Niall McLaughlin in Limerick
The Limerick Diocesan Synod welcomed world renowned architect Niall McLaughlin to Limerick as part of its Synod preparations.
It might seem strange to some that an architect should be part of a Synod process but when Bishop Brendan Leahy declared his intention to hold a Synod he stated that “It is my hope that this process leading up to the Synod over the next year and a half will involve as many people as possible throughout the diocese.” Hosting a visit by Niall is one way of connecting and reaching a wider audience. Of course, the event is of particular interest to those who have an interest in the arts, architecture, liturgy, worship and of course to both professionals and students in the fields of architecture and engineering. It also reminds us that the Church needs to be in dialogue with the modern world.
In this spirit Bishop Brendan invited architect Niall McLauglin to Limerick on Wednesday October 7th. Niall McLaughlin is a London based, Irish educated, architect who won Young British Architect of the Year in 1998. His designs have won many awards in the UK, Ireland and the US and having previously won the Stirling award he has again been nominated for this prize for his work on social housing in London.
While in Limerick Niall gave two inputs one on his secular work focusing on regeneration projects in Hull and social housing in London. He also spoke to his religious projects with examples of churches and prayer space which he has designed. Indeed, Niall McLaughlin’s Church designs have recently been acclaimed, both in specialist journals and in leading British newspapers. He linked aspects of secular and non-secular through his own stunning architectural projects.
Niall introduced himself by saying, “As an architect I am interested in how buildings can convey meaning”.
In a wide ranging and informative interview he touched on aspects of building community which has particular relevance for Limerick. He said: “For me as an architect, and this is purely an architectural comment, much of architectural thinking in the last one hundred years has been of the view that you can make buildings that will somehow transform society. I think that what you have to do is create societies that allow you to make buildings and that buildings are always framing or confirming things that have already been embodied by communities.”
Placing the visit in the context of the Diocesan Synod Bishop Brendan said, “A Synod is a journey and we are finding our way in the life of the community and within that we find new frames, as it were, that will guide us moving forward, so in that sense, we are doing an architectural piece of work ourselves – we are laying foundations with the community and then we will know what buildings to build, as it were, not just the physical buildings of the churches, but the buildings of the presence of God among us wherever we are, in the workplace, at home, in the family – especially the family – going back to rediscover community as the source of the inspiration”
McLaughlin has been influenced by Rudolf Schwarz the German architect and he developed his theme of community by saying “The Christian community is the very Body of Christ, so as Schwartz says the Church is the community and the liturgy so the idea of the building itself is a problem – the embodiment comes through the community itself.”
Each of the talks – a lunchtime and evening session – were attended by over eighty people at each session and those who gathered spoke highly of the event. Michael Healy of healy Architects in Limerick remarked “It was a stimulating lecture from Níall, we are very fortunate to have him here, the Synod should be congratulated for organising this.” It was a feature of each talk that Niall spoke about complex issues in a very accessible way and his language was grounded and understandable, making his thinking and work available to all.
Speaking after the event Niall said: “For me the message that I am trying to give both in terms of the secular work which has got to do with cities and regeneration and in terms of the liturgical work which has got to do with churches, is that it always begins with the formation of a community, that architecture should be something which embodies the values of a community – communities need to learn to express their values to articulate them to architects, so that architects produce buildings that are suitable for them as communities, the first the ground floor of all of that is the formation of strong communities.”
In thanking everyone who attended and commending Niall McLaughlin Bishop Brendan Leahy concluded by saying: “Clearly Niall is very competent, reflecting deeply on what he is doing, he draws on resources that are spiritual and religious – indeed draws on faith – from Christian perspectives but also with an understanding of other traditions, of other religions, bringing it all together with huge wisdom and with enormous respect. He is the architect but he is the architect listening to what others are proposing and trying to understand their perspectives as if it somehow creates something in him and then guides his architecture. This really inspired me.”