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RIAI President Robin Mandal’s Article in the Independent on Architects and Place Making

Published: Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Article by RIAI President Robin Mandal, Published in The Independent, 20 April 2015 

"Making places without architects is like having hospitals without doctors"

The French have a wonderful saying – Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. In short, it means that everything changes without anything changing at all. A truism it may be, but when it comes to the Irish property and planning landscape it is most apt. The property market has been in some form of a state of crisis for well over a decade and, as things stand, is destined to remain caught in cycles of boom and bust.

The only constant is that the wrong type of buildings will be developed in the wrong locations to solve short-term capacity needs without reference to creating sustainable communities. The statistics show that we need to change our outlook to sustainable planning given the scale of development required for the next quarter of a century if we are not to repeat the mistakes of the past. For instance, EUROSTAT projections highlight that in the next 21 years, we will need to house an additional one million people in Ireland. But it’s not just housing that’s required – these people will need schools, hospitals, places to work and infrastructure, not to mention the significant challenge in meeting the needs of an aging population.

But how can we change the status quo and deliver a new model that puts people at the heart of planning considerations? Given the clear need for creating sustainable development it will probably come as a major surprise to readers that many of our cities, towns and villages do not have architects involved in a senior decision making capacity. Analysis from RIAI has found that almost 40% of City, County and Town planning authorities do not have an architect employed. This has contributed to a lack of joined-up thinking; the lack of variety of housing supply; the death of towns and villages; the lack of community driven agenda for our housing needs; and the acceptance of inappropriate market driven solutions. Put simply, making places without architects is like having hospitals without doctors.

It doesn’t have to be that way and it certainly shouldn’t. Too many areas have been developed around housing estates with identikit retail units of a pub, chipper, convenience store and pharmacy with schools and other crucial facilities bolted on only after years of campaigning by local residents to deliver services that communities actually need.

People should have a reasonable expectation to demand more from our built environment where communities work with properly planned areas including schools, workplaces, retail, recreational space, hospitals and other healthcare facilities and a range of housing that works for people at different life stages. We must raise that expectation, so that our homes are close to our family, friends, schools, parks, shops and workplaces with different generations sharing in the same ‘village’ community.

It has been shown that the best communities can be produced where architects are at the heart of the planning and development process and leading multi-disciplinary teams. Examples of architect-led planning include country towns with the highest ratings such as Westport and Clonakilty where Registered Architects are in senior roles in Mayo County Council and Cork County Council respectively. With the resource of a Town Architect in Westport it has become recognised as one of the best places to live in Ireland. It has a thriving town centre with a vibrant community that is not only desirable for those who live there, but also known as a key destination for tourists. The intervention of a Town Architect in Clonakilty has created public spaces sensitive to the environment and the needs of people that live there allowing shops, cafes, retail and other amenities to develop at the heart of the community. This shows what the best environments have in common – the leadership of architects. While engineers and other professionals have important roles to play, the only professionals trained in design and construction are architects. The fact that 12 local authority/planning areas have no architects employed should rightly be seen as a major concern.

We have an opportunity now to plan for this growing and changing population, and we should not be caught in the ‘headlights’ again with frantic building and panic buying of homes; Ireland both needs and deserves to have an agreed vision of what our country will look like and the RIAI and Irish Architects have a key role to play in this.

Robin Mandal is a Registered Architect and President of The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland.

Categories: Architecture

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