|barn raising n. A social event in which members of a community assist in the building of a new barn.|
I am passionate about architecture, in particular innovative housing solutions; I am also fascinated by building techniques both cutting-edge and traditional which can help to address housing issues. Above all, I am profoundly passionate about the transformative power of people and community. The provision of shelter (metaphorically and literally) is the common thread binding these passions.
I have met the most extraordinary of ordinary people over the years. People with whom I have created a space in which I have found myself held and supported and sheltered.
That idea of shelter or the metaphorical barn – a space that holds the tools, the food, the means to explore, to collaborate, to develop and to create, is behind my intention in this project.
The neighbourhood I live in carries a long tradition of community collaboration. The houses were built by the Guinness Brewery for their workers with the enlightened realisation that providing decent housing, and attending to the welfare of workers would result in worker satisfaction and greater productivity.
Many of the residents of my estate are former Guinness workers and their families, which identifies and binds the local community in a stronger way than other neighbourhoods. Indeed my darling neighbours Jimmy and Joan Smith, who hold an often-used spare key for me and my forgetful teenage daughters, and keep a constant eye on my house, were the original residents of the estate. Jimmy was part of the construction team which built the houses and was himself a Guinness worker.
Both Jimmy and Archie Kelly – Guinness worker and community activist – have many stories testifying to the strength of the community, with tales of families looking out for one another, shared facilities, social events, and gardening competitions. They each hold a valuable personal archive of good and hard times in a fascinating period of Dublin’s social history. The legacy of which lives on in our community stores: a resource which allows the residents of our estate to borrow all manner of tools from a communal shed for a small annual fee.
It is this sense of community, local and online, that I hope to tap into in our 5k extension experiment. It is inspired in part by barn raisings and other vernacular building traditions in which communities come together when one of their number requires the diverse set of skills and enormous effort needed to build a barn—skills and effort no one member of the community alone could possess. This comes with the understanding that the favour will be returned.
I am hosting this project, insofar as I am the provider of a space (my garden). I will be collaborating with people who carry different skills. It will also be a personal journey in trying to balance letting go with sharing my skills, in not determining the space, but curating it.
In documenting the process, I hope to share many voices, not only my own, and to provide a platform for our architects, our team, the local community and the wider wonderful knowledge filled virtual community.
Krzysztof Piwowarczyk, the team’s master carpenter discusses how he built his house in Poland with the help of his neighbours in this video.
Echoes of the tradition can still be found in other community building projects, such as house-building and renovation carried out by Habitat for Humanity, and the strong volunteering spirit of the Irish is evident in the brilliant work done by The Niall Mellon Township Trust in South Africa. Maybe our little project might help develop a conversation around renewing a social agenda of living simply, collaborating and collectively empowering communities…
Meanwhile, there is activity in the garden – Krzysztof has started building a shed at the back of the garden entirely out of found materials, (before he put his back out!). The architects are about to publish their first blog piece, the apple trees are in blossom and I will continue to keep you updated.