What is Nine Lives?

Most building is by and for people. Therefore one might conclude that buildings, somehow, must be intended to support life. We – that is, both you and I – spend most of our lives in rooms, dancing our days moving in, and out, around and about, over time, as long as we live. The stories then these rooms could tell if we just took the time to listen.

Nine Lives offers a way to read some extracts from the ongoing life story of nine rooms by nine Irish architects. Each room has its own distinct story, begun by someone, somewhere, each with a significant architectural design chapter. Ongoing contributions written, over time, by those that are occupying, appropriating, altering and consuming these rooms are extending and developing each built-biography. In Nine Lives, images are presented as one way to observe these rooms, and two sets of images are used. Typically rooms for work or other production are presented using both photographs commissioned by the architects when the projects were architecturally and practically complete and new photographs and drawings made more recently, showing occupation and use. Eight of the nine rooms are part of a home, one is part of a school, but all are essential to key stages of our everyday life and our social and spatial development.
Housing and homes have been and continue to be a significant topic of social and political debate in Ireland and arguably the primary conduit through which aspects of the design of our built environment enters everyday conversation. House design has also been key to the creative and tectonic development of this generation of Ireland’s architects. If you were to believe the popular narrative though, the Irish economic “boom” made greedy property speculators of “ordinary” people, with the home being the currency of choice. Indeed the general discourse appears to have concluded that our primary interest in Ireland is the individual unit and that a sense of collective endeavor and dwelling have, for the most part, been enthusiastically rejected. Nine Lives challenges this, and suggests this is not the only story of how we lived and housed during that period. Through this exhibition a process of revisiting, reflection and research has begun. The question quickly arises if the consumption of our homes is significantly more social and collective than we have previously considered.
Through visiting, listening and documenting, Nine Lives observes that our consumption of the home – of which the financial transaction is only one part – has really been less about property development and greed and more about finding the means to sustain our social and collective lives through a period of immense national change. By designing, building, extending, decorating and spending Sunday at the DIY superstore, the Irish are perhaps finding a new way to ensure the institutions of home, social and family life endure.
As Ireland tries to build 90,000 households by the year 2020 to address a housing crisis, the conversation is again returning to the speedy production of “units”. To imagine a meaningful role for architecture the next five years might require us to firstly acknowledge that these architects design extraordinary homes, not units and they should be enabled to design more. Having done so, architecture and those that practice it, must also consider the consumption of all homes as a creative act, one worthy of close observation, a process all different but all equal to architectural design. This will be challenging but may enable more people to meaningfully write the life story of their current and future homes, however they are produced.

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Photo by Noel Bowler, commissioned for Nine Lives.

Room by Urban Agency.