A lot of people wouldn’t think twice when looking at urban objects, says Lisa Godson, programme leader of the MA Design History and Material Culture in the National College of Art and Design (NCAD).
“I’m trying to get my students to see how these objects are symptomatic of a bigger system,” she says.
The Dublin Postcode project is a student exhibition that is going online this year. It’s Godson’s way of getting her students to explore urban objects in this societal way.
Urban objects can range from street infrastructure, such as a bus stop to a bench, and even to the architectural blueprints of an area.
Running since 2017, the initiative sees students examining, dissecting and piecing back together a different postcode of Dublin each year through the lens of urban design.
“I suppose I’m trying to show them that the world is both self-consciously designed and un-self-consciously designed,” she says.
This year, students were set with the task of looking at the urban design of Dublin 7. Areas such as Smithfield, Stoneybatter and Phibsborough have been studied through unique objects that represent this part of the city — in an attempt to bring a new understanding to locale.
The exhibition was launched last Friday. In it, a Deliveroo courier with a big teal bag, a barristers uniform, and architectural blueprints are among the objects that have shed new light on this part of the city.
Founding The Dublin Postcode Project
“We often teach urban theory or the history of cities using London, Paris, New York as case studies,” says Godson.
Then, she says, a thought struck her: what about Dublin?
Godson and Alan Mee, an assistant professor in University College Dublin’s School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy, set up the Dublin Postcode Project.
Initially, Godson chose Dublin 1 for her students to study in an attempt to localise urban design —they started by looking at a map of the area.
Since that first year, Dublin 8 and Dublin 24 have also been studied by students.
“Postcodes are a bit random but at the same time if you look really really closely at the locality, you start to see an underlying pattern,” she says.
After examining the maps, Godson’s students walk the streets of this area to get a sense of how urban design reflects the area. For example, students who were looking at the pattern of migration in Dublin 1 walked around Moore Street and Parnell Street.
The Drawings of Herbert Simms
“I used to live in Smithfield and I have always been drawn to Chancery Park,” says Sarah Heffernan, an MA student this year who is working on the project.
Designed by renowned social housing architect Herbert Simms in the 1930s, Heffernan says that it’s the symmetry of the park that drew her in first.
“When I lived there, the park was across from River House, which was quite a brutalist structure. The contrast was quite severe,” she says.
Chancery Park acted as a “calming center” for Heffernan and as a result, she decided to study Simms’ urban design in the area.
Her studies began by walking around the area and observing his work but this was cut short by the Covid-19 lockdown.
Heffernan reached out to the Dublin City Council city architects’ office. They were able to send her his architectural plans on houses he designed, which she is including in the exhibition .
Simms housing designs around Dublin 7 have a focus on people, that was unusual for [social housing] at the time, she says.
“There were clothesline posts, a coal bunker and even space for the larder,” she says.
At this same time, people were sharing one room in tenement houses and there was no allocated space for anything like this, she says.
“I just thought that it showed a real understanding of how people lived in these spaces and the domestic activities that would be carried out there,” she says.
Qingmiao Zhu is another student on the course and lived in Phibsboro for a year.
“When I was living there I noticed how many Deliveroo cyclists were in the area,” Zhu says.
Zhu decided to use the Deliveroo bag that she saw in Dublin 7 as a symbol for the wider issue of the gig economy.
In her piece in the exhibition, Zhu observes that the Deliveroo bag represents the plight of their workers, who have placed their “financial, legal and physical risks,” on the riders’ back.
By learning about the conditions for workers in the gig economy, we can learn more about Dublin 7, as there are people in the area who are precariously employed.
We can also learn about Dublin 7 through the lens of urban consumption habits, immigrants and globalisation, she writes.
Says Zhu: “Dublin 7 has all the features of a globalisation area.”
The diverse range of takeaways, the multicultural people, the dense population and Dublin 7’s location right beside the city centre all make it a perfect area for the gig economy, she says.
“I’ve seen their [deliveroo riders] daily routine. Poor working conditions and the pay is really low, it’s disconcerting,” says Zhu.
When Zhu looked at the statistics she saw that the most takeaways in Dublin are delivered to Dublin 7.
“People often forget that it’s humans behind the food,” she says.
Previously the Postcode Project has been exhibited in galleries but this was not possible with Covid-19.
The Dublin 7 exhibition can be seen online where street lamps, bus benches, wooden pallets, courtroom dress and artists give a better understanding of the area.
By focusing on the materials of Dublin it provides a way to talk about the city more generally, says Godson.
“I suppose it makes the urban landscape more legible in a way,” says Godson.