People & Projects is a new shared studio which opened earlier this summer in a street-level retail space in Dublin 8.
Started by Ian Walton of watch and homeware brand NTN, the space is occupied by four distinct design-centred businesses. Alongside NTN, Others (a collaboration between Walton and fellow product designer Eoin McNally) produces surf products, their first being an organic traceable surf wax, made from pine resin from Irish forests.
Within the same space, Scullion Architects (run by Declan Scullion) operate; as well as ethical clothing brand Grown. The space works Monday to Thursday as a traditional shared studio, and every Friday opens its door to the public, allowing them to come in, see where the objects are designed and produced, and buy them should they want to.
The shared space is on Francis Street – very much in the heart of an ancient part of Dublin that has been called home to many communities over the years. The area is in a state of flux, with Francis Street finding itself on the threshold of an intense period of development between Thomas Street and the Grand Canal. People & Projects’ location is a symptom of this state of change. The retail space became available at a time when the ink is wet on regeneration plans for Francis Street itself, with much vaunted but long-awaited plans to revamp the neighbouring Iveagh Markets also in the offing.
In fact, several of its occupants were in need of a new space to work following the closure of South Studios (across the Coombe on New Row south) for planned redevelopment.
“Originally, I wanted to explore a range of collaborative autonomous projects (as we are doing with Others) and see if there is a sustainable alternative to working as a consultant in the world of design.” says Walton. “The creation of the physical shared space was somewhat more serendipitous and happened in response to the closing down of South Studios in Dublin 8 where I was briefly based. It was there that I met Stephen O’Reilly and Declan Scullion who now share the studio with me. The three of us were in the early stages of hunting for a new space when I came across number 29 Francis Street and something about it felt very right.”
“For designers like myself who work predominantly on their own, shared spaces are an invaluable source of inspiration, critical appraisal and to put it simply company. I find it works best when the creative disciplines involved don’t overlap too much — the opinions and ideas that then float around have reference points that are pleasantly diverse.”
Stephen O’Reilly (a co-founder of Grown) also identifies the crossover between working practices as a positive. “The place is important in relation to size, light and location but not as important as the people you work with. It’s very beneficial to be around people who have a real drive to push their craft. To work with people from different backgrounds and areas of design and to have their input and advice on projects has been invaluable.” This cross-pollination of ideas has an impact on outcomes too.
“There’s no doubt that the other work going on in the studio and the people in it influence my projects,” Scullion notes. “One of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed architecture is that it is related to so many other design disciplines and therefore draws inspiration from diverse sources. Being around Grown, NTN and Others has directly influenced my work on matters related to craft, the environment, experiments with materiality and visual communication.”
The rate of change local to the space is both positive and negative for Scullion. “There’s a distinct sense of being in a place in the midst of transformation, for the better in some respects but also for the worse. Cities need diversity, which is still one of the area’s strengths, but I fear the spread of the bland homogeneity you see in more affluent parts of the city. That’s more a comment about trying to support diverse social, cultural and economic needs rather than an observation on the visual appearance of the place.”
For Walton, the same concerns are at the fore, balanced with an affinity for the area. “At the moment I can’t really think of anywhere in Dublin that is more suited to what we are doing and how we are working. Francis Street in particular is such an interesting location, with its inhabitants ranging from high-end antiques retailers to charity shops; from our daily armed Garda checkpoint to award-winning architects. But I must say recent developments are threatening all of that.”
In the case of McNally, the studio is a place to focus on surfing, while not surfing. “Our location may seem strange for something that is based around surfing however that is really the idea behind it. Most surfers are not professionals and do not get to surf every time there is a swell. We drive across country to sleep in a van and surf. In the studio we focus on the times in between surfing.”
For O’Reilly there is a different relationship with the area. “I feel a real connection with Dublin 8: my father grew up 5 minutes from here. It’s surreal to have a clothing brand within a stone’s throw away from the Bull Ring Market where my family would have shopped as kids. It’s incredible and scary to see the changes in the area over the last number of years. The low rent brought a surge of artists and artisans who had a natural appetite to put their own stamp on the place. On the other hand, it’s also made the area very popular with investors who have rushed in to buy anything with character and stick their name (and price tag) on it. This has driven out a lot of the locals and artists that made it what it is today. I really hope the area holds its charm.”
There is a shared excitement and anticipation about opening the studio up on a weekly basis — at the time of writing the first open studio was just days off. “To be able to open your studio and welcome feedback from people not submerged in the industry is hugely beneficial. It gives us a real opportunity to test designs on a week-to-week basis, to make mistakes on a small scale and hopefully adapt and stay current” says O’Reilly.
For Scullion, “the open day is going to bring more people in and that can only be good for us all. There’s a temptation to stay in your comfort zone at the computer all day and not explore the other ways that can make new projects happen, so I’m hoping this will help prevent that insularity.”
Walton adds: “I have always thought of consumer product design as an open loop activity, or certainly my experience of it to date has been. You do some research, you design things, those things get made, those things get sold and you very rarely get to see them in use being loved or hated. You are disconnected from the actual human interaction at the end of the process. This will help to close that loop. I can’t wait to meet people and to see how they react to the objects we create. Perhaps those reactions will inform future design work — I will have to wait and see if that’s the case.”
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Words: David Wall
Declan Scullion 5Cube (withdSSA)