City, Assembled

A moving panorama inspired by the Dublin Civic Exhibition 1914 (A UCD – IADT collaboration)

“The new town plan of Dublin is too great and too fascinating to be handled by any one individual architect, nor should its carrying out be committed to other than Dublin men – or at least Irishmen. The builders of a city should be the citizens themselves and the quality of their work will be in proportion to their understanding, and their sympathy for the history that has made them. Only so can they interpret what the city’s future greatness may be.” – C.R. Ashbee, A New Dublin (1914)


City, Assembled is a moving panorama inspired by the Dublin Civic Exhibition 1914, and is on display at the City Assembly House, South William Street, from 26 January to 8 February 2015. The exhibition is a collaboration between the School of Architecture, University College Dublin and the National Film School at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology. It is one of three exhibitions taking place in Dublin’s city centre to mark the centenary of the Civic Exhibition which took place in Dublin’s former Linenhall. It runs in conjunction with Phoenix Rising at Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane (07.11.14 – 29.03.15), and House/City, an exhibition curated by Brian Ward of the Dublin School of Architecture, DIT shown on the Linenhall site, which is now occupied by DIT (26.11.14 – 05.12.14).

City, Assembled exhibition installation view. Copyright Pierre Jolivet.

City, Assembled exhibition installation view. Copyright Pierre Jolivet.

City, Assembled reflects on Dublin in terms of its past, present and potential future. It provides an opportunity for visitors to become displaced from their immediate surroundings, enabling a reimagination of Dublin’s civic space. The exhibition references the Dublin Civic Exhibition 1914 and the Dublin Town Planning Competition 1914, both inspired by the work of Scotsman Patrick Geddes. Geddes, a biologist by training, was a town planner and sociologist with diverse interests including the theories of education and knowledge, the arts and history. He was invited to organise the exhibition and subsequent competition by Lord and Lady Aberdeen in order to re-imagine Dublin as ‘the phoenix of cities’ during a period of economic, social and political strife.

Lord and Lady Aberdeen held the Viceroyalty of Ireland in 1886 and again from 1906 to 1915. They were both fervent advocates of Home Rule, aware of the imbalance between urban poverty and the new rural prosperity. The Church Street Disaster of 1913, in which the collapse of two tenement houses killed seven people, was one of a series of events that highlighted Dublin’s housing problem. The Aberdeens’ interest in the revitalisation of Dublin’s inner city and wider environs led to the exhibition and town planning competition. The Civic Exhibition was held from 15 July to 31 August 1914. The exhibition was widely supported, with special excursion trains to Dublin provided. An attendance of 9,000 visitors on the opening day was reported and over 110,000 over the course of the exhibition.

Coinciding with the exhibition Geddes proposed the Dublin Town Planning Competition,  organised by the Civics Institute of Ireland, which aimed to produce a set of proposals that could be used to guide the overall pattern of development in Dublin. Eight competition entries were received, competing for the £500 prize fund offered by Lord Aberdeen. Only three of the eight entries are known to remain, dispersed throughout various institutions in Ireland and America. Using film and photography City, Assembled brings the archival material together in one location. City, Assembled shows Dublin then and now, conveying the ambition of the 1914 proposals, allowing for a renewed awakening and re-imagination of our city’s planning.

The exhibition takes the form of an informative journey. Viewers navigate their way around a freestanding timber structure, erected in the centre of the City Assembly House’s octagonal gallery. Along the perimeter of the structure the viewer is presented with material depicting Dublin city in terms of ‘what it was’, ‘what it is’ and ‘what it could be’.

Darkest Dublin (what it was)

City, Assembled includes John Cooke’s photographs depicting the stark living conditions of Dublin city in the years leading up to the Dublin Civic Exhibition. These images are now housed in the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and have been collated into a book, Darkest Dublin, by Christiaan Corlett, telling the story of the forgotten events of the Church Street disaster. This tragedy served as the catalyst for a series of events that culminated in a public inquiry and the ‘1913 Report of the Departmental Committee into the Housing Conditions of the Working Classes in the City of Dublin’. For the inquiry John Cooke, then treasurer of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, carried out a personal inspection, in the company of the society’s officers, of Dublin’s inner city housing. In the inquiry he described the slums in the north inner city and the Liberties and Coombe on the south side. The findings were shocking. “There are many tenement houses with seven or eight rooms that house a family in each room, and contain a population of between forty and fifty souls. We have visited one house that we found to be occupied by 98 persons, another by 74, and a third by 73.” Five images have been chosen from the collection (of over one hundred of John Cooke’s photographs) in order to represent Dublin city in 1913 (what it was).


Panorama (what it is)

The design for the exhibition originated from a 4th Year module titled ‘Disseminating Architecture’ taught by Professor Hugh Campbell and Stephen Mulhall in the School of Architecture in University College Dublin, and assisted by Philip Crowe. The original idea of an immersive panorama was then developed through design based research. Precedents have been a major influence on the design and construction of City, Assembled. The painted panorama, invented by the Irish born Robert Barker, played an important role in 19th century cultural life and was one of many spectacular forms of entertainment that became available to citizens at a reasonable price. In 1821 one of the earliest moving panoramas is recorded to have been exhibited on Lower Abbey Street in Dublin in a purpose built pavilion; it is said to have outsold ‘high art’ of the time due to its cheap seating prices. These, coupled with Edinburgh’s Outlook Tower designed by Patrick Geddes, one of the main organisers of the Dublin Civic Exhibition 1914, have been major influences on the design of City, Assembled.

“The development and management of city spaces… often require this decentering and estranging device in order for the spectator to gain an exterior vantage point from which to judge its successes and failures.”
– M.C. Boyer, The City of Collective Memory (1994)

The octagonal room in the City Assembly House presented the perfect opportunity for a panoramic experience and drove the development of the structure. Early versions of the design used the existing walls for the panorama. However through group discussion and design it was decided that the exhibition should be a stand-alone structure that incorporated both the panorama and archival material. The design of this structure was explored at a scale of 1:1 allowing the team to better understand the spaces it created and to refine the technical aspects of the moving panorama.

The City, Assembled panorama presents the viewer with a displaced and somewhat distorted view of their immediate surroundings. It combines both photography and projection with the aim of representing South William Street (directly outside the City Assembly House) in a new light, to invoke thought and contemplation on how we view our cities. A rotating projector throws a populated film onto an unpopulated printed screen to create a unique immersive panorama experience (what it is).

Archival Material (what it could be)

In order to disseminate the ambition of the original town planning competition, City, Assembled has curated dispersed archival material into films to make them accessible to the public. Original footage of Lord and Lady Aberdeen opening the Dublin Civic Exhibition 1914 has been provided by the IFI Irish Film Archive. Other material includes C.R. Ashbee’s New Dublin, currently housed in the UCD Library
Special Collections, and F.A. Cushing Smith’s original hand drawn maps and proposals held in
the Irish Architectural Archive. The ambition of these entries influenced the development of the
Dublin city we know today. From vast infrastructural re-planning to the design of a new
civic centre, these entries convey the potential for re-imagining Dublin city (what it could be).

City, Assembled was designed, constructed and curated by Cillian Briody, Matthew Mullin and David O’Mahony, three Masters of Architecture students studying at the School of Architecture, University College Dublin (supervised by Stephen Mulhall, lecturer in the School of Architecture). The development of the technical aspects of the exhibition was achieved through collaboration with Finbarr Crotty, Aran Hennessey, and Niamh McNamara (supervised by Donald Taylor Black, Anne O’Leary and Matt Skinner) of the Institute of Art, Design and Technology. A special thanks to the Irish Georgian Society for their contribution to City, Assembled.

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