Dublin’s ephemeral and imaginary architectures

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    In 1989, the Irish architectural practice O’Donnell and Tuomey were commissioned to build a temporary pavilion to represent Ireland at the 11 Cities/11 Nations exhibition at Leeuwarden in the Netherlands. Citing Peter Smithson, John Tuomey suggested the pavilion, which drew inspirations from the forms and materials of the modern Irish barn, embodied an intention ‘not just to build but to communicate’. Its subsequent reassembly for the inauguration of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in the courtyard of the seventeenth-century Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin in 1991, drew comparisons between the urban sophistication of this colonial building, its svelte new refit, and the rural expression of O’Donnell + Tuomey’s barn. It was, one critic recently noted, as if ‘a wedding had been crashed by a country cousin who had forgotten to clean his boots’.
    It has been argued that temporary or ephemeral pieces of architecture, unburdened by the traditional constraints of firmitas or utilitas, have the ability to offer a concise distillation of meaning and intention. Approaching the qualities of rhetoric, such architectures share similarities with the monument and yet differ in fundamental ways. Their rapid construction in lightweight materials can allow for an almost instantaneous negotiation of zeitgeist. And, unlike the monument, from the outset the space and form of these installations is designed to disappear.
    This paper analyses the ephemeral architectures of Dublin in the modern period contextualising their qualities and intentions as they manifest themselves across colonial, post-colonial and contemporary epochs. It finds origins in the theatrical sets of the late eighteenth century and traces their movements into the semi-public sphere of the pleasure garden and finally into the theatre of the streets. It is here that temporary architecture in the city has been at its most potent, allowing the amplification or subversion of the meanings of much larger spaces. Historically, much of Dublin’s most conspicuous instances of ephemeral architecture have been realised as a means of articulating mass spectacle in political, religious or nationalistic events. And while much of this has sought to confirm dominant ideologies, it has also been possible to discern moments of opposition.
    The contemporary period, however, has arguably witnessed a shift in ephemeral architectures from explicitly representing ‘positive ideologies’ towards something more oblique or nebulous. This turn towards abstraction in form and space has rendered an especially communicative form of architecture particularly elusive. By examining continuities within the apparent disjuncture between historical and contemporary examples, this paper begins to unpick the language of recent ephemeral architecture in Dublin and situate it within wider global trends where political and economic imperatives are often simultaneously obscured and expressed in public space by a vocabulary of universality. As Jurgen Habermas has suggested, the contemporary value given to the transitory and the ephemeral ‘discloses a longing for an undefiled, immaculate and stable present’.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationVisualizing Dublin: Visual Culture, Modernity and the Representation of Urban Space
    EditorsJustin Carville
    Place of PublicationOxford
    PublisherPeter Lang
    Pages85-108
    ISBN (Print)978-3-0343-0802-1
    Publication statusPublished - 2014

    Publication series

    NameRe-imagining Ireland
    PublisherPeter Lang
    Volume48
    ISSN (Print)1662-9094

    ID: 14401721