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The Dead City


Georgian Light Performance – Location Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square. Saturday 8 October 2011 (between hours of 8 and 9pm). The Dead City, by authors of Re-Drawing Dublin Paul Kearns and Motti Ruimy, is brought to you by the Irish Architecture Foundation in partnership with Dublin Contemporary 2011, as part of Open House Dublin.

The South Georgian Dublin Squares (Merrion Square, Fitzwilliam Square) and their immediate adjoining streets are arguably Dublin’s greatest architectural and urban design set pieces. Many Dubliners wouldn’t disagree that this is quintessentially the most beautiful part of their city. Yet this is also an oddly underperforming urban asset. Very few people actually choose to live here.

It is a peculiar unacknowledged – but self evident – truism that the South Dublin Georgian core is largely devoid of residential life. The 2006 Census tells us that a mere 388 people live in private households in the South Georgian core (Ward of Mansion House B) with just 217 persons living in homes built prior to 1919. It is a particularly urban irony that the most elegant and historically beautiful district of inner urban Dublin is largely uninhabited.

The “Dead City” celebrates an urban past and in so doing sheds light on our suburban present. It seeks to provoke discussion to a simple question – Why have the decision makers and citizens of Dublin forsaken an urban life and favour instead commuting to distant suburbs?

The “Dead City” project will contact all the property owners and tenants on Merrion and Fitzwilliam Square, and persuade them to simultaneously turn on the lights of their property at exactly 8pm for one hour before turning them off again at 9pm, on the night of Saturday 8 October 2011.

In “turning on the lights” we temporally and metaphorically breathe life back into the residential intent of the Georgian City. The construction of the Georgian Squares of Dublin represent a high point of ambition in city making in the history of the city.

“………the Georgians valued the drama and excitement of city living. Looking down onto the street from the comfort of their living room, the piano nobile was, in effect a prime seat or viewing box in the theatre of urban life. Only latterly did Dubliners shun the delight of urban voyeurism in favour of the hidden domestic defensiveness of the Victorian and suburban garden. With their desire for high-density living, delightful volumes, spacious dimensions, new technologies, and an eager embrace of relatively tall, mass residential housing, one can only imagine what the Georgian architects and engineers might be building today……” p342 Redrawing Dublin (Gandon editions 2010)

The “Dead City” celebrates the delights of 18 and 19th century Georgian residential urban voyeurism. The “Dead city” is ultimately a grand urban performance requiring the participation of building owners and tenants and citizens alike.

On the night of 8 October we become the voyeurs. The public street not the piano nobile becomes the viewing space. The temporary illumination invites the citizen – standing on the street outside – to look though the window, simultaneously looking inside but looking back in time in admiration of the ambition of Georgian urbanism. It is an imaginary urban light time capsule.

The “Dead City” playfully engages with suburban Dublin’s embracement of “Earth Day”, a day when – to conserve energy – the public lighting of central city buildings are temporarily turned-off. Energy conservation is best achieved by living in compact cities. The city is the most sustainable form of human settlement. Sustaining and consolidating urban life, residential density and the embedded energy in historic built fabric is the ultimate architectural and planning expression of ecological green intent.

The “Dead City” seeks once again to breathe life and light into our sleeping urban heritage. In a profoundly suburban city, a city that arguably displays a mistrust of city living – this is a challenging, thoughtful, timely but ultimately beautiful and hopeful performance of light and people in the Georgian Squares.

Paul Kearns and Motti Ruimy