Architects working in Ireland hit rock bottom during the recession, but gradually activity seems to be picking up

David Cash

Twelve months ago, the generous spaces of Dublin Airport’s gleaming new terminal had the feeling of a very expensive white elephant. Conceived when the Celtic Tiger was roaring its head off and the only limit was that place inhabited by the planes, the terminal had been delivered during the recession which followed. It felt as if it were no longer needed.

Returning last month, things felt decidedly different. The terminal restaurants were busy and doing a brisk trade. Another encouraging sign that Ireland is getting back to normal was when the taxi driver for my ride to the city centre revealed that he had recently moved back home with his wife and baby after a few years in Australia. 

BDP’s Irish studio first took the pain of the recession about 18 months before it hit the UK and what followed was much worse over there. Hard won commissions evaporated and survival was only ensured by delivering a consistently high level of service through a series of projects (predominantly in the education sector) along with a few international forays. Sadly, many practices simply didn’t make it.

Enquiries about new projects across a variety of sectors are coming forward and there are some exciting and challenging design competitions to get stuck into

Now, however, our Irish studio seems to be reflecting the general economy. Enquiries about new projects across a variety of sectors are coming forward and there are some exciting and challenging design competitions to get stuck into. The engineers are once again taking full advantage of Ireland’s moderate climate to create passively designed buildings that benefit from excellent levels of daylight penetration and natural ventilation.

Clearly this is encouraging, especially after having spent such a long time in the doldrums, but at present the recovery remains fragile. It feels as if, having hit rock bottom, the climate is improving, but only just. Hopefully things will now continue to get better but as they do, they will not go out of control as happened last time around. 

As the only country with which the UK shares a land border (at least at present), what happens in Ireland can have a big effect on the home market. History tells us that the Irish people are resilient and well able to bounce back quickly from hard times. There are signs that, of all the eurozone countries to have been beset by severe economic misfortune over the last few years, it is Ireland which will have dealt best with the difficulties. As the cabbie who drove me back to the airport after a busy day in the city proudly pointed out, “We are about to pay back the very last of the billions of bail out funding.”

That will be a great achievement by the old country in which Irish people everywhere can take pride.

David Cash is chairman of BDP