – a young graphic designer working between Dublin, New Orleans and New York, with Dublin colleagues Keith Nally and Rory McCormack – offered pivot as a word that best expressed Dublin’s unleashed potential.”

The group also designed the website,, which thrust the bid into a world of bloggers and spread the word online that Dublin was serious.

The lavishly illustrated bid document, designed by Areaman Productions, Red Grey Design, architect Emma Curley and Dr Linda King, is a masterpiece in itself.

“All this happened against a backdrop of unprecedented political and economic upheaval,” says Grehan. “That level of preparation, of dedication, underpins everything we have done to create this bid, and everything we want to achieve as Dublin’s World Design Capital 2014. Pivot Dublin will turn design on its head.”

Dublin is described as a paradox.

“It’s high and low, pristine and well-worn, playful and intense. Dublin provokes and engages. It’s absurd and serious, shambolic and sharp. It’s divided yet connected . . . a social city; one that is vibrant, chaotic and quirky . . . built on relationships, open to conversation, full of ideas and always ready for debate.”

The “pivot” idea is to use design as the vehicle to “turn things inside out, to become something else”. It’s also “a declaration of our intent to offer Dublin as a test bed for design solutions to local, national and global challenges . . . It’s a chance to reinvent the city, to make the undervalued valued, the ordinary extraordinary.”

The bid is focused on four themes: Connecting Cities, Making Cities Lighter, Making Cities Flow and Making Cities Smile.

Work on each of these themes starts with a seed project that takes a specific angle on the theme, such as how digital technology could be used to network isolated communities and resources.

Making Cities Lighter is about making them more environmentally sustainable, and the seed project in this category will focus on water, looking at its consumption, production, its place in our culture and its connection to a global ecology of water. It will bring together city dwellers, designers, those involved in supplying water and new technologies.

Making Cities Flow will look at redesigning the market for locally produced goods in Dublin, with the aims of stimulating micro-producers, reinvigorating local cultures of making things, and reducing wasteful distribution networks. It will also connect designers and craft makers to new technologies to stimulate innovation.

Making Cities Smile will explore how we can “reinvent” housing in Dublin by bringing difficult central urban sites into use, even by self-builders, and develop new housing models that are more sustainable, more easily achievable and more desirable. This is something Grehan is particularly keen on doing.

The design capital bid has impressive support from such people as the Dublin-born president-elect of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Angela Brady; the Government’s chief scientist, Prof Patrick Cunningham; the provost of Trinity College Dublin, John Hegarty; and the director of the National College of Art and Design, Declan McGonagle.

Others batting for it include the chief executive of the ESB, Pádraig McManus; Live Nation Ireland’s chief executive Mike Adamson; the State architect, Pat Cooney; chief executive of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce Gina Quinn; Intel Ireland’s head of corporate affairs Brendan Cannon; Irish Architecture Foundation director Nathalie Weadick; and Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

WE WILL LEARN NEXT MONTH if Dublin has been shortlisted from 55 cities competing to be World Design Capital 2014, by grace of the Montreal-based International Council of Societies of Industrial Design. Its representatives will visit the shortlisted cities during the summer and the name of the winning city will be announced in the autumn.

Dublin’s lord mayor, Gerry Breen, will formally launch the Pivot Dublin bid at a breakfast in the Mansion House this morning. The four local authorities intend to develop the seed projects and implement the Dublin bid immediately – even if Dublin is not shortlisted, according to Grehan,

Win or lose, there is no doubt that the extraordinary effort being put into the bid has forged new relationships between Dublin-based designers of every hue and type – and given them all something worthwhile to aim for in these hard times. None of them would have had the time to do it during the boom.

For more, see

Irish Times

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