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The state of Irish architecture

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This week's special report includes four buildings from different locations, showing the standards of architecture in Ireland

Ireland, says the Investment and Development Agency, is the fastest-growing economy in Europe, 'with a competitive cost environment and people that are productive and flexible'. Businesses, especially those backed by overseas investment, are booming.

In 2000, Ireland imported goods and services to the value of £31.5 billion (GBP), increasing import relations with EU member countries by 51 per cent (in value terms).

Exports contributed £50.5 billion (GBP) to the balance of payments.

Some 200 years since the Act of Union, and 80 years since partition, Northern Ireland, too, seems to be stabilising, with new overseas investment reaching an all-time high in the 12 months to March 2001.

All of which should be good news for architects. Developers are bringing in new money and, with design quality of new buildings and refurbishments high on the agenda, many fine examples of contemporary architecture are becoming evident.

This provides opportunities in both directions. Architects with skill and ingenuity who are currently based in Ireland need to be seen by a wider public and commissioned accordingly. On the other hand, architects in England, Scotland and Wales should be aware of the opportunities on offer in a country just 100km off their coastline.

In this week's feature article, for example, we show how architects from London's A-EM Studio regularly commute to Shannon Airport, one of the many well-served airports dotted about the country, to manage a prestigious family-house project in Tipperary.

Meanwhile, Des Byrne of the Office for Public Works, based in Dublin, has produced a sleek, Modernist structure in Co Mayo, as far away from his office as Dublin is from Liverpool.

The other two schemes include a large auditorium and a house extension, both in Northern Ireland. The auditorium, situated in Derry, deals with a complex brief, including the need to connect with a fragmented community. The house in Co Antrim is simply a very good example of domestic architecture.

We follow these detailed studies with a mixture of some recent architectural projects and ask the architects to explain their designs and philosophy in their own words.

Included in these are a number of schemes by Todd Architects, headed by Barrie Todd, president of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA), helping in the regeneration of Belfast city centre. The scheme, by Twenty Two Over Seven Architects, is a well-thought-out domestic extension, while Fewer McGinley Associates brings a touch of Venice to rural Ireland.

In the practice section, Richard Partington explores the reality of working in Northern Ireland and we go on to explore the politics of regeneration in Belfast in a provocative essay by Pauline Haddaway of Belfast Exposed gallery.

This issue of The Architects' Journal has set out to examine only a few examples of what is on offer in Ireland, north and south.

During the course of our research, there has been revealed a wealth of interesting architectural styles, settings and development opportunities. There is a distinct sense that Irish architects are comfortable in the merging of their Irish and a European identities - a view which comes across strongly in their work.

We hope that this series of studies opens up possibilities for architects on both sides of the Irish Sea.

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