Dave Smith and Jordan Ralph combined to found and design The Space Between, a new space for yoga and meditation as well as talks, exhibitions and experiences. They share their experience of their journey so far.
Where did the idea for The Space Between come from? What was the inspiration?
Jordan: I first met Dave about six years ago while mentoring for an IDI event in his legendary space, Mabos. He showed a keen interest in what I was about from the get-go. He was super into art, music and culture, and making interesting things happen.
Fast forward five years and we bumped into each other at the opening of the Fake exhibition I designed in the Science Gallery. He vaguely mentioned he had a project coming up that might be of interest. A few weeks later I came down to the warehouse on Fenian St. and he told me about his plan for The Space Between. At that point the space was an empty warehouse, with Dave’s mood boards stuck to different walls around the space.
Dave was interested in knowing my thoughts and ideas for what the space could be like, and for a long time he was openly unsure about whether I was right for the job. He was talking with some other designers too. We went through what felt like a platonic dating process where we’d meet up for tea and chat about where the design could go.
Eventually, after teasing out some basic concepts and design approaches, Dave could see my genuine passion for the project and what it meant as a cultural institution to me. I was buzzed to finally get the commission!
Dave: Trauma was my inspiration and I only half-joke when I say that but certainly the trauma of losing Mabos (my previous space) fuelled a very strong desire in me for another space, this time with more control over its longevity. The concept is really a hybrid of various projects I’ve been involved in over the years, bringing together key elements, whereby the space can then sit between these things.
Can you explain your approach to the brief and the challenges set out by Dave? How was the process from your side?
Jordan: It was an unusual design process because there wasn’t a defined brief or set list of deliverables. Dave’s vision for the space was fluid, and in constant flux. He had tons of ideas, probably way too many for one space, and was super comfortable with allowing his overall plan to evolve alongside the design process. This was, at times, incredibly frustrating and difficult, but the flip side to this was that I got to be super involved in working with Dave to shape the overall concept and direction of the space from the ground up.
When did it turn from an idea into a real thing? What was the catalyst?
Dave: Ha…it still feels like an idea. It honestly only turned real for me the morning we opened and the space began to get populated. The catalyst was a phone call out of the blue from Richie, one of my partners on the project. I’d approached him about getting involved and despite our shared interests he gave me a hard time on my ‘over aspirational/light on factual’ pitch. He rang me out of the blue at a very synchronistic moment to say he’d a change of heart – I’d walked away from the project long before that moment but amazingly there was still 24 hours left to get a pitch in for the building so we scrambled and got a submission in the next day. That was the moment.
The finished space is stunning in every detail, no doubt the result of painstaking thought, craft and effort. What are your own personal favourite successes of the build?
Jordan: Thanks so much! The energy in the space we have created. I’m really proud of that. Sometimes when you finish a project you and the client/job need some time apart, but every time I go to The Space Between I find it impossible to leave because it feels so good being there.
In your own words, how would you describe the space? What is your ambition for it to become?
Dave: I’d describe it as wide with a rigid core. At its core it’s designed to support the personal journey through yoga, meditation, movement and a sprinkling of alternative offerings like Wim Hof breathwork, audio/visual mediation sessions or just being able to pop in for a cuppa and get off grid for a bit. The periphery then is much more of a blank canvas and that’s the exciting part really as its to be populated with all kinds of fun, interesting and exploratory things
There is no roadmap to life, we need tools, skills, passion, purpose and each other in order to best navigate the path ahead. By supporting the personal journey it ultimately supports the collective journey. However, I think you reach a point on your own journey where you realise you’re just not that interesting. That’s when your focus can shift towards the collective endeavor.
My ambition on a basic level is that it’s like a little vibe factory. If 100 people walk into this space everyday and walk back out into the world in a slightly better state of mind, interacting with those around them – from loved ones, work colleagues to someone in their local shop – these are all tiny moments but the cumulative effect over time is quite significant. If that’s all it achieves it will be enough.
On a more meta level I feel it’s potentially a space where sophisticated conversations, ideas and crucially action can be borne out that can benefit how we live and where we live. If it was to penetrate that level in any capacity it would be its greatest achievement.
What took the most amount of effort to solve? The biggest challenge?
Finding a middle ground. Understanding Dave’s mind. I still haven’t solved it, but I’ve learned to flow with it.
Your personal highlight along the whole journey…
Working with Le Bas to realise the concept for the facade mural was amazing. I’m a big fan of his work, so getting the chance to bring him on board was deadly.
How would you describe Dave as a client and collaborative partner? How was the journey from your perspective?
At times it was turbulent, we disagree with each other a lot! Dave is an unbelievable force, and it’s great working with a client whose drive is to create a special place for art and movement and community to collide and grow.
He’s DIY and punk in his attitude to making things happen, and he’s anti-establishment in his own way, which is an interesting archetype for a client who’s opening a commercial business.
There were many times I would be fighting to keep certain elements intact in the designs and be hitting a brick wall with Dave over and over. It would get to a stage where I’d give up trying to convince him and let go what I was fighting for. Then Dave would come back a few weeks later and suggest we do the very thing I’d been fighting for so much. Or other times he’d have had a turnaround on the thing he’d previously vetoed, and not even thought to let me know.
He’s amazing at bringing together all kinds of people and mixing them together in a pot. This was difficult for everyone at times as it could feel like there was too many chefs in the kitchen, but the results proved the worth of having so many individual inputs.
The outcome of the journey has been something so fruitful and positive, I’m excited to work on more projects with Dave in the future!
What were the highlights and challenges of working with Jordan?
Dave: I’m gonna start by saying it’s the best collab I’ve ever done. It was also the most testing. Fundamentally, we draw from the same place but we’re almost opposite in our approach and style. This can result in a lot of tension especially at the beginning when you’re finding your rhythm. I’d say I drove him mad and vice versa but we always managed to navigate through that tension and those are the moments that often lead to a really special place. It’s impossible to see the outcome when you’re in the formless unknown of it all, you just have to trust the process and then suddenly it starts to take shape. It’s a beautiful thing, ultimately, but always scary in the depths.
As someone who is connected to themselves in body and mind this sounds like the most perfect of briefs. It’s literally tailor made for you. When designing the space how did your personal journey influence your thinking and approach?
Jordan: Getting into yoga was an unexpected journey. I got into it to deal with stress and channel my focus, and it ended up becoming a gateway into deep learning about myself. It quickly became a kind of intimate and spiritual practice for me.
Before I embraced yoga, I was always put off it by cliched aesthetics of the yoga world, and an insincere spirituality that I associated with it. This quickly guided me into going to certain yoga classes and teachers over others. For me yoga became completely personal, I wasn’t interested in who was around me or socialising at it. It became a way of shutting off the senses and going inward.
When we began discussing The Space Between, I knew we had to create a really special place, that felt 100% secular, yet harboured a deep sense of inward reflection and personal spirituality.
While working with Dave, and no doubt many other suppliers and craftspeople, how did you ensure your collective vision was delivered to the standards you strived for? Who were the champions who delivered above and beyond?
Communication is essential when you have designers, clients, and suppliers all working on a large project. Knowing when to push for more, and when to accept things as they are is also really important to keep relationships smooth and timelines in sync.
Dave brought on board some extremely positive forces during the project that I feel so grateful to have crossed paths with. Dave Leyden (architect), Pete Reddy (graphic design), Simon Cullen (speaker design), Agata Stoinska (photographer) and Andy Greaves (sign-writer) were all amazing presences and collaborators.
How does it feel to see the whole scheme come together?
Incredibly satisfying. One of the best moments is seeing your client and collaborators’ reactions as your renders come to life. As the creator, you get excited about the idea at the beginning, knowing early on if its good or not.
Often, the moment the client gets really excited about the idea is when its realised in real life. It was a super cathartic and rewarding moment, in the final days of install onsite seeing everyone getting so excited about the space as it was born around us.
The icing on the cake is hearing the public feedback; that beyond people engaging with the space on an aesthetic level, they’re saying how amazing the space feels to be in. That was the ultimate design goal.
Any other learnings, thoughts and insights you’d like to share that either shaped or were shaped by the journey?
Jordan: The concept that drove all the design was the idea of Savasana, or corpse pose, which is your final resting pose at the end of a flow. In this pose, you lie completely still on the ground, as your breath begins to calm. You have an incredible feeling of calmness, and it’s here where your practise can drift into a meditative or semi-conscious state.
In this pose although you can drift away, there’s also an amazing sense of grounding and strength in your body as the floor holds you. I wanted all the design and interiors to resonate with Savasana and give a person a sense of calmness and grounding through the visual and physical elements in the space.
Dave: A development project like this is crazy as it is literally thousands of considerations and micro decisions. There are so many constraints and sacrifices along the way. You constantly feel the project is being compromised and it inevitably moves so far from its original concept by the end that you struggle to remember the start point. Four days before we opened, I actually felt the level of compromise was near fatal. Yet when I walk into that space today, I feel it’s better than I ever imagined it could have been and it’s still a way off the final product.
How necessary do you think it is for fellow Dubliners to embrace your ethos? In your mind is the city coping with its mental and societal challenges or do we need to adopt new ways and approaches to enjoy a better balanced life?
Dave: I think we live in crazy times and the level of incomings on a daily basis is nuts! Building your capacity to deal with that is only a good thing but it’s not a one size fits all deal. There’s no roadmap. It’s a dynamic thing and you need to find your own way. But there’s something heartening about knowing you’re not alone on that journey, even though you have to figure it out for yourself. We don’t really have answers just suggestions coupled with curious minds.
From a societal point, you know Mabos fought so hard for its survival, but I always felt we left the real battle for creative spaces without a proper fight. Seeing the current squeezing of creative culture is heartbreaking.
I don’t feel the battle is a rant anymore. I feel there’s potentially a much more sophisticated solutions-based approach and to be able to feed into that issue in a positive way where it becomes more than a talk shop but an authentic place of contemplation and considered action would be this space fulfilling its ultimate outcome.
One of the themes of The Space Between is opposites, darkness and light, masculine and feminine, how they are polar opposites but ultimately that hallowed middle ground where they cross over, the space between. The opposite of contemplation is considered action. That action is then fuelled by will and that can be a very potent thing.
At the moment it centres on yoga, meditation and tea. Do you plan to explore widening the scope of the offer or are the worlds within these three pillars enough to let you thrive?
Dave: I love spaces having a wide reach that can really cast the net. We have a dynamic community project starting in November called 50 x 50 which involves bringing our core activities to the next gen. in the local area.
As mentioned earlier the periphery activities is the blank canvas to be populated and for me the most exciting part as there’s no road map for this so you can really get quite imaginative. Currently, we’re running an art exhibition with a pretty cool VR installation by James Kirwan and John O Reilly. We’ve a monthly lecture series with the Jung society on The Shadow, masculine and feminine amongst other topics. Simon Cullen, who made our beautiful speakers, is creating a bespoke audio-visual meditative piece which is really exciting. We’re planning a little secret jazz club which I obviously can’t tell you anything about and a monthly podcast exploring anything from consciousness to how to sleep better! So, it’s yoga in widest sense of the word really.
Recommend a 5/10 minute routine to help people get through their day…
Dave: Personally, I need daily renewal of some sort, it’s like I have to start over every day and, if I don’t, that little bit of space between stimulus and my response is shortened and I’m much more reactive. For me its horses for courses… Some days it’s a 10 minute mediation, others a 12 minute high intensity vibe to get blood flowing, It really depends on the day. Sometimes I get it wrong.
Your go-to teas in the morning, afternoon and evening?
Jordan: Lemon and Ginger every morning! Peppermint, cacao rooibos, or iron goddess oolong in the afternoon. Lyons gold blend after dinner. Jasmine green tea at night.
Dave: Ooh… We have these delicious cacao based elixirs that Eithne developed which you add a mushroom based adaptogen to. In the morning I love one of these with a bit of Lions mane (good for a cognitive tweak). In the afternoon you can’t beat a Barry’s tea really! In the eve one of our CBD infused turmeric teas is great to calm the nervous system.
What are the routines you go to most often? What works to make you feel the best version of yourself?
Jordan: I try to do yoga everyday. Sometimes I’m consistent with it, sometimes I fall off for periods of time if I get super busy with work. But when I’m practicing everyday I feel like the best version of myself.
I have go-to albums/artists for different moods; knowing what mood you’re in and what resonates with that mood is essential for co-existing with yourself.
Your favourite class and why?
Dave: Funnily enough my two favourite classes aren’t actually in my space. One is with Mari Kennedy out in Yogaroom in Sandymount and the other is with Fiona from Dublin City Hot Yoga who I think technically is one of the best. I also really love Jai’s classes, who does actually teach in my place on Wednesdays. She draws from a particularly deep well. Highly, highly recommend.
The Space Between, 28 Fenian Street, Dublin 2.
Words: Richard Seabrooke
Photos: Agata Stoinska