Four University of Limerick students have found an innovative way to help a rural community, promote their future profession and make themselves more employable.
Start Design, comprising Ronan O’Dea from Corbally, Dermot Upton, Raheen, Ray McGreal of Ballinrobe, Mayo and Colin Dorgan from Ballyhooly in Cork, is collaborating with the people of Crusheen in an effort to design a new community centre for the village.
The fifth year architecture students are now meeting the public in Crusheen to discuss ideas for the future of the local community centre.
Keith Walsh is a member of the community centre committee and he explained it to The Clare Champion.
“They came last Friday and they’re here until Sunday staying in the old dispensary in the village. They’re students of the University of Limerick and they’re being supervised by Peter Carroll, who’s one of the lecturers.”
The collaboration came about after the students and a representative of the local community spoke with college staff about their ideas.
“This is something the Crusheen community have been thinking about for some time as the facilities they have here are below par. Keith is a film maker and he had the idea of approaching students in the university to save costs. At the same time, we had mentioned to two or three of our lecturers that we wanted to create our own work in the future and I was talking about rural areas in particular so because we were talking about this at the same time as Keith was, it worked out really well and we met with him the next week,” recalled Colin Dorgan.
He explains how the group began to develop their idea of carving out their own future.
“First and foremost, architecture is a design course and it is intense and everyone gets really into their projects they are doing and they become a labour of love. The course comprises autonomous education and continuous assessment so this means we are not taught everything we need to know to complete our projects, sometimes we have to go and find out that information. We have the freedom to do that in the course,” he outlined.
“There has been a culture of being sensitive to community spaces in Limerick City but the difference in our group is two of us are from the city and two from small villages. We became interested in targeting rural villages that are in dire need of renovating their community spaces like the hall in Crusheen or infrastructural projects or reusing ghost estate. These were the type of things we were considering,” he added.
The project isn’t entirely philanthropic.
“It is also about beating the recession too and getting jobs for ourselves or at least getting experience in architecture before we finish college so that we have a better chance of getting jobs.
“Our group also represents a new generation of architects. We will graduate next year and we are looking at moving to Dublin in order to get work. None of us are from there, we don’t particularly want to go to Dublin for work so we are trying to generate work here for ourselves.
“We are doing this for ourselves too and trying to make a few quid off it. We are also trying to put together business plans for ourselves and others to take on more projects like this,” Colin continued.
The group want people to come forward with their views on the future of the centre.
“They’re listening to people’s ideas, concerns, their needs and want to come up with a design that is a site-specific village specific community centre so it fits the needs of Crusheen rather than taking a one-size-fits-all design and putting it in Crusheen. That’s the idea. They’re talking to neighbours to listen to their concerns, talking to people who use the centre or teach there,” said Keith Walsh.
“At the moment, the centre is not fit for purpose because the village has grown so much over the last 10 to 15 years. Also, the community centre itself is an old building and it needs to be insulated, because it’s damp and if something isn’t done with it, it’ll deteriorate.”
All are welcome to get in touch, he said.
“They have a Facebook page, a website and a twitter account, and they’re in the dispensary from nine to nine every day. They’re looking for people to come in, have a talk, give their ideas or concerns.
“Every day, they’re updating their ideas and designs, so if anyone wants to come in and critique those or raise concerns, they can. We’re having a series of three public meetings, the first was on Tuesday, the second on Thursday and on Sunday. as well there will be a final presentation of the idea and those things will happen at 8.30pm in the community centre and everyone is invited.”
Of course, Start Design is made up of students so a single meeting with Keith didn’t clench the deal.
“Obviously, the committee were looking at us as if we are students, which we are, so in order to convince them we met with them and convinced them that we are capable. Then we had to work on the logistics of the project.
“We are fairly ambitious and want to get as much community involvement as possible. So we needed a studio and there are so many empty premises in every small town and village. So we found the dispensary here and the people next door offered us a quarter of that space. It is damp and out of use but that doesn’t matter to us. It is somewhere people can come in, meet us and talk to us.
“We have lots of different local groups and individuals coming in to us and that is has been really positive. One woman with a child who has disabilities came into us and spoke to us about universal accessibility. This is something we were very interested in and wanted to address so that is great,” Colin added.
Colin and his colleagues are also eager to make the design process as transparent as possible.
“What we want to do is have a transparent process that transcends the building regulations and the fear attached to that. People can come in and talk to the architects and find out what we are about and what the design process entails. We are basically architects for a whole village.
We want this to be not just functional and on budget but we also have ambitions to make this a critical success as well. These are all the concerns we have and people can come in and meet us and be exposed to that. It helps people get their concerns across, it gives them ownership of the building, which is really important because it is a community building,” he said.
As well as speaking to local media and recording their work on social media sites and their website, Start Design will also feature in a documentary.
“This documentary will hopefully explain how a student goes from being in college to creating his own work especially in a creative field like architecture,” Colin outlined.