The MArch Studio Islands Unknown considered islands as inherently fragile places, where we began by recognising their immense power as places of the cultural and literary imaginations, fantastical aesthetic contradiction, and subaltern geopolitical fields. Islands are the paradigmatic topos that exist across children’s literature, mythology, theology, utopian and cultural treatises. We will be aware that islands hold a distinct place in the scholarly consciousness – located somewhere between the archipelagic and the panoramic; just think about Roland Barthes’ description of Delos when he visited it in 1944 – a fabled crossroads between the West and the Orient – an ethereal place for Barthes, where:
"our gazes rise up, the island is enlarged; we see it becoming the centre of a group of Cyclades which seem to be joined to each other by stretches of blue: Naxos, Paros, Andros, Tinos. This orderly succession of light and more solid horizons symbolises, for me, the marriage of earth and water, which is nowhere more sumptuous than here; the island is the centre of a solar conflagration."
However, in a period where islands are most susceptible to the impact and threat of environmental change (thus subject to both social and physical erosion), we wanted to define new problematics associated with these fragile terrains - prompting different ways to engage their delicate ecosystems. The fact that Islands are part-geographical/ part-mythological/ part-political/ part- aesthetic/ part- environmental/ part-philosophical territories separated from other lands by water make them powerful places of the imagination.
Thinking about the impact of islands on Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection – where the Galápagos finches are seen as a classic example of an adaptive radiation – we could argue that physical and cultural separation that occurs on islands, produces highly radical and evolutionary occurrences – and this is something we see, for example, in one of the most radical transport proposals in Ireland today which involves using hydrogen fuel cells on ferries to transport people to Valentia and Rathlin Islands. Moreover, turning to the well-known Garnish Island off the west coast of Glengarriff with its abundance of sub-tropical and exotic species, it would be difficult to argue the fact that the place seems an entirely hybrid or ‘alien’ amalgam - an Italianate garden with Greek and Roman temples juxtaposed with a (Corsican) Martello tower consisting of species like the magnolia doltsopa from the Eastern Himalayan region and subtropical forests in India or the “Magnolia delavayi” which is a high-altitude native (1,500-2,880m) of Southern China.
These are some of the reasons why islands seem so significant - and why we chose to engage new thinking on these places - developing new types of islands/spaces that similarly hold new types of experimental socio-ecological, biogeographical, and cultural conditions.
Dr. Jason O'Shaughnessy