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News : Irish Last Updated: Jan 17, 2010 - 3:09:20 PM


Shadowland exhibition opens in Dublin - - a long-shot effort to give vision to the "bad bank" NAMA property czars
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Dec 15, 2009 - 5:37:09 AM

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With a shortage of educational facilities at all levels and an expected population bulge in the near future, redundant housing estates could be re-employed as educational facilities. Classrooms can be accommodated in the existing houses, with only minor modifications, and healthy open-air connections will exist between them. Open green space for break time is already supplied.

Shadowland, a week-long exhibition examining the future for Ireland’s built environment in the shadow of "bad bank" NAMA - - Ireland's State-owned repository for toxic property loans  --   opened in Wood Quay Venue in Dublin City Council Civic Offices on Monday. Organised by FKL architects in response to the current economic crisis, this exhibition looks at the legacy of the last twenty years and offers solutions to the bleak situation in the construction sector. It is essentially a long-shot effort to give vision to the NAMA property czars who will control a huge amount of assets, including development sites - - a unique opportunity to move beyond bad planning and a corrupt rezoning system that made land scarce, in a country that is 4% urbanised.

To say that NAMA, so far, has not made any departure from the Victorian culture of the Irish public service, would not be an understatement. There is no transparency on contracts and the insiders who made huge sums from property-related commissions and fees during the bubble, are now within NAMA's inner sanctum. This may seem like the script of a conspiracy theorist but it is fact.

According to Michelle Fagan, partner with FKL architects and vice President of the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland (RIAI), “The leftovers of the boom-time take the form of half-finished projects, ‘ghost’ housing estates and land zoned for development in inappropriate locations nationwide. Under NAMA, the same people who created the issues in the property sector will be charged with resolving them. Decisions must be made regarding the future of these sites and this process must involve taking into account the impact on communities, as well as financial and economic outcomes.

“By debating the issues and offering alternative development proposals, we hope to prevent a return to the old unsustainable models in favour of more integrated, flexible and holistic approach to managing NAMA’s assets. Shadowland has been developed to enable architects to raise these issues and give their opinions on potential remedies,” she said.

Seven of Ireland’s leading architectural practices are using this opportunity to contribute positively to resolve the current negative situation. Each firm has been asked to propose ideas to stimulate reactions and public debate. Some of the proposals offer long-term solutions and others offer interim suggestions for using NAMA sites.

“FKL Architects’ response was to identify uses for redundant and unfinished buildings and partially developed sites. The recommendations explore the intrinsic value of the assets, as opposed to market value, and aim is to establish long-term socially, economically and environmentally sustainable propositions within the life-time of NAMA.

“The proposal considers the possibility of converting empty housing estates into schools and transforming unoccupied office and commercial buildings into spaces for public use such indoor soccer pitches, studios for art or dance, business incubation units or bars and restaurants. Other suggestions include ‘a scrappage scheme for one-off houses in need of upgrading and a ‘twofer’ (two for one offer) in ‘ghost housing estates,” she said.

MacGabhann Architects’ proposal is the ‘NAMAtel’, an abandoned hotel in Donegal is turned over to the community to operate and provide a range of services such as a performance venue, gallery, café, camping, sheltered housing and a community centre.

Architect Dominic Stevens and artist Carol Anne Connolly examine the under-use of land in typical housing estates. In most, 80% of the land is used in a non-productive way for roads, parking and little used green spaces. Their recommendation is to re-invent these un-built areas to develop communities and produce food and energy.

For the duration of Shadowland, visitors are invited to interact with the exhibition using post-it notes to leave their thoughts. The exhibitions will also be available online for the public to review and post their responses. Comments will be collected and uploaded to the website http://www.shadowland.ie/Shadowland/Home.html. In early 2010, the proposed solutions will be collated and presented to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and sent to other Ministers, politicians and policy makers nationwide to encourage creative responses to the current crisis in the built environment.

The exhibition opened on Monday with ten minute presentations from each of the participants and a panel discussion involving: Senator Dan Boyle, Green Party; Hubert Fitzpatrick, Director of Development, Housing and Planning Services, Construction Industry Federation (CIF); Dick Gleeson, Director of Forward Planning, Dublin City Council; Ali Grehan, Dublin City Architect, Dublin City Council; Constantin Gurdgiev, economist and chaired by Shane O’Toole, architect and critic.

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