Architectural debate among the masses is Paul Clerkin’s mission and his website is fostering debate on all aspects of Dublin’s rapid development.
Most Dubliners find it hard to keep up with the massive development the city has experienced in recent years. The ring-a-ring-a-rosey of the rare aul’ times has been replaced by development at a dizzying pace. Independent website Archeire.com has done a better job than most of chronicling and analysing the changes in Ireland’s built environment.
“Sometimes people living in Dublin seem to have a weird sort of pride in its squalidness.” says Paul Clerkin, the creator and administrator of Ireland’s most popular architectural website. “We take a perverse pleasure in the fact that nothing works. There were more stories written about Royston Brady giving out about O’Connell Street than there were pieces praising the fine workmanship that is taking shape there at the moment.”
Few bricks get laid in Dublin or beyond without some sort of comment on Archeire’s extensive message boards. In 1996, Clerkin, originally from Co. Monaghan planned that the website would analyse 40 buildings in Dublin. He started with Busaras, the building he covered for his History of Art and Design postgraduate thesis. The website now provides information on hundreds of buildings throughout the country with over 7,000 content pages and a further 4,000 on the discussion boards. A database of news clippings goes back seven years and the site’s newsletter has 3,000 subscribers. Clerkin also sends regular updates on architectural competitions to 33,000 architects around the world. With 700,000 unique page impressions a month, Clerkin’s target of one million a month is not overly optimistic.
“A hobby is the wrong word for this site,” says Clerkin. “It is more like a mission. I want to encourage people to talk about architecture. It shouldn’t just be left to conservationists.”
With a separate day job as a web developer, he donates most of his free time to Archeire. His ability to be a Jack-of-all-trades has benefited the site greatly. He is equally comfortable photographing the Georgian doors of Dublin, writing architectural commentary, or dealing with the technical issues.
He strongly believes that if the site had been run as a normal business from the beginning, it would have gone bust long ago. An Arts Council grant is enough to cover the site’s costs but not enough to cover a wage. Annual efforts every January to find corporate sponsorship consistently ends in failure. Nevertheless, in terms of interest, the site has gone from strength-to-strength.
“The Spire has helped people to be more open-minded about what they would like to see in the city,” says Clerkin. “Seeing the crowds cheering the Luas on its first trip across Taney Bridge was brilliant. We needs more of that attitude in this country and less of the Nimby stuff. For example, the final build quality of the Luas and the O’Connell Street works is beautiful and should generate greater civic pride once they are finished.”
Archeire’s discussion thread on the Spire has reached its sixtieth page of discussion. Linked pages from traffic cameras and Archeire enthusiasts kept many people updated when the controversial landmark was being erected and attracted a host of new users to the site.
Clerkin believes that Dublin needs an executive mayor who can present a vision to the people, get a mandate and then force major projects through.
“He or she would have to live by their vision for their term of office and would be able to show the electorate exactly what they had done for the city,” he says. “The mayor’s department could get a definite budget for the city. A couple of mayors of Paris have gone on to become French presidents. Dublin needs someone to fight its corner.”
For now the city has somebody to chronicle the ups and downs of the most frantic period of development in its history.