DIR: Sé Merry Doyle
Architect Robin Walker’s architecture emerged, as T.K Whitaker’s Ireland emerged, an Ireland of growth, growing confidence and a step away from the insular nationalism that defined the preceding years. In this film, Walker’s son Simon explores his relationship with his father through the legacy that his father has left behind. Part of the Scott Tallon Walker architecture firm, which pioneered the modernist architectural style espoused by such twentieth century architects as Le Corbusier and Mies Van der Rohe, Robin Walker’s buildings have both a significant and controversial presence in the Dublin skyline. Notable buildings emanating from the modernist movement include Busáras, RTÉ studios and Walker’s very own Bord Fáilte building by Baggot Street and the Cork Opera House. Through a dialogue with his father, Simon wishes to highlight the importance and the artistic merit of the much maligned modernist moment in architecture and how important it was in creating a sense of modern Ireland.
Sé Merry Doyle’s film aims to emphasis the personal nature of Simon’s quest, that this film is not simply an exploration of Walker’s legacy but Simon’s own re-connection with his deceased father. Throughout the film, Simon rummages through the vast writings and photographs his father has left behind in order to understand the philosophy that lay behind the architecture. Such an intimate approach offers us a brilliant introduction to the principles of architecture and the personal philosophy that lie behind it. The image of place and how architecture, as Simon explains, is the alignment of nature, space and time provides an apt allegory to the very idea of nation building; and this theme of nation building is constantly evoked in Simon’s quest.
Although at times, the film lags over the moments of family intimacy, evoking the boredom of spending too much time looking at another person’s family photos, such moments are short lived. Instead, there are moments where the beauty of the Irish landscape, especially on the Beara Peninsula and the interaction of Walker’s architecture to its environment, really emphasis the importance of socially and environmentally engaged architecture.
Through Simon’s quest then, a very valid and personal message is uncovered from his father, that architecture has a social and political responsibility. Thus, when Simon brings us on his journey to the UCD restaurant on one of the more ambitious projects of 1960s Ireland, the building of Ireland’s largest university, Simon speaks about his father’s political inspiration from the 1968 student protests in Paris. Those familiar with UCD will know the urban legend of Belfield being designed to prevent a repeat of any student provocation. What Simon informs the viewer is that the open-plan design of the restaurant building was his father’s wish to create a space where students’ ideas and conversations flowed freely, reflecting the openness of 1960s thought.
Doyle’s film is filled with such vivid insights into the nature of design and a son’s desire to remind us of the need for good design. Now, as Simon wonders, in post-debt socialisation Ireland, can the importance of design be re-invigorated and exist outside the terminology of finance. In a nation that is now suffocating due to a history of bad planning, constant niggling questions over the land use of buildings in NAMA’s possession and yet another housing crisis, Talking to My Father is a wonderful reminder of a period in Irish history that embraced a positive design approach to the challenges of nation building.
Talking to My Father is released 16th October 2015