Author Archives: Eric

  1. Humanitas // Part 5

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    The design of our homes is one area that many are guilty of neglecting; developers in particular. A home requires consideration of every aspect of our daily lives, from how we move around, the things that we use and how often we use them, storage, daylight, connection with the garden. However, many of the homes that actually get  built do not address these basic considerations. Cost is the primary deciding factor – for example, doors and windows are kept small, and storage is kept to a minimum as it’s seen as wasted space that could be used in a bedroom.

    As a result, most of our homes are poorly designed; many don’t have the space to put our hoover away, so it sits in the corner of the room and we trip over it most days. Or there is nowhere to dry our clothes so they sit on clothes horses in our living rooms.

    Good design is key to the quality of life that every person should be receiving, and it is no great insight or inspiration – it is simply thinking through how we live, and designing accordingly. To achieve this, we have to involve the client – whether it’s a millionaire’s mansion or a social housing development, the residents should be included in the design and/or the construction of their new homes.

    Alejandro Aravena, a Chilean architect, is well-known for achieving this. He has completed several social housing developments that are recognized for their social cohesion and the involvement of the local community. He has also mastered a balance between good design and cost by creating a ‘half-finished’ home – one that is complete but has the obvious potential for extension and further development by the new owners in the future, as and when funds allow.

    I truly believe that this approach can be repeated in Ireland, to provide successful housing developments, that will not only help alleviate the crisis but provide spaces that are good enough to call home.

    PHOTO CREDIT: Lisbon, Portugal.

  2. Humanitas // Part 4

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    Following on from last time, another effort that can be used to address our housing crisis is the diversification of our construction methods. This will make constructing houses faster and cheaper – but never at the expense of quality or proper planning, both of which have previously suffered during the Celtic Tiger years. Embracing a modern approach using now-common technology can de-centralize the construction industry and make it much easier for people to build houses.

    CNC machines, for example, have been used for years in the manufacture of furniture and small items, but when combined with freely-available 3D software, it becomes possible to ‘print’ components for a house – this is different from a 3D printer, which would have to be larger than the house it is printing in order to work.

    Loading sheets of sustainably sourced plywood, which is renewable and easy to transport, into a small CNC machine placed on the construction site, the components for a house can be produced and assembled. This includes the tools used to assemble the structure, making it straightforward so that anyone can do it. When combined with a suitable foundation system, insulation, cladding and windows, a house can be assembled in a few weeks rather than a few months. Cutting the time automatically cuts the cost.

    There are already companies experimenting with this type of construction: Wikihouse and Facit Homes are two, based in the UK. There is huge potential for this type of system in Ireland also, but there are a few major obstacles to overcome, including the insurance industry, who won’t insure anything that is considered ‘off-standard’. However, if money is invested into testing these technologies, they can be proven to be suitable for use in Ireland, thereby paving the way for certification and mainstream use.

    PHOTO CREDIT: Assisi, Italy.

  3. Humanitas // Part 3

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    The right to housing is recognized by the United Nations, in Article 25 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, along with the current rise in homelessness, an entire generation is at risk of never having a home of their own if the housing crisis keeps growing.

    The crisis is a result of a number of factors combining in a sort of ‘perfect-storm’ which has taken years to form. One of the contributors to the lack of adequate housing is the planning system. The idea behind the planning system is to ensure proper development takes place and to protect our heritage. However the system does not always work in the way that it is intended.

    The confinement of certain types of development on different areas of land, otherwise known as zoning, has a restrictive effect on the provision of housing. In Japan, for example, one can build a house almost anywhere you can find a piece of land, no matter the surrounding buildings or their uses. Of course separating certain industries from housing is a good idea, but relaxing the zoning system and allowing construction in more locations will increase the potential for development. Also in Japan, as space is severely limited, they often have to be creative to achieve the space they need in their homes. This requires a modern approach, one which is often refused when submitted for planning in Ireland, as it is too radical or out-of-place.

    It is currently a requirement to provide a certain amount of social housing as part of any large development. However it is way too easy for developers to pay their way out of these obligations during the planning process, thereby maintaining their profit margins and their upper-class enclaves.

    Reform of individual councils and a questioning review of the overall approach to the planning process are vital if we are to see the change that is now urgently required.

    PHOTO CREDIT: Taken by me, overlooking Nelspruit, South Africa.

  4. Humanitas // Part 2

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    Much of the worlds’ population do not have a safe place to call their own – they inhabit small temporary shelters that barely keep the elements out, let alone provide a safe place to raise a family or enjoy solitude away from the world. Others have a solid building but due to space restrictions, raise entire families in a single room. Not to mention those who, due to circumstance, find themselves with no home at all and have to resort to living in hotel rooms, in their cars or, most extreme, on the street.

    Imagine for a moment having nowhere to go tonight. No place to kick off your shoes and sit on a couch. Nowhere to brush your teeth or shower. Nowhere to sleep safely and warmly.

    In Ireland, most of our homes are at least solid, but many are still substandard. Cold, full of mould and damp; conditions not suitable for a healthy lifestyle or state of mind.

     I am only aware of these issues now that I’m a bit older and have a broader outlook on the world; when I decided to study Architectural Technology in college, these concepts were quite distant as my primary objective was to design lovely new buildings with big budgets. While this has not fully materialized, I still enjoy the privilege of creating new homes or extending homes for my varied clients. I love working with homes as it is incredibly personal, and of a scale that one person can manage.

    However this is still only for the privileged few who can afford it; there are so many more who can’t, and I want to find ways to equally meet their needs. Using creative thinking and modern technology, I believe we can. But we need to act now, before our housing crisis gets even more out of hand.

    PHOTO CREDIT: I met this gentleman and his humble home while delivering food hampers on a mission trip in Uganda. Photo taken by Conor Buckley of Piquant

  5. Humanitas // Part 1

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    As a young boy of only 9 I received a homework assignment from school to design my dream home. I didn’t realise before then how much this would excite me, but it did. I went home and almost worked through the night to prepare my design for my dream home. I had a large format piece of paper and drew a large floor plan, complete with furniture layouts and little cars in the garage – I love cars, so this part was a particular labour of love. The house was elevated above ground level, with a central open courtyard and floor to ceiling windows all around the perimeter, taking in views of the perfect location – beach and ocean on one side, mountains on the other.

    It’s taken me years to make sense of this passion for homes and house design in the overall picture of my life. I’m still on this journey, as it sometimes seems an odd sort of passion to work with. Over the next five blog posts, I hope to unpack this and explain some of the thinking behind this interest of mine, how I’ve developed it and how I see it in action within the purposes of God in my life.

    Initially, this passion was developed through observing the homes around where I lived, and sketching the houses that I visited. My brother was also a huge influence in my early life, as he studied architecture at around the same time.

    I see our homes as fundamental to who we are as people. Intertwined with our family unit, the places we live create the environment where we become who we are. They create a safe space to learn and grow, to experience new things and to process old. As such, they are fundamental to human flourishing, and their importance in our lives is not to be underestimated.

    PHOTO CREDIT: I took this photo on a research trip to Copenhagen; one of the many modern buildings in the Ørestad area of the city.