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2024 Programme Announcement Exhibition

Announcing The Reason of Towns: An exhibition with architect Valerie Mulvin


An engaging and provocative new touring exhibition on the tradition and future of the Irish town

Opening on 1 August in John’s Hall, Birr, Co. Offaly before embarking on a national tour across Ireland in 2024 and 2025, The Reason of Towns is a new, engaging and ambitious exhibition of the work of one of Ireland’s most renowned architects, Valerie Mulvin. 

Curated, commissioned and produced by the Irish Architecture Foundation and hosted in partnership with local arts and cultural organisations and venues, this exhibition is a public occasion for the telling and retelling of true stories, lost traditions and possible futures for Irish towns and the people who live in them.

Organised around a series of immersive display ‘characters’ intended to engage and communicate to audiences in a variety of ways, the writings and buildings of Mulvin and her practice McCullough Mulvin Architects are exhibited through models, drawings, texts, and a series of slides, notes, personal memorabilia, building fragments and more. Together these reflect just a fraction of three decades of work on the subject of towns, recently gathered and published in Mulvin’s book, Approximate Formality, which was a starting point for this exhibition.

In addition, The Reason of Towns exhibition also presents three newly commissioned films: “The Shape is the Thing” is a spatial-portrait of Clones, Youghal, Dungarvan and Templemore, describing their ‘ordinary-spectacular’ forms; “Of Pride and Place” documents ten optimistic stories of action and change by architects working in towns across Ireland; while, finally, the exhibition will also present a new interview with Valerie Mulvin by broadcaster Vincent Woods, reflecting on her work and the subject of the exhibition.

Initially travelling from Birr to Belmullet, Trim and then Thurles in 2025, The Reason of Towns will be supported in each town with a one-day public engagement programme. Called the Talks of the Town, these events will include walking tours, a community-led workshop and a panel discussion. In this way the exhibition becomes an opportunity for local issues to be aired and discussed in a national context, fostering civic pride and promoting local action.

Emmett Scanlon, Director of the Irish Architecture Foundation, said:

“Valerie Mulvin is a remarkable and tenacious architect. She has immersed herself in the subject and object of the Irish town as part of national and global urban traditions for decades. The team and I at the IAF are so proud to have made this exhibition in her company, and to be taking her work as an architect and all that it reveals right into the heart of town communities. The IAF is determined to support policy makers and local communities to work together to build more sustainable, inclusive and beautiful futures in towns across Ireland. 

“From our work in towns we know there is a strong appetite to address issues of dereliction, vacancy, and repair, and for what is often sincere local pride of place to be made real, to be translated into high quality buildings and public spaces for all. Exhibitions of architecture are unique in that they can be beautiful, revealing and engaging for audiences, yet they can also act as agents of change. They provide a constructive space for dialogue and imagination and sow the seeds of change. I urge you all to visit this exhibition, enjoy the work of one of Ireland’s most revered architects and come join the workshops and talks!”

Valerie Mulvin, Director of McCullough Mulvin Architects and whose work is the subject of the exhibition, said:

“It’s a great honour to be working with the Irish Architecture Foundation to share my excitement and curiosity about the extraordinary character of our towns. In The Reason of Towns I want to celebrate their geometry, their materiality and their potential and to talk about the particular and the universal, to rediscover these great spaces, underpinned by the material qualities of their stones and walls and yards. In my book Approximate Formality, the starting point of this exhibition, I proposed a way of seeing Irish towns as part of European urban culture. In the film ‘The Space is the Thing’, I explore space and form in a sequence of four towns. Highlighting their remarkable ambition and diversity, and wondering at their hollowed-out centres, I am suggesting these vivid, elegant containers of space have the potential to become the backdrop again to the wild individuality of our lives. 

“Woven through this exhibition is evidence – in thirty years of projects and buildings – of our ambition as architects to inspire, re-invent and communicate the value of formal and built grain and fabric in our towns. With The Reason of Towns, I hope we can start a conversation about the value of the local, about using and reusing everything that already exists, and what it really means to share space in towns, among those unique environments and communities.”

In 2024, the exhibition runs from 1-11 August in John’s Hall, John’s Mall, Birr, Co. Offaly; 16-30 August in Áras Inis Gluaire, Belmullet, Co. Mayo; 12-26 September in Swift Cultural Centre, Trim, Co. Meath, and in January 2025 in The Source Arts Centre, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. The self-guided exhibition is open to members of the public to attend on a drop-in basis.

The Talks of the Town one-day programme will open for registration in advance of each tour stop, and local residents, members of heritage and environmental committees, planners and researchers are encouraged to sign up. Registration for the Talks of the Town in Birr is now open.




The Reason of Towns exhibition is funded by the Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The exhibition tour is additionally funded by the Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon. The Talks of the Town programme is funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Government of Ireland.


Exhibition Team


Exhibition Design by AP+E, Laurence Lord, Jeffrey Bolhuis

Visual Identity and Design by ART DEPT, Eamonn Hall

Exhibition Build and Installation by Space Forms, Sara Murphy, Frank Prendergast

Film – “The Space is the Thing” produced by Red Pepper Productions, Martin Danneels, Geoff Power

Film – “Of Pride and Place” produced by Areaman, Shane Hogan

Film – Interview with Valerie Mulvin and Vincent Woods produced by Areaman, Shane Hogan


Local Partners 2024-25


Birr, Co. Offaly: Birr Theatre and Arts Centre and Birr Vintage Week and Arts Festival

Belmullet, Co. Mayo: Áras Inis Gluaire

Trim, Co. Meath: Swift Cultural Centre

Thurles, Co. Tipperary: The Source, Arts Centre and Library



Top: Still from “The Shape is the Thing”, a film produced by Red Pepper Productions for The Reason of Towns exhibition, 2024. Copyright Irish Architecture Foundation.

Bottom: Portrait of Valerie Mulvin by Myles Shelly, 2024. Copyright Myles Shelly.

Colour portrait of Valerie Mulvin, sitting at a desk spread deep with papers and objects. Her left hand is resting on the desk, while her chin rests on her right hand and her right elbow is on the desk. She is holding a pen in her right hand and looking up, left of the camera, with a thoughtful, intent expression. A print of the cover image of her book, "Approximate Formality", can be seen in the background over her left shoulder, hanging on the white wood panelled wall.