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Reflections on Architecture & Design - Barry Sheehan, DIT

We are delighted to introduce Architecture & Design as a brand new category to The Undergraduate Awards 2017!
To provide some context for this discipline, Barry Sheehan from DIT gives us an insight into the history of the subject in Ireland and the work of architects today.

Architecture is by nature cyclical. Thankfully in Ireland at present we are in an upcycle with increasing levels of activity in the construction industry. It is very disheartening to educate students who graduate with no possibility of employment in the country in which they studied. This is not the case now and architects are beginning to return to opportunities in Ireland.

Irish architects are recognised as being amongst the best in the world. Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects recently won the Royal Institute of British Architects International Prize for their Engineering University building in Lima, Peru and previously won World Building of the Year for the Bocconi University in Milan. Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey of O’Donnell + Tuomey won the Royal Institute of British Architects Annual Gold Medal in 2015 for their body of work. Both practices work extensively in the education sector and I am delighted that both practices are working on new projects on the campus in Grangegorman, where DIT are based.

Bocconi University

In the Irish architecture practices that are renowned worldwide, women play significant roles. In the case of the practices mentioned above, three of the four principals are women, as is the Dublin City architect, Ali Grehan. We have some way to go before there is gender balance throughout the profession but at least in the design led practices gender equality appears evident.

Sinéad McLoghlin at the UA Global Summit 2014


Architecture thrives on competitions, it is how most architects establish themselves in the profession. Winning is habit-forming and entering competitions as early as possible is essential. Most architecture students in Ireland enter the annual travelling scholarship competition which has been in existence since I was first in college. The number of competitions and awards has increased and I believe The Undergraduate Awards have become an essential competitive first step for students of all disciplines. Sinead McLoughlin won the design category in 2014. Sinead entered the Department of Education Graduate Training and Skills programme, which is another excellent way of starting a career. I am in no doubt that her success in The Undergraduate Awards would have helped in her application.

I was fortunate to read Sinead’s dissertation and was much struck by it. Her subject was complex but the writing was easily understandable. All professions have unique words that they use when talking amongst themselves as a kind of shorthand. What many architects fail to do is to stop using these coded words when talking to someone who is not immersed in the nuances of their profession. I sometimes wonder if they do this because they are unconfident in their arguments and hide behind obtuse language. The best architects are confident and can robustly discuss and debate their ideas. They do it naturally using simple language and the debate is all the better for it.

Barry Sheehan
Head of Design, Dublin School of Creative Arts, DIT