Sandra Andrea O’Connell introduces John Monahan, the 2018 winner of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland Future Award
John Monahan set up his practice, Noji Architects, in Dublin, in 2011, in the midst of the recession, working on house extensions and collaborating with other architects. Yet, just as the Dublin construction sector was booming again, ‘the West was calling’ and he returned to his native town Sligo in 2015. ‘Sligo was still getting out of a recessionary mindset’ recalls John but it was the lifestyle that attracted him. ‘The perception is that in big cities you have much more to chose from, but in a town like Sligo you have huge variety of music and arts, restaurants and business opportunities – all while being 10 minutes from a great surfing beach’, says John who has been surfing since childhood.
After returning home, John wanted to contribute to Sligo’s economic recovery. An opportunity arose when he was commissioned to refurbish a property on the Garavogue River in Sligo and spotted the potential for a co-working space. Together with co-founder Denise Rush they founded The Building Block – a hub for creative industries, start-ups and a ‘soft landing’ space for global companies. The project has been a huge success and phase one is booked out with 25 companies. Noji Architects are one of them. ‘Projects like this give towns a hook to compete with the larger cities’, says John, ‘if there are the right jobs, the millennials will stay’. He credits Sligo IT, which has its own innovation centre, with creating a vibrant ‘start-up’ atmosphere in the town.
Noji Architects have won awards for beautiful house extensions such as ‘Scale of Ply’ and ‘Brick Addition’
John’s entry for the RIAI Future Award was entitled ‘Design for a Changing Country’ and demonstrates the important role an architect can play in their community by getting involved in projects with a social and economic dimension. He argues that the injection of good design can have a hugely positive effect on a town and make it attractive for investment. On the back of their Building Block success, Noji Architects have been commissioned by Sligo County Council to make proposals for the village of Tubbercurry. ‘Like many towns and villages in rural Ireland, its role as a market place has demised and it has suffered from vacancy’, explains John. Noji Architects intend to turn the tide with a ‘spine’ of new public spaces that will bring existing Greenway routes into the village; turn a disused building into a tourism office; and create an outdoor event space for Tubbercurry’s lively music scene. What is next for Noji Architects? For the past 18 months, John has been in partnership with Sligo Architect Elizabeth Clyne and together they have grown the office to five people. The practice is continuing to diversify into urban design and commercial work alongside residential projects. They have won awards for beautiful house extensions such as ‘Scale of Ply’ and ‘Brick Addition’ – a design skill that John honed while working, after graduation, with the renowned Dublin architect Peter Legge. Aware that many people in rural Ireland may not consider using an architect, Noji Architects are working on a website and book of ‘Pre-Designed’ houses suitable for rural Ireland, a sort of counterbalance to Bungalow Bliss. One thing is certain – John is not going to rest on his laurels. Always on the lookout for new opportunities, he is ready to ride the next wave.
The RIAI Future Award is judged by the RIAI’s journal Architecture Ireland.
Sandra Andrea O’Connell is a writer and editor and Director of Communications at the RIAI.