Growing up in the 1980s in Ireland meant a weekly Saturday morning dose of Make and Do. Within the long programme format of Anything Goes, in ten minutes Mary FitzGerald turned toilet roll holders, cereal boxes and plastic bottles into castles and rockets and thousands of children across Ireland flew off on unexpected journeys to the moon. Looking back, those weekly instalments of how to translate everyday found materials into new objects with new meanings, tenuously stuck together with glitter and imagination and used with joy and enthusiasm, surely laid some sort of foundation of what has become my own understanding of architecture. Architecture as I see it now, is only really found between design and use, making and breaking, it is equal parts glitter and decay.
Alan Meredith, an accomplished designer and maker of things, appears to oscillate – but thankfully not always comfortably – between poetry and pragmatism. He makes and he does, his work a process of make and do. He appears to seek direct forms of involvement and the material and the man appear to participate equally as peers in the process. Of course all participation is potentially enabling but to be poetic for a moment, Meredith seems to enable a material to become a better version of itself as he takes a tree and turns a bowl or forms a chair. His role in Newpark is also an enabling one, albeit more potent, sophisticated and far-reaching. Working with students from the school a socio-spatial timber structure is made and installed, encouraging students directly through design, discussion and making to have a stake in their environment. They help write and rewrite the on-going, developing story of a tree growing and falling, machined into useful timber, forming a form in the mind and on paper, worked, made by hand, assembled and finally used and reused.
Meredith’s connection with design and making and his uncommon willingness to truly share these tasks with others makes him rare and a quiet sort of radical. He is by all means an architect who has given these students a voice and a way into understanding how their built world comes about by simply doing what he loves, but not doing it alone. With most people still excluded from decisions about the design and construction of their built world, work is still needed to find new ways to give us old means to reach for that glittery moon. Clearly Meredith has more fuel in reserve and many more journeys to make, and lets hope he himself is enabled to make – and do – them.
This piece was written for Alan Meredith as a contribution to a publication QUADRANGLE, which is being released in late 2016.