*Kieran Donnellan.

Newmarket-on-Fergus man Kieran Donnellan recently won an Institute of Designers in Ireland (IDI) Award for a project relating to raising climate awareness, called the Dark Beacon.

The purpose of the Dark Beacon is to raise awareness of sea-level rise. Mr. Donnellan, now a Senior Software Engineer with a degree in Architecture, says that his idea stemmed from the societal impacts of sea-level rise and how, “decisions made by designers in the industry have a significant effect on the energy use, carbon emissions and environmental pollution of a project.”

Kieran graduated from Dublin School of Architecture during the recession and despite changing career paths, has always kept up designing and building pavilions as a hobby. On the idea behind the Dark Beacon, Kieran admits, “It’s possible that this interest was influenced in part by the fact that my family home is built close to the reclaimed land of an estuary. If climate scientists are correct, this type of land will likely be adversely affected by 2100.”

The name of the project is an intentional play on words. The Dark Beacon is located on top of a hill close to a lighthouse. The part of a lighthouse that contains the light is called a beacon. While the lighthouse warns boats of immediate danger, the Dark Beacon warns people of the future danger of significant sea-level rise. “It is dark both in appearance, due to the effect of the charred wood, and in its message,” Kieran states.

The project was built during an international design event called MEDS, which takes place in a different country each year. This particular instalment took place on an island called Spetses, in Greece. The organisers of the event held a competition for designers to create projects of different types in response to their brief. Kieran’s submission was a pavilion that addressed sea-level rise, a growing concern for the Greek islands. After winning a place in the line-up, he became the tutor of a workshop to build the design. The main workshop took place over a two-week period in the summer of that year. Kieran was assigned a team of volunteers from many different countries, and together they built the project.

The maritime culture of the Greek island Spetses is largely influential in the project. The external form of the pavilion resembles a simplified straight-edged outline of a boat, vertically extruded. There are two pools of water located within the structure. One on the ground floor and another on the first. These are connected by a ladder. The distance measured between these two pools equates to estimations of the projected sea level rise by the year 2100. The structure is made of charred wood, of which Kieran explains, “is a sustainable way to protect wood.” Charred wood is used for two reasons. Charring is a technique used in traditional boat building, and there is a connection between the burned appearance and the theme of global warming.

On winning the prestigious award, Kieran states, “It meant a lot to win the IDI Award. This was my first time entering these particular awards and the standard of applicants and winners is normally very high. The awards have a large number of categories, which gives designers of all types the chance to compete. The category that I won was for Built Structures. The ceremony took place remotely a couple of weeks ago, and I will receive a trophy at some point in early December.” The reach and influence of Kieran’s project has meant that a global audience has come to familiarise itself with the Dark Beacon. Having been detailed in several high-profile publications, the project is now being used as a case study for architects in some colleges.

In addition to the IDI Award, the Dark Beacon also won an award in the Architecture category of the BigSee awards in Slovenia during the summer.

More information on the Dark Beacon can be found at http://kierandonnellan.com/dark-beacon/

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