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Opportunities for all as Ireland looks beyond its shores

It's beautiful, it's accessible, and it has the fastest growing economy in Europe. But how does architecture benefit from Ireland's good fortune?

The flourishing arts sector has financed world-class public buildings, the commercial sector has been bolstered by foreign investment in high-technology and service-sector industries and there is currently something of a housing boom. Fuelled by the changing lifestyles of a young population, the housing market is calling for a radical departure from the rural bungalow which has come to be taken as the stereotypical icon of domestic Irish life. Dublin's current housing shortage, for example, is exacerbated by the fact that its population is increasing by 25,000 every year. An associate architect in the Republic of Ireland earns as much as their counterpart in central London; a partner earns considerably more. Even in Northern Ireland, where salaries are lower, the economy seems to be stabilising, with new overseas investment reaching an all-time high.

But architecture is also flourishing in aesthetic and intellectual terms. The buildings in this issue reflect the aspirations of a country which is looking outward in its quest to evolve its own vernacular. The National Museum of Country Life by the Office of Public Works (page 28), like the Armagh Arts Centre by Glenn Howells Architects (AJ 22.6.00), suggests a public sector sympathetic to rigorous Modernism. Many smaller buildings show that private clients are just as open to international influences, as befits a country which has long since been accustomed to looking beyond its own shores.

Ireland boasts more than 40 airports and benefits from a close affinity to Europe, but also from strong historic links with the US, currently reinforced by significant economic ties - Ireland receives 25 per cent of all US investment in the EU. This, combined with a fertile economy, a can-do attitude and a genuine respect for the arts, is helping to nurture formidable homegrown talent, while architects from the mainland - Benson & Forsyth, Cartwright Pickard, Glenn Howells, to name a few - have discovered opportunities in Ireland which they would not have found at home.

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