On the Glider: Belfast’s new bus rapid transit system has triggered a political row over bus stop names — City Metric

A version of this piece is published at The New Statesman/City Metric

Is it a tram? Is it a bendy-bus? Is it a bendy-bus-tram? Or is it just a long purple bus running on a not-quite-continuous network of bus lanes? Or, is it, as former Ireland rugby international Stephen Ferris (and now self-appointed part-time traffic infrastructure spokesperson) wrote on Twitter a shambles? 

In Belfast it’s known as The Glider, a new £90m diesel-electric hybrid bus rapid transit system (RTS) launched — to mixed reactions as a quick #Glider search on social media reveals —  at the end of 2018.

Dumb Cities — City Metric

A version of this piece was published at The New Statesmen / City Metric

The marketeers who put the prefix ‘smart’ in front of words like city; phone; watch; home; fridge and water (yes, water!) are not dumb. They are smart enough to realise that we are often dumb enough to believe that life without the technology that they say we cant live without is not as good as it was way back in the primitive 90’s when, like Neanderthals, we had to do things ourselves, like interact with real people for directions when lost, open the fridge door to see if we had run out of milk or actually remember how to spell words without being autocorrected by an algorithm.

Renovation Paradox — The Sunday Times

A version of this piece was published in The Sunday Times

In Greek Legend there is a story called Theseus' paradox — a kind of thought experiment. It goes like this. Imagine that there is a famous ship sailed by a hero called Theseus. So famous is the ship that it has been kept docked in the harbour as a museum piece. Inevitably as time passes some of the ships wooden parts begin to rot and are replaced by new ones. Eventually, all of the parts of the ship have been replaced which poses a question: is the "restored" ship still the same ship as the original? The answer normally goes something like this: with regards to its materials the ship is not the same, but this was not just any ship. This ship was sailed by the Theseus and is therefore more than just its materials. The ship has a story; the story of a great hero; it has meaning beyond its canvas sails and the timbers that form its hull. 

A question: what is architectural criticism? Since the written criticisms of Louis XV's urban plans for Paris in the 18th Century the discourse of architectural criticism has divided — be that a neighbour in suburbia responding to a domestic planning application; Frank Lloyd Wright describing Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, as "childish"; Ada Louise Huxtable on the New York Gallery of Modern Art: "a die-cut Venetian palazzo on lollipops," or Michael Sorkin's brutal take-down of Qatar's new architecture as "twisted dicks." Given that architecture is the most omnipresent of disciplines the importance of the question should not be underestimated.

Rathview Mental Health Facility by Todd Architects, A Review — Perspective Magazine

A version of this article appeared in the Sept/Oct edition of Perspective magazine

Rathhview Mental Health facility in Omagh is part of a complex ecology of social and political events that two decades after the Good Friday peace agreement are still being untangled. During the troubles, the ordinary anxieties of everyday life were delegated to the ongoing violence. But as decades of daily turmoil receded a void appeared. Anxieties remained but with nowhere to go they manifested in an epidemic of serious mental health problems. Since the Good Friday agreement, more people have died from suicide in Northern Ireland than were killed during the troubles, leaving the province with the highest suicide rate in the UK. This is, therefore, an important building. 

A Game of Homes — The Sunday Times

This house is like a game — a game of homes. The pieces: a farmhouse built in 1850, in need of updating; space for Ian & Lin McMorris a retired couple returning to the family homestead after living around the world and space for Michael McMorris their brother who has been living in the house since birth farming the surrounding land. The problem: combine all the pieces in a way that provides two distinct living areas, catering for each parties individual needs while creating one coherent and comfortable modern rural farmhouse.

What the Hell is Water (The RIBA National Awards and Northern Ireland) — RIBA Journal

You were born in it; raised in it; taught in it; some get married in it; have children in it; shop in it; work in it; and will, one day, eventually die in it. Every moment of our lives involves Architecture. Yet, like asking a fish what he thinks of the water, it often passes us by; like the air we breathe, unnoticed, unthought — just there. “What the hell is water?” replies the fish.

Architecture matters. So, in this piece I want to talk about something that happened in Northern Irish architecture last week. 

Shane Birney Architects Donegal House — The Irish Times

A version of this piece was published in the Irish Times 

Stood with your back to the sea you would have seen an “uninspiring” existing two storey house on a derelict state — “two small windows, a door facing the wrong direction; dark; sat right back into the hill; nothing of any significance or value” says Shane Birney recalling his first visit to the Donegal site where his Derry-based practice where commissioned to design a contemporary family house. But turn around one-hundred and eighty degrees, and in the distance, just beyond the point where Drongawn Lough greets Lough Swilly a vast panorama unfolds, that in the western half-light of the Donegal sky is a view as beautiful as any. 

Architectural Farm - Brick Tower House — The Sunday Times

A version of this piece was published in The Sunday Times 

“It’s a family home; it’s not taking itself too seriously,” says Shane Cotter who with Kathryn Wilson founded the award-winning architects practice Architectural Farm, who in 2014 were listed by Wallpaper magazine as one of the top-twenty best young architectural talents in the world. We’re talking about their extension and renovation to a typical 1930’s Dublin brick house on The Stiles Road, Clontarf East — what they have done is anything but typical.

RIBA Awards

A version of this article appeared in the June edition of the RIBA Journal

A 499,000 meter invisible line carving its way across the island of Ireland has become a visible symbol of our pre-Brexit woes and perhaps, more importantly, the future stability of the Good Friday agreement — here be ghosts. Northern Ireland / the north of Ireland; my own personal dialectic; a place I love and, if I am being honest, sometimes hate. I hate living in a place where a simple punctuation mark like a slash has become a powerful signifier for thirty-years of violence, immense pain and visceral anger — something I will never understand. 

Robots, Marx and the first concrete framed building in Ireland — Perspective Magazine

A version of this piece first appeared in the May/June issue of Perspective magazine.

“Robots will take our jobs," wrote Larry Elliot, The Guardian’s economics editor, in an interesting opinion piece earlier this year. They already have, I thought to myself, about a century ago — it’s called the industrial revolution. Manufacturing processes began to become automated, the worker took on a different role; more passive and repetitious. Industries like linen manufacturing that had remained largely unchanged for centuries were transformed, as the weaver's hand was exchanged for the power loom — something that Karl Marx noted with interest in volume one of Capital.

Houses Tell Stories — The Sunday Times

A version of this piece was published in The Sunday Times.

From the feet and inches marked with pencil on plaster walls telling the stories of growing children, to the door that always creaked; the scratch in the floor; the tree in the garden planted by Grandad, or the noise the central heating makes; houses tell stories. Houses are remarkable storytellers — the cycle of family life — generations of births, marriages, and deaths, captured in bricks and mortar. Millions of mini-monuments to stories we may never hear spread across the cities, towns, and villages of the Island of Ireland. The narratives of generations past quietly whispering to us as we rush along the streets from A to B to C, staring at our palms. What might we learn if we took the time to listen?

No.37 — Living Design Magazine

First published in the Spring edition of Living Design magazine.

No.37, a house by FAMILY Architects, is as much about what isn’t there as what is — what hasn’t been designed and why. The question leading architects Grainne and Alasdair to design the house was what to do now that their two-hundred year old, five bedroom nest was empty. A dilemma that many of us, if we haven’t already, will one day face. This house is an exercise in what Grainne describes as “creative downsizing.”

Kintsukuroi and County Down — Living Design Magazine

This piece was first published in the Spring edition of Living Design magazine.

I once interviewed an architect who was showing me around his sleek and minimal, modernist inspired self-designed house — not a speck of dust to be found to be hiding among the painstakingly detailed junctions. A few years later I happened to be in the house again and noticed that since my last visit the furniture had been completely rearranged. Being interested in how people inhabit spaces after they have been occupied for a while, I asked the architect-owner why. smiling, he answered honestly, “To hide the mistakes from you”, pointing to a large crack in the glassy polished concrete floor, and then to a bit of “dodgy timber detailing” around the stairwell. 

Ní neart go cur le chéile — Perspective Magazine

A version of this piece was published in Perspective magazine March/April

About 250 million years ago, during the Triassic period, a hot and arid desert that we now know as the often grey and damp island of Ireland rested about 15 to 20 degrees north of the equator — approximately where Sudan is today. In the desert heat, large areas of salt water evaporated, forming a layer of mudstone that would become the first strata upon which the dramatic, undulating topography of the Belfast hills would rise. 150 million years later, sea levels had risen and the calcium rich waters were full of algae known as coccolithophore. When dead their calcite skeletons settled on the seabed, over millions of years forming a seam of limestone that now weaves its way along the slopes of Belfast’s hills. 

Creative Downsizing — The Sunday Times

A version of this piece was published in The Sunday Times

If you were born towards the tail-end of the 1970’s you will have just about made it into what became known as Generation X. In other words, you came of age in the 90’s; you’ll remember where you were when Mandela walked free, what Oasis vs. Blur was all about, Clinton and Lewinsky, Curtained hairstyles, Dr. Martens shoes and where you were when you heard the news about Cobain. Recently you will also have reached another coming-of-age milestone. Your parents likely called it being middle-aged, but after a heavy dose of mid-nineties pre-millennial tension us Gen Xers prefer the more optimistic outlook of seeing the forty-year mark as the start of something new rather than the beginning of a slow downward trajectory towards retirement, daily trips to the golf course and — should the pension have survived —a yearly Mediterranean cruise. 

Life After Kevin — The Irish Times

A version of this piece was published in the Irish times

Buying a site and having your own house built is enough of a challenge. Designing the house and doing most of the building work yourself, in your spare time, while living on site, in a cold and damp caravan, with two children and a third on the way, while running your own busy architects practice would test most people. Add to this Kevin McCloud, a Grand Designs camera crew, and an audience of around 3.5 million people, eager to journey along the familiar narrative arc of, big dream, big budget, over budget, no contingency, late finish, happy or unhappy owner. This is the story of the house that Elaine and Micah Jones built — a beautiful, timber clad, open plan, agricultural-barn-inspired ‘long house’; very much at home in the landscape of the gently rolling hills of Drumlins Co. Down.