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“As architects we are complicit in making the containers of society”

Letters from Lockdown: Have we given individuals enough choices within their homes, within their cities? asks Yvonne Farrell 

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Dublin streets during lockdown (picture: Getty)
Dublin streets during lockdown (picture: Getty)

In Anthony Doerr’s book All the Light We Cannot See, the teenage character runs her fingertips along a model which is a miniature of the city where she lives. The father of this sightless girl has made the model so that his daughter becomes so familiar with the city that she can navigate its streets independently.

 

When I walk the streets of Dublin – within the 2km we are allowed to venture during this lockdown ­– the city appears like an enormous 1:1 scale model, empty, lifeless. Behind facades are people, coping with new realities. Across the world are similar images. As architects, we are complicit in making the containers of society. Have we given individuals enough choices within their homes, within their cities? Have we allowed for flexibility and adaptability? How can we build to enrich lives during various forms of lockdown?

 

In The Post – Pandemic Style in the online publication SLATE, Vanessa Chang traces the impact historically of pandemics on human lives and on architecture. She concludes by saying: “Rather than denying our fundamental social connections, design might cultivate a deeper sense of global belonging.”

 

This dreadful pandemic has changed our lives. We see clearly how the threads of society need a complex weave to function. We rely on strangers. We need each other.

 

In Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book, three generations spend time together in the confined space of an island. Jansson beautifully captures place, time, wisdom, imagination and a deep sense of belonging, both to the Earth itself and each character to the other. Thinking of our confined spaces during lockdown, what I find amazing about this book is its imaginative skill in describing the immense and fascinating world of the ordinary. Esther Freud, who wrote the foreword to the book, visits the island and cannot believe that her walk around the whole island takes her four-and-a-half minutes!

 

“The city appears like an enormous 1:1 scale model, empty, lifeless. Behind facades are people, coping with new realities”

 

With social distancing, we all know now what two metres (six feet) feels like, both physically and emotionally.

 

Recently sitting in my garden, I watched a female blackbird (in Irish/Gaelic this bird has her own distinct name: céirseach, pronounced: care and shock) gathering up bits and pieces in her beak to build her nest. For the first time, and with great pleasure, I noticed that here, naturally building, driven by instinct, is another architect!

 

Yvonne Farrell, April 2020

 

Yvonne Farrell is an architect and academic. She is founder of Grafton Architects in Dublin with architect Shelley McNamara, winners of the Royal Gold Medal 2020. This year, Farrell and McNamara won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2020

 

 


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