With a €48 million Centre for Creative Design in the pipeline, Adam Lawler wonders why UCD is ignoring its underfunded areas for the sake of appearances

Over the summer months, a design by Stephen Holl Architects won the competition to design a new entrance precinct for the UCD campus, and with this win came a buffet of questions and concerns. The design was inspired by the Giant’s Causeway’s hexagonal columns and, strangely, James Joyce, perhaps to maintain a tenuous connection with the campus on which it is being built. The new building, designated as the “Centre for Creative Design”, will have a budget of €48 million. It will consist of a gateway building complete with lecture halls, studios, a café, and all of the cavernous empty space consistent with UCD’s other unnecessary constructions. It will also supposedly be able to be seen from the N11. The main question students of UCD are asking is: why do we need this?

spThe project brief for the competition advised applicants to produce a solution to UCD’s underwhelming “arrival experience”. It stated that the original construction of the entrance was “framed by 1960s traffic engineering” and is “low key, nondescript and unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists”. This mindset does not seem to affect change in other areas of UCD such as the Newman Building, the library, or the Agriculture and Food Science building, which act as a row of blocky and wholly unsightly 1970s conservatism. In contrast to the O’Brien Centre for Science and other newer constructions, these buildings arguably damage UCD’s pristine aesthetic more than the entrance precinct, so why is the entrance precinct receiving this much attention when low-key and nondescript is objectively better than hulking, grimy and dated? The goal may be to attract attention to the college, but it comes across more as an extravagant show of mismanaged wealth by a university in desperate need of funding in other areas.

Mental health and accessibility services are currently dire. UCD has become infamously callous with mental health services, expecting the SU to shoulder the burden as it is mandated, while the waiting list for counselling services is at its highest. A University Observer article last November revealed that 20 out of 194 students on the waiting list are priority cases and that many students would have to wait until the next semester for an appointment. If the distribution of funding towards projects such as the gateway precinct and the University Club for staff and guests, instead of mental health services was not enough of an indication of negligence, one need only look to last week’s news of the Societies Council’s refusal of society status to the “Mental Health and Wellbeing Society”. The feedback from the Council only highlighted the dismissive nature pervasive in discussions around mental health funding. Someone needs to inform President Deeks that “giving visitors, students and faculty a definite sense of arrival” is not worth more than the needs of students who will find themselves let down and ignored as soon as they pass through the hulking glass structures of the prospective entrance.

Whenever one of these fanciful projects appears, they are attributed to creativity and innovation. Trinity recently announced their plans for a €1bn project in the heart of the docklands to “foster entrepreneurship and innovation” and house more than 400 start-ups in the largest development in the university’s history, giving them a whole new campus. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is quoted as saying that the new campus “speaks eloquently to our vision of making Ireland the tech capital of Europe and our plans to ensure that the jobs of the future are created first here in Ireland.” This vision feels tone-deaf and symptomatic of an inferiority complex that enables our leaders to dream up delusional futures of pseudo-Silicon Valley futurism which glaringly exclude any mention of relevant social issues such as homelessness and exorbitant rent prices. Making Ireland the unlikely tech capital of Europe will do nothing but attract more eyes from abroad and direct them at our nation’s preventable faults. Perhaps this is a good thing; there is nothing that motivates Irish politicians like shame and the weight of international pressure.

Our government is constantly trying extremely hard to win some recognition for our country in some kind of underdog Olympics, while ignoring the people who are consistently and criminally overlooked. An apt symbol of this was the clearing of homeless people from the streets of Dublin to prepare for the Pope’s €32 million visit. More apt still, are images of the Pope travelling down pitifully empty streets in the greatest testament to our government’s delusion and over-compensation.

The fact that the Pope was welcomed with gold-plated arms, in the same year the 8th amendment was repealed, to the most visible main streets taken from the Pride parade route, shows the disparity in funding and the discrimination in the allocation and prioritisation of money and resources. It is one thing to try to put Ireland on the map; it is another to build superfluous projects and spend obscene amounts of money on projects that do not directly service its people. Though it does not seem to matter to the government which map it is put on.

This is why these projects in UCD may please those in the fields of architecture or simply the wider public who glance at the news and cluck their appreciation for the design before moving on. It does not, however, please those who attend the university and witness firsthand, the elements of college life which are vastly underfunded. There are so many things UCD needs and every time one of these projects appears, it is an unintended slap in the face of students campaigning for better services in order to improve their college experience.