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The 2015 RIAI Annual Conference: Strength Utility Grace 4 - 5 Oct, RDS Dublin

Published: Friday, October 09, 2015

The RIAI Annual Conference is the largest annual gathering of architects and architectural technologists in Ireland and considered an important ‘think-in’ on topical built environment issues.  This year we were joined at the RDS by a record 645 delegates over 2 days in a bespoke staging designed by Amanda Bone Architects and in association with Architecture Expo. Robin Mandal acted as Conference Chair on Sunday while the Monday session was chaired by architect Liam Tuite of Kavanagh Tuite Architects.

The conference theme – chosen by RIAI President, Robin Mandal – was Strength Utility Grace, reminding delegates that Vitruvius’ three essential architectural qualities possess an enduring relevance for today. Robin Mandal delivered his conference address against a backdrop of the RIAI’s new Digital Exhibition, Irish Architecture – A Sense of Place, saying: “We have made an architectural culture of excellence. For thousands of years we have been holding onto our craft of making.” The President also called on delegates for unity among the profession.  RIAI Interim CEO, Kathryn Meghen took delegates through an ambitious programme to mark the Year of Irish Design, ID2015 – a government-supported programme that has job creation at its heart as well as positioning the design sector with government, industry and stakeholders, both nationally and internationally.


The conference was joined by leading national and international speakers. Gold Medal Winners, Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey, delivered a compelling lecture by adopting a thematic approach to their work and way of working. Their keynote ‘Everything Accumulates’ on Monday, 5 October was introduced by Eric Parry and marked by a standing ovation.

International speakers covered a breadth of themes from ‘Sustainable Modernism’ to ‘Design Innovation’ and from ‘Place Making Solutions for Africa’ to ‘Housing Urban Communities’.

The Dutch architect and founder of DOCOMOMO, Hubert-Jan Henket, referred to the ‘paradox of conserving Modernism’ in his Sunday 4 October keynote lecture. Introduced by Shane O’Toole, Henket discussed the impetus for the setting up of DOCOMOMO in 1988 and how 20th century Modernism continues to be relevant today but only in the context of a ‘sustainable Modernity’. 

Doctor Henket was presented at the Conference with an RIAI Honorary Fellowship. RIAI Honorary Memberships were also presented to Camilla Mc Aleese, Under Treasurer and Honorary Secretary of Kings Inn and Chair of The Irish Landmark Trust and to Gerry Murphy, Publisher of Architecture Ireland.

The South-African architect, Peter Rich, spoke on ‘Architecture in Africa & the Future’ and took delegates through the environmental, geopolitical and social issues affecting architecture on that continent. He also showed a selection of his compelling work, including cultural projects in Ethiopia and Tanzania and a Community Centre in Johannesburg. The Italian architect and President of the Architects’ Council of Europe, Luciano Lazzari, gave an insightful presentation on issues affecting architects throughout Europe. Low levels of income, and difficulties to access public procurement were common problems, while architects nevertheless recorded a high satisfaction rate with their profession. 

Dr. Johnny Walker, a medical entrepreneur from Australia, delivered a highly energetic and inspiring talk – ‘A Digital HealthCare Disruption…it’s upon us!’ – on the importance of design thinking as a tool for innovation. Dr. Walker, who also practises in Ireland, made a strong argument for a more community based health-care system – to deal with backlogs – based around the ‘local warriors’ of the GP, the Community Nurse and the local Pharmacist.  He said that architects play an important role in designing innovative healthcare environment. He quoted a cancer patient of his in the Hermitage Clinic who said the building made her forget for a moment why she was here.

Arguably the most topical issue discussed at the RIAI Annual Conference this year was Housing with RIAI President Robin Mandal presenting the Institute’s new Housing Policy, which is available HERE.

RIAI Housing Policy

The Housing session was chaired by South Dublin County Architect, Eddie Conroy. Derek Tynan of DTA Architects – Winners of the RIAI Silver Medal for Housing 2009-2010 for Santry Demesne – presented innovative housing solutions from his and other practices; referred to the long delays in procuring housing and called for a new RIAI Ideas Competition for three housing sites. Brian Moran, Senior Managing Director with real estate firm Hines, focused on issues affecting the delivery of housing, such as the current unaffordability of housing, which he argued was due to high costs as a result of implementing current planning standards. ‘Let architects invent good housing solutions and then draw up a planning code, this will cut costs', argued Moran.  The London-based Irish architect Niall McLaughlin presented some of his practice’s innovative mixed-use housing projects in London. Delivered for housing associations like the Peabody Trust, these projects successfully combine social and affordable with high-end private homes in desirable urban sites in London.

John Moran, former Secretary General Department of Finance, provided delegates with ‘An Economist’s Perspective on the Value of Architecture’. In his presentation, John Moran teased out some of the interaction between the economic and the planning forces, not just looking at the question of housing strategy but a broader living strategy for regional towns and cities.

The conference also heard presentations from the ‘Best Emerging Practices’ of the year – an annual award made by the editorial board of Architecture Ireland. Speaking at the conference were John McLaughlin of JML Architects, the 2015 winner of the coveted award, and the runners-up: PG Architects, Strand Architects and praxis architecture.  

Last year’s popular breakout returned this year with a focus on BIM in Practice and Sustainability. BREAKOUT 1, BIM, was chaired by Ralph Montague – who also presented specially commissioned short film – and speakers included Seán O’Dwyer, BIM Associate, BDP; Rich de Palma; and Michael Earley, Associate, STW.  BREAKOUT 2 was S.W.O.T. Analysis – Sustainability Workshop, Opportunities and Tasks. It featured Sally Starbuck, Committee Chair of the RIAI Sustainability Task Force; Darragh Lynch, Michael Haslam and David Hughes.

The RIAI Working for You
In an important concluding session on Monday, 5th October – The RIAI Working for You – RIAI Staff and Committee Members delivered updates on a wide range of RIAI programmes for the membership, including Corporate Governance, BC(A)R, Employment, Sustainable Careers, CPD, Registration, Professional Standards, Communications, Planning and Public Procurement.

Also at the RIAI Annual Conference 2015:

Media Partner Architecture Ireland presented the inaugural Student Writing Prize in association with Forbo. The Prize was conceived to support and recognise writing in architecture and won by Sarah Mannion (SAUL), ‘Kalambaka and the Monasteries of Meteora’. Highly Commended were Colin Mac Suibhne (DIT), 生闘学舎 ‘Seitogakushi School'; and Eoin P. Murphy (DIT), ‘Between Two Glens'. Commended were Andrew Howell (UCD), ‘Finding Wilderness in the Concrete Jungle' and Mathew Webb (DIT) ‘A Journey to Peter Zumthor's Bruder Klaus Feldkapelle'. The Judging Panel were: Stephen Best, Michael Hayes, Dr. Ellen Rowley and Dr. Sandra O’Connell

Shane O’Toole and Miriam Fitzpatrick of DOCOMOMO Ireland presented its Student Thesis Award with DOCOMOMO founder Hubert-Jan Henket. The award was won by Karen Bell for her thesis on the Raheny Houses.

The Irish Architects Benevolent Society raised over €6,000 from an Art Raffle of Ronnie Tallon’s acclaimed Four Squares. 

Architecture Expo featured with a strong exhibition that has doubled in size since its debut in 2012 and is considered the most targeted industry networking event and a showcase of the latest products and innovations.

The RIAI bookshop ‘popped-up’ with a selection of popular titles, including signed editions of books by RIAI Members. RIAI Staff were available to delegates at the conference at a special RIAI Stand. 


Speakers’ presentations will be available shortly on riaiconference.ie.

Conference Sponsors
The RIAI is delighted about the support from its conference sponsors:
Lagan Brick and Cement Manufacturers Ireland


Categories: Architecture | Event & Conferences | ID2015

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