Architect and interior designer Róisín Murphy examines Ireland's need for more liveable and sustainable towns and cities in her brand new documentary, Róisín Murphy's Big City Plan. We caught up with the presenter to find out more.
As a student of architecture in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Róisín Murphy spent much of her time fighting for the protection of heritage buildings along with her fellow members of SADD (Students Against the Destruction of Dublin).
In 2022, the fight continues.
"Its shocking really," she tells me over the phone. "I left the field thinking that we had achieved so much in terms of conservation in my time that there would be no need for it, but its actually worse than its ever been, oddly enough."
In the last few months alone, petitions have been launched to save iconic Dublin landmarks such as Merchant's Arch - a historic space beloved by Dubliners since 1821 - and The Cobblestone pub in Smithfield - a cultural hub celebrating traditional Irish music, Irish dancing and the Irish language.
"I think the Cobblestone, in particular, and Merchant's Arch hit a chord with people. Merchant's Arch is such an iconic spot, it's where people come off the bus and where they cross the Ha'penny Bridge. That's everybody's home in Dublin. Its a tourist spot but its a Dublin spot too, so I think that hit a part of people."
"COVID really brought out the importance of place," she adds. "It made people think about how we're living. You were suddenly in your own home and town and area, so when we talked about urban planning, people really got it."
Some good news for a Friday.— Dublin By Pub (@dublinbypub) April 29, 2022
The "developers" who wanted to encase @CobblestoneDub in a big hotel have withdrawn their appeal with An Bord Pleanála.
No doubt they'll be back, but Round 1 to us 🥊🥊🥊 pic.twitter.com/5NOhcAD6ge
While some may argue that getting rid of the old to make way for the new is a necessary by-product of progress and development, Murphy argues that our historic buildings serve as important touchstones to our culture.
"It gives a sense of place and identity," she muses. "Your cultural heritage is your built heritage, it's like trying to keep your music going. But also, I think protecting our structures controls greed. I think if you can control the top on protected structures, it stops people from just knocking everything down."
"There's also carbon built into all structures so knocking everything down just to re-build is not very sustainable."
Additionally, the TV presenter insists that old buildings add "texture" to streets and towns, and are a draw for tourists and locals alike. Indeed, Dubliners recently enjoyed a surprise visit from Rod Stewart when he popped by The Gravediggers in Glasnevin, a pub dating back to 1833.
As well as examining the decades-long neglect and the sustainable aspects of town planning, this hour-long documentary reflects on what makes a city pleasurable to its people.
"Young people want to use their inner city and their towns, they want them to stay open later," she explains. "They want to go to the cinema or have a cup of coffee in a town square or going for an ice cream after dinner - something we would associate with being on holidays."
"The café table is here to stay on public paths in Ireland," she continues, referring to the surge of outdoor dining on offer since the COVID-19 restrictions. "We're such a sociable people, it really suits us."
Lord Iveagh has repossessed the Iveagh Market in Dublin's south inner city in the latest twist in a long-running planning row. The market, which was built in 1906 by the Iveagh Trust, has been derelict for over 20 years | https://t.co/6MupYJKpxe pic.twitter.com/Gck205CNn3— RTÉ News (@rtenews) December 8, 2020
Acknowledging the need for new builds, Murphy cites cities like London and Paris, explaining that modern architecture can successfully integrate with the old when proper boundaries are put in place.
"In the docklands, we have beautiful modern buildings and more coming, and that's actually a very appropriate place for them because you still have the context of the older city."
As well as navigating a path for the new, Murphy explains that one of Ireland's biggest architectural obstacles will be coping with the many beautiful buildings being left derelict across the country.
"There has been this 'let it fall to ruin' mentality that has gone on for several decades, sadly, but I think it may be coming home to roost with the price of inflation and the stall on more modern developments. There are developers in Dublin and Cork who are interested in reconstitution."
Reflecting on what she would like to see happen in the future, Murphy explains that the focus always needs to fall on the people.
Cycle paths, fewer cars, more public transport, the prevention of dereliction, and the protection of small businesses and residences in certain areas are all on her wish list. Her dream project, however, focuses on one specific landmark.
"The Iveagh Markets. Our market are the people's. In London, they have a thing where the community can buy back a place if its of interest, I think it usually applies to pubs, but I think if you have something like the Iveagh Markets or the fruit and veg markets - they belong in the hands of traders."
"The protection of the Moore Street traders is also important, they have battled for their existence for 50 years and they're a vibrant part of the city. They should be given far more support."
Watch Róisín Murphy's Big City Plan on Thursday, 12th of May on RTÉ One at 10.15pm.