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November 13, 2008

Turning the corner in social housing design

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York Street flats were the last real slums in Dublin to survive into the 21st century, and probably provided a setting for films that needed an authentic “tenement” backdrop. But now they’ve been replaced by a superb social housing scheme that would put even the most “exclusive” private sector apartments to shame. “The old flats were really appalling,” says architect Seán Harrington, whose firm designed the replacement housing. A Georgian terrace, rebuilt in 1949, the block contained 99 apartments, 45 of which faced northwards onto the street and the rest faced south, looking out over bleak concrete yards with washing lines. Harrington is a committed architect who is passionate about housing. His “learning curve” in this area was a competition, sponsored by Dublin City Council, for an affordable housing scheme on Holles Street; a complex public-private partnership (PPP) project, it is only now nearing completion six long years later. “When we came on the scene in York Street, the city council had already decided to demolish the flats,” he recalls. “We said we wanted to meet the remaining residents to find out what their needs, wants and worries were, and to introduce them to the design process, instead of just getting what they would be given. “We had some experience of this in Ballymun and also in the UK and, although it can be difficult, it can also be very rewarding. As architects, it’s great to meet the people you’re housing because it focuses you in a way and makes you do a good job. So we ended up having 10 meetings in Aungier Street community centre.”

The Irish Times

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