Urbanism February 2020
Cavan Market Square
Between 2018 and early 2019 NJBA A+U provided urban design research and a vision for the much maligned Market Square in Cavan Town, Ireland. This multi-level design research exercise enfolded the shareholders, the local authority and town team in a process which evolved to make a dramatic intervention in the centre of this old urban centre.
The earliest extant record of the town dates from 1591 which identifies two (long demolished) castles, one on the hill overlooking the town and the other set into the fabric of the town next to the Franciscan friary. Mapping this over the more contemporary fabric it reveals the relationship of the various artifacts to the morphology of the town’s streets.
What remains of the original Victorian Market Square is a pale reflection of its earlier form. At the centre near what appears to be a well on the 1591 map the old market house was demolished in the 1960’s to make way for a different hub, the general Post office.
Initial research into the temporary use of the remaining area suggested a different alignment for market stalls that re-affirmed the street condition and cleared a space for people to engage in a truly urban space. This emphaised the lost opportunity that existed hidden behind the newer fabric, that is the abbeylands, where it is reputed that the body of Owen Roe O’Neill is interred. Aside from the historical resonance of this space the spatial pattern at the heart of the town is at stake. With the support of the main stakeholder, the post office, a new idea emerged.
Re-aligning, re-positioning, re-situating would allow a new connection to the heart of the medieval town that was anchored around the old friary, whose church suffered at least three catastrophic fires. It remains an empty unloved and oft forgotten void. By identifying the key boundaries of the centre; between Town hall Street, Main Street, Bridge Street and Abbey Street, the centre can be re-invigorated, and re-connected to its place.
The relationship between church and market space can once again be reunited. A new branded scheme clarifying the core can become the anchor for a new identity for historic Cavan.
Engaging local stakeholders required a multi-disciplinary approach to communicating ideas and engaging interest. Combining, drawings, plans, sketches, computer and physical models helped convey the reality of the proposal, eliciting generous, welcome and critical comments.
Simulating before and after proposals were the most effective, especially those that portrayed the reality of the impacts through photo-montages, that reflected what viewers were already familiar.
Simulating or imagining the use of the space was even more effective in convincing the audience of the substantial benefits accruing from the dramatic changes. The new vision offered a 400% increase in usable public space at the heart of the town, capable of holding exhibition sports events (Tennis / Basketball), small concerts and a more substantial civic space.
Emptying the space is not sufficient in itself. Instead a framework that reinforced the street condition of Main Street, provides the infrastructure for temporary accommodation when and if markets are required. This disciplines the often random nature of such events without compromising the operation or enjoyment of the space.
Currently the Abbeylands are subject of a new urban masterplan which suggests that significant changes will emerge for this effort and finally the town will be rewarded with a market square that holds the heart of the town in the centre.
njba a+u was commissioned by the Cavan Town Team to provide a vision in conjunction with he key stakeholders surrounding the space.