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Housing first for the Emerald Isle

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Brady + Mallalieu Architects' campaign to introduce the foyer to Ireland has won it a commission for a £10.5m scheme in Dublin

London-based practice Brady + Mallalieu Architects has won a long battle to build a foyerstyle social housing scheme in Dublin. The £10.5 million development will be the first in the Republic of Ireland and, after more than three years of consultation, represents a breakthrough for the practice.

The foyer concept was imported into the UK from France nearly a decade ago and involves building specialist accommodation for vulnerable young people with facilities for training in work and life skills. The original idea was to provide housing in order to enable young people to look for work outside of their home town, but the concept gained a more social dimension upon crossing the Channel. In the UK all tenants commit to remaining drug-free and sign up to an action plan of personal development.

Brady + Mallalieu's scheme for Dublin is due to go on site next month and should be complete by Christmas 2002. Commissioned by Cara Housing Association, the complex will include eight sixbed flats, two further flats for live-in managers, workshop and exhibition space, and a leisure centre which will open to the general public.

'The government is very open to new ideas at the moment. Housing is almost inaccessible to young people in Dublin now because of cost increases, ' Brady + Mallalieu partner Angela Brady told the AJ. 'Eventually, we hope to have one in every county in Ireland.'

Brady entered a competition for a foyer project in the UK five years ago. Although the practice lost the competition, it adopted the idea and pressed Dublin city architect Jim Barrett to launch the concept in Ireland.

'Although we didn't win the original competition we thought it was such a good idea - architecture with a social conscience. Essentially, we went to the government and said: 'These foyers are a good idea; do you want one?', ' said Brady, who is also planning a further scheme for Limerick. Plans are also afoot to build a third foyer in Cork.

Built in the Liberties, a neglected part of Dublin, the apartments are arranged around a common courtyard, while bedrooms centre on communal kitchen and dining areas. 'It's very important how you plan the social space of the building and how people move around it, ' said Brady. 'The idea is to bring them [the residents] out of themselves and almost force them to socialise.'

'The aim is to move people from dependence to independence. This is joined-up thinking, where we provide holistic help for young people, ' said Dan Biddle, network co-ordinator at the Foyer Federation.

There are now 107 foyer schemes operating in the UK, with 58 currently in development and a further 64 at feasibility stage. Most are located in inner city areas and accommodate an average of 40 people - although rural centres have been created to house as few as four residents.

The country's biggest scheme, in east London's Stratford, houses 200 people. Two further large developments are due to be completed later this year: a £4.5 million, 116-bed scheme in Harlow designed by Wilkinson Eyre and Levitt Bernstein; and another in Redbridge, designed by the ATP Group.

ATP's five-storey building, being constructed for East Thames Housing Association, is largely modular. Much of the scheme has been built in a factory by Volumetric. The building consists of a steel frame up to first-floor level, with the accommodation being craned on top.

'Originally it was going to be a traditional scheme, but it came in over budget and we had to find another way of getting costs down, ' said ATP associate Graham Paine.

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