This is a brilliantly planned local authority development of 25 houses, one of the best in Ireland – at least from an architectural perspective. But architecture alone is not enough. Yes, it can help improve the quality of life, but there are limits to the fairy dust it can scatter on society and its citizens. Even a wonderful site behind a mature hedgerow with views of the sea and the Sugarloaf Mountain may not be enough if it is in the wrong place. The oldest property maxim – location, location, location – is an iron rule.
Patrick Shaffrey, the great champion of the Irish town noted as much when he reviewed Parknasillogue for Architecture Ireland soon after completion: ‘Unfortunately the scheme is located some distance from the centre of Enniskerry, with its shops, schools, library and other community facilities, and along a busy road. It is disappointing that Wicklow County Council should still be continuing with long-discarded policies of pushing social housing out in ‘the sticks’.’
Seán Harrington agrees. ‘The site is a mile from the village. It may have been the only publicly affordable site, but you are inevitably ghettoising a community that you are trying to establish from scratch off the housing list. I’m a socialist,’ he says. ‘I believe you should try to make life better. I can only do it in architecture. Sadly, because Finance is in charge of procurement, all the focus is on numbers of units, not the society we are creating. The model promotes big schemes on flat sites out of town. There is no vision for a better society.’
Harrington’s design is based on the clachán principle of traditional farmyard clusters, with a contemporary interpretation of vernacular building details. This is no mean achievement, given the open space standards that applied to the development – 80m2 public open space per dwelling and an average of 60m2 for each back garden. ‘One thing I have learned over the years is the importance of place-making in housing developments – streets, squares, playgrounds, corners,’ he says. ‘The places between buildings are the most important thing. The buildings themselves are backdrops.’
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