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Commissioned by the IAF, the review of plattenbaustudio’s installation was written by Róisín Cahill who took part in our inaugural Emerging Architecture Writers (EAW) programme, run alongside Momentum.
by Róisín Cahill
Receiving the keys of a Dublin city bedsit is a transaction of charged potential. The simple act of unlocking is an unspoken proclamation of independence. Heaving overflowing bags and boxes up a shared stairwell is a pivotal moment for many city dwellers; the ordeal marks a new beginning, the transition from familiar comforts to the undiscovered landscape of the future. A pre-furnished bedsit awaits, ready to be made a home.
Climbing up the concrete stairs of no. 15 Bachelor’s Walk and entering All Mod Cons by plattenbaustudio evokes a similar sense of optimistic anticipation. A life-sized replica of a bedsit sits exposed in the first-floor gallery. An exhilarating beauty radiates from its crisp white lines. Yet stepping forward, the initial excitement starts to fade. An uncomfortable truth lies within the delicate construction, disguised by phantom futures of city living. Standing in the centre of the bedsit, surrounded by a stranger’s belongings, the reality of homemaking in rental housing is unmasked. Something doesn’t quite fit.
The entirety of the unblemished home can be viewed from one vantage point. A stranger’s life preserved in an exhibition, captured in a single glance. The home within the room is a sterile scene of a life. The stranger’s clothes hang on a rail, their phone lies on the bed, their keys rest on the white counter. The stranger’s life is embodied by these apathetic objects, belongings which construct a home in an alien landscape. I don’t belong here. A sense of unease starts to grow. This replica bedsit is constructed of paper. It is undeniably uncomfortable. The paper lamp offers no light, the paper tap offers no water, the paper bed offers no comfort. The stranger’s carefully placed paper belongings are at once both familiar and unnervingly cold. The home is cramped; I turn carefully for fear of damaging the pristine exhibit. But the anxious feeling isn’t solely due to constricted movement. We have all learned to fit life within the home in the past year, a necessary skill in serial lockdowns.
The fifty-two floor plans tiling the wall beyond the paper kitchen sink show a collection of Dublin city bedsits available for rent over the past year. An identical man stands in each floor plan, differentiated from his neighbour by the price of rent, floor layout, and the placement of his belongings. He has made life fit within the crowded space Irish regulations deem appropriate for renters. As leases often forbid alterations to the finishings or layout of rental units, the identical man adapts. His belongings learn how to become his home. A home ready to be packed carefully into boxes and moved. The bedsit becomes a backdrop, its furniture the unmalleable witness of countless temporary homes. The discomfort is caused by misfit at a greater scale. We adapt life to fit within a home, but the rental market remains monomorphic, unwilling to adapt to accommodate life. This paper home does not fit in its room; its single window faces a blank wall, blocked from views of the quays below. Policy in Ireland encourages renting as a temporary existence. The fragile paper exhibit is a stopping point on the road to home ownership, to permanent homes with more generous proportions. At €1,000 a month, the paper keys on the white counter of the 10m2 bedsit don’t vibrate with the energy of an unlocked city, but lie lifeless as a financial obstacle on the path to a ‘real home’.
The paper bedsit is a tangible evolution of plattenbaustudio’s 20 Square Metres, a 1:1 floor plan of a Dublin bedsit which 2019 visitors to IMMA wandered through. In All Mod Cons, the visitor is engulfed by the three-dimensional drawing. Stepping into a bedsit filled with paper duplicates of platenbaustudio’s own belongings, the visitor is encased by the inescapable restrictions and instability of home making in rental housing. The delicate paper world communicates the everyday reality of inhabiting a bedsit in the dysfunctional Irish rental-housing system.
The unsettling sense that a visitor does not belong in the paper home and that the home does not fit in the room is echoed by the rustling of plastic shoe covers – a small adaptation required to enter the exhibit. An adaptation just inconvenient enough to cause a pause, a brief moment of reflection. If markets are driven by supply and demand, why is the housing market a tale of supply and acceptance?
Róisín Cahill, from Galway city, graduated from the University of Limerick with a degree in architecture in 2020. Róisín is currently undertaking a MSc. Urban Design and Planning in UCD. Róisín has grown increasingly interested in writing as a method to develop, inform and empower design.
For more information on our Emerging Architecture Writers Programme click HERE