OpenHouse 2018: Discussing Ireland’s rural marketplace

Visitors on Biennale Architettura 2018 Photo: Ste Murray

An initiative aimed at exploring the importance of the rural marketplace was one of the many features of Limerick’s OpenHouse events that took place in Limerick between October 19 and 21.

Free Market is aimed at encouraging the use of public spaces to help small towns regain vitality, and this project also currently represents Ireland at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice.

Miriam Delaney, lecturer at the Dublin School of Architecture, Dublin Institute of Technology, was in Limerick to talk about the initiative.

In a public address at Narrative 4 she said: “Free space describes a sense of humanity, and it focuses on the quality of the space itself.”

Miriam is one of the Free Market team member working together with five architects, designers and educators to study and research small towns of less than 5000 people.

From left to right: Miriam Delaney, Jo Anne Butler, Laurence Lord, Tara Kennedy, Orla Murphy, Jeffrey Bolhuis (Photo: Ste Murray)

When speaking about the reason small towns are being targeted, she said: “Small towns have much more significant urban impacts and political functions.”

“Small town market places, once the economic and social hubs of rural Ireland have undergone fundamental changes”, she added.

While many of these towns are now facing significant economic challenges, Miriam also pointed out the traditional culture in small towns will disappear if people do not take any action, and spoke in particular about how traditional shopfronts are a significant part of the architectural heritage of small towns.

Miriam Delaney is talking about the free market. Photo: Dixion Tang, Limerick Voice

‘The unique Irish shopfronts usually include hand-painted signage, ironwork or decorative plaster, and some shop owners may put their family name on it, but due to a variety of factors, a large number of shopfronts have fallen into disrepair,” Miriam said.

When asked what was the biggest challenge of small towns planning free market, Miriam said: “The most challenging thing was the time frame, we had a very short time frame and we couldn’t answer all of the questions so there was a pressure to find solutions very quickly, then we also realised not everything can be solved very quickly.”

“Some things do take time; strategy and long time thinking and there is a rush to find long term solutions so I think that was the most challenging thing was to pause and to say ok we can’t solve it all but we can start to have the longer conversation about it.”

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