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Life After the LSA: Maeve Dolan

Maeve Dolan (far right) co-created Swarm which grew out of the New Knowledge Design Think Tank. (credit: James Kenny)

Maeve Dolan joined the school’s first cohort in October 2015, and completed her practice placement at DSDHA, where she worked on urban-scale projects such as the Central Somers Town Masterplan. After graduating in 2017, she returned to her native country to work at Architecture and Design Scotland in Glasgow. Jason Sayer caught up with Maeve to see what she was doing and how the LSA has shaped her career path.


What was your final year project?

My final project was a mixed-use project titled ‘Beyond Domesticity’ which explored the relationship between the domestic sphere and civic life in a busy Soho urban block. Communal space was used to create density as well as providing a more diverse spatial provision than would be achieved through traditional housing layouts.


Beyond Domesticity. (credit: Maeve Dolan)


Where are you now?

Architecture and Design Scotland (A&DS). The organisation aims to ensure that more people in Scotland benefit from and understand the value of good design, and that they can be more involved in decisions affecting their communities. The work is varied, but is oriented around the areas of community empowerment, housing, infrastructure and public space, schools and health facilities. A&DS is a non-departmental Public Body, meaning that we have a role in the processes of the government — and are funded by them — but operate at an arm’s length.


Maeve (second from left) at the LSA graduation lunch in June 2017.


What made you apply to A&DS?

I applied in my final couple weeks while LSA. Over the preceding two years my interest in the relationship between architecture, policy and politics had been growing. When I saw the A&DS job vacancy come up, it seemed to tick a lot of the boxes of things I’d been thinking about.
There was a lot of discussion at LSA about the agency of architects. Because we were all working in practice and because our projects were all embedded within the one London locality of Soho, we were well attuned to issues of policy and the conflicting forces that shape a city.

The job felt like an opportunity for me to move a little upstream from traditional practice, where you’re generally only in a position to only respond to given brief.


What are you currently working on?

Town Centre Living ‘A Caring Place’. This project is exploring opportunities for bringing together care and placemaking to tackle the challenges of the ageing population. The most recent activity has been organising a workshop event which brought a multidisciplinary group together (doctors, planners, third sector workers, carers, service designers etc.) to explore the opportunities and challenges arising from the ageing population. The findings from this event, alongside other research, will go towards creating pilot projects.

The Local Authority Urban Design Forum (LAUDF). LAUDF is an event and knowledge sharing network for local authority practitioners involved in urban design. We arrange a biannual event at which members can share ideas on current issues, learn from each other’s experience and build up resources. Each event will focuses on a different topic and bring together a range of speakers and workshop leaders. Example past topics include Housing Delivery, Street Design and approaches to Design Review.

The A&DS and RIAS Scottish Architecture Student Awards. This is an annual awards ceremony to celebrate the best work of Scottish architecture students. It is, which A&DS run with RIAS (Royal Incorporation of Scottish Architects). I mention this because last summer I invited my former LSA tutor, Sarah Castles, to be the guest judge and to give a lecture at the awards ceremony.

A&DS also does a lot of work with design advice, bringing together project teams through workshops. Crucially, this design advice is provided at every stage (when required) and notably ‘stage zero’ where we ensure that the brief set to architects it right.


Sarah Castle from IF_DO taught Maeve in Second Year at the LSA


What have you taken from your time at the LSA into practice?

Through my time at LSA I developed a feeling that I wanted to work between design and policy on public projects — this is kind of where I am now!

LSA’s integration with practice meant the we were in much less of a student bubble than we would have been at a traditional architecture school. This meant we were exposed to and well placed to explore what was going on outside the industry. We learnt about the importance of the economical, technological and social ramifications sides of architecture. This also provided a lesson in plate spinning; jumping between practice and academic activities meant that we had to become comfortable with working on numerous projects concurrently, and be able to switch between them relatively smoothly. The ability to multi-task, communicate to different audiences and to maintain different thought-streams concurrently is a reality of a useful skill in most modern working environments.