CoisCéim Dance Theatre – A REACTION TO PLACE

by Jenny O’Leary, commissioned by Arts Council Ireland.


A REACTION TO PLACE connects award-winning architect, Jenny O’Leary with the renowned contemporary performance company, CoisCéim Dance Theatre, in a design project that harnesses the rich heritage and embedded kinetic energy of the landmark building at 42 Fairview Strand to develop and present a blueprint for its evolution into a naturally sustaining and regenerative place where dance can thrive.

“One in every eight deaths in Europe can be linked to pollution…There is a clear link between the state of the environment and the health of our population. Everyone must understand that by taking care of our planet we are not only saving ecosystems, but also lives” – EU’s Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius, 08 Sep 2020.

CoisCéim fundamentally believes that environmental responsibility will become central to public health policy and that operating carbon neutral / climate positive structures will be an essential part of this agenda.  Our desire is to be at the forefront of this necessary shift, and we believe that with her holistic approach, expertise and experience, Jenny O’Leary is uniquely placed to harness the rich heritage of 42 Fairview Strand – embedding its kinetic energy and CoisCéim’s vision and values into the fabric of the space itself – to envision a sustainable future.

A member of the RIAI, Jenny O’Leary’s practice is rooted in “an architecture that accentuates a connection to place. That considers human society as integral to, and a component of nature, not detached from it. That seeks ways to live in balance with the resources we depend on but that are currently taken for granted. That works to illustrate humanity’s relationships and responsibilities to natural resources. Architecture powered by the energy within, a closed loop”. (Jenny O’Leary)

This ethos is mirrored by CoisCéim’s Artistic Director, David Bolger, whose 2018 essay – “Empowerment and Creative Flow” also highlighted the need for balance between past and future;

“Creative flow and maturity conduct and transform an intelligent sense for artistic ambition and expression. Think big. Work that is allowed to reach its full potential….that can be examined, investigated in a flexible space. This flexibility can only exist within strong foundations. Rooted in our past to achieve the future” (David Bolger)

A REACTION TO PLACE is an experiment – testing a new approach to conceptual design for buildings by abstracting the brief through an artistic exposition to define a vision for refurbishment rather than imposing a traditional client accommodation schedule.  Through this commission from Arts Council Ireland, CoisCéim also seeks to reinforce Jenny O’Leary’s reputation as a vibrant, exciting new voice in Irish architecture.

THE ARTWORK:  42 FAIRVIEW STRAND – a reaction to this place, in time.

In a story about time, Andri Snaer Magnason recounts a conversation between his daughter Hulda and his grandmother, around the kitchen table.  The year is 2018. Born in 1924, his grandmother is 94 years old, his daughter is ten.  Together they imagine Hulda having a similar conversation with her great-granddaughter in the year 2102, perhaps around the same kitchen table.  If, in turn, Hulda’s great-granddaughter lived to be 94 years old, that year would be 2186. Thus Hulda, Andri’s daughter, can personally touch, and is a link between, the years 1924 and 2186, a span of 262 years. (Magnason , Andri Snaer On Time and Water. See also Emergence Magazine podcast interview with Andri Snaer Magnason).

In A REACTION TO PLACE, we are imagining this former post office at 42 Fairview Strand as the daughter in this story –  the protagonist, relating lifetimes lived and dreaming of a future. We are stepping into a “long now”, acknowledging that the present moment emerged from everything that went before, and forms the foundation for the distant future (Eno, Brian. The Big Here and Long Now).

We want to write a new story about this place,  one that contains its past, present and aspirations for the future. To do so, this exhibition takes a snapshot of the building at three distinct times. The first is 1909, a number of years after a purpose-built post office was erected, c.1889.  The second is today, 2021, as it embarks on a new life as a creative studio space for CoisCéim Dance Theatre. And the final snapshot is some time in the future. A time when the building is envisioned to have grown and adapted to a new civilisation, one that “secures material sufficiency and spiritual abundance for all, in balance with the regenerative systems of a living earth” (Krznaric, Roman citing David Korten in The Good Ancestor 2020).


The small corner of Fairview on which this building stands was once submerged where the River Tolka flows into Dublin Bay.  In Bernard Scalé’s map of 1773, Ballybough Bridge is shown to the west, crossing the Tolka River from Summer Hill.  By 1798, Annesley Bridge had been added to provide a more direct route to Howth and Malahide.

Bernard Scalé Map, c. 1773.

Half a century later, in the 1840s, buildings have yet to appear.  A large “Vitriol Works” or fertiliser factory, named “Chemical Manure Works” on later maps,  was located on the south bank of the river, presumably wafting odours across the newly-formed island. It is these works that James Joyce’s characters navigate past in An Encounter in Dubliners. By the turn of the century the street pattern we see today has been laid down with the post office occupying a prominent site at the end of Philipsburgh Avenue.

CSI, first edition 6 inch map, c. 1842.

CoisCéim’s new home was constructed in 1889 as a purpose-built Post Office. In 1909, it was extended to the front with a decorative limestone and red brick facade, much as you see it today.  The postal service in Ireland became accessible to the general Irish population with the introduction of the “Penny Postage” in 1840.   At that time the post system comprised of “receiving houses”  and separate “sorting houses” where mail was prepared for onward redistribution. This post office was intended as a sorting house and consisted of one large double-height hall running from front to back. The Principal Architect was Mr. Robert Cochrane.  Patrick Sheridan won the contract with a tender price of £886-4-3 (Crean, M.: The Purpose Built Post Office Buildings of the Office of Public Works in Leinster from 1870 to 1947. Masters in Urban
and Building Conservation. University College Dublin, 2007. p.76).


Standing in CoisCéim’s dance studio, one is surrounded by the energy of fires that burned through eight tonnes of coal at temperatures of 1000 degrees Celsius over several days, to manufacture 37,500 clay bricks. The bricks for Fairview Post Office came from the Ruabon “Red Works” in North Wales, and “Plunkett Brickworks” in Portmarnock. It is estimated that 37,500 bricks make up this structure.  The energy expended to make these bricks is equivalent to boiling a kettle 3 times a day for 350 years, or powering a 50inch TV for 12 hours a day for 197 years, or for an electric car to travel 400,000km, around the circumference of the earth ten times.

42 Fairview Strand.


Energy, water and nature are plentiful in Fairview Strand. A REACTION TO PLACE seeks to value the embodied energy of this building – to open our eyes to its potential, natural connections and abundances  and  envision a future where the building and its occupants co-exist and co-evolve with their habitat, living in balance with the resources we depend on.

Through the exposition, we seek to outline the blueprint to create a place

… of water

… of soil and earth

… making energy

… saving energy

A REACTION TO PLACE, Exposition rendering.


Jenny O’Leary’s exposition has been designed as a stimulating, interactive experience for the public and builds on CoisCéim’s passion for working in collaboration across artforms in site responsive ways and engage new audiences for both architecture and dance as a result of its inclusion in OPEN HOUSE DUBLIN, 2021.

All images supplied by CoisCéim.


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