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How will migration influence architecture and the city?

Photo: Beach Road House, photo by Shantanu Starick

Ryan Kennihan

I moved to Ireland from America nineteen years ago to try it out for a year. I am still here. Like many Americans in Europe, I was immediately drawn to the building culture - it was exactly the opposite of the States. In Ireland, buildings were ancient and layered and connected rather than new and shallow and replaceable. Structures were made of stone, brick and concrete rather than sticks and glue. The colours too were somehow both more intense and more muted, like white figures and deep greens seen through a cloud. Even ordinary roofs seemed a commentary on the environment in their stone grey resistance to the weather or their perfect red complement to the vegetation. Buildings in America were all beige and their roofs were made of tar paper. 

Many Irish architects I met at the time bemoaned the rain and the pervasive concrete block and yearned for an opportunity for warmth, timber and lightness. I simply thought it was a privilege to make a thick and heavy wall. Perhaps it is a classic example of envying that which you do not have, or for architects, seeing opportunity and creative difference in the foreign. My foreigner's eyes were unburdened by habituation and saw in the Irish ordinary a way to give typical form and material a new life while making a culturally specific architecture. This foreigner’s perspective became the basis for my practice, one which thought that perhaps even the interminable rain could be made beautiful. 
As time passed, when I would return to the states, now as a foreigner, my view began to shift. I could see architectural potential in the sticks, the glue, and even the tar paper. It became clear that the outsider’s perspective was merely a way of seeing, a perspective that could reveal architectural potential anywhere. 

If one desires to make architecture that is meaningful to the people who use it, then its poetic must arise from the material conditions of their everyday life. The elements of a communicative architecture are always right before our eyes,

Ryan studied architecture at Cornell University. Originally from Chicago, he has been based in Dublin, Ireland since 2002, establishing his practice in 2007. He has taught architecture at University of Navarra in Pamplona, the Porto Academy, University College Dublin and the Dublin School of Architecture at DIT where he is currently a lecturer.     

Ryan is a registered architect with the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and Grade 3 Accredited in Architectural Conservation.

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