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With Daft.ie’s popular Playhouse project wrapping up last weekend, Bridget Fitzsimons reports on a campaign to keep Dublin lit up permanently

Liberty Hall, arguably one of Dublin’s most hideous landmarks, has received a long overdue makeover. The Playhouse project has transformed a blocky eyesore into a pretty feast of LED lights, showing publically submitted, eye-catching animations on the building at night. However, as quickly as it came, Playhouse has been stopped. Having started on September 24th, Playhouse finished broadcasting animations last Sunday.

playhousePublic reaction to the project has been strong. The transformation of a dull multi-storey to a giant TV certainly seems to have captured the imagination of the public: a Facebook group campaigning for the project to become a permanent installation had garnered almost 8,000 members at the time of writing, and this only looks set to rise. Why Playhouse? And if public reaction is this strong, why stop it?

Playhouse was an initiative of property website Daft.ie and was part-funded by Ulster Bank as sponsors of the Dublin Theatre Festival. Daft.ie were approached about the idea almost a year ago with a team assembled from Trinity College’s popular and innovative Science Gallery, work began on Liberty Hall. The idea was to turn the building into a low-resolution LED screen, broadcasting animations to brighten up Dublin’s autumn evenings. Submissions were invited from the public, who could construct their animations on a tool on the Playhouse website. Submissions came from all over the country and overseas, and encompassed a variety of themes from video games, messages and sports pieces. With a huge diversity in the styles of animations submitted, and Playhouse was truly a playground for the amateur animators’ imaginations.

While campaigners look to keep Playhouse, its future seems ultimately uncertain. SIPTU, who have their headquarters in Liberty House, have announced plans to demolish the building and construct a new headquarters. The new building, which will be 24 storeys high, will consist of 15 storeys of office space, a conference centre, and a revamped theatre. Additionally, the top three floors will comprise of a heritage centre and sky deck that will be open to the public.

This is undoubtedly great news for SIPTU staff members, who won’t have to work in the horrid entity that is daytime Liberty Hall anymore, and for the public who will benefit from more facilities. But in the time that the planning and other work will take before the demolition, why not keep Playhouse sparkling as a fun beacon on Dublin’s skyline?

Whether or not the group can stop the demolition of Liberty Hall, there is definitely a sound argument for keeping Playhouse in operation until the building is demolished. Creator of the Facebook group for the project’s retention, Fionn Kidney, says on the group’s page that “Liberty Hall has been transformed from a dated monolith to a dynamic blank canvas that illuminates and cheers the city centre with animations from all over the world.” Playhouse undoubtedly brightens up the bleak Dublin skyline and really adds something to the city. In a time when we’re all a bit glum over the economic crisis, why not add something to Dublin to brighten up our nights? Kidney succinctly points out that “it’s a beacon of Dublin creativity and a welcome sight for tired eyes at a difficult time.”

Additionally, as Kidney rightfully points out, “the LEDs used are extremely energy efficient and its infrastructure relatively non-invasive.” The lights have been installed, the infrastructure is all there – what’s wrong with keeping it on, even if the building is due for demolition? The environmental soundness of the project has been attested to, so any reason for its removal is simply arbitrary.

An interesting outcome of the Playhouse Facebook group will be to gauge the real power of internet campaigning groups. While results are unknown at the time of going to press, the Make Playhouse Permanent group plan to hand their membership list and comments to Daft.ie and the other organisers of Playhouse. One must wonder what the impact of this petition will be. As it is a private endeavour taking place in a public space, Daft.ie do not necessarily have to continue the Playhouse project simply because the public might want them to.

While keeping Playhouse in operation will make Daft.ie popular within the public, one must wonder if they’ll take the chance and allow the project to continue. This campaign, depending on its outcome, could set precedence for other matters of public and non-permanent art in Dublin city.

Behind all the issues and questions, it is clear that Playhouse has been an interesting project for the time it has been running. There have been few projects as popular and far-reaching as Playhouse has proved to be. Nothing as interactive has ever happened before on such a large scale, in this writer’s memory at least. The sheer brilliance of the project cannot be forgotten, even if it won’t endure. Its excellence lay in its simplicity and it will be interesting to see if the Dublin Theatre Festival can come up with anything to rival it for the 2010 festival.

Even if the Facebook campaign fails, at least we had the few weeks of Playhouse. It gave us something to look at and laugh at, and in the end it gave those living in Dublin something to brighten their evening and something to campaign for other than that place in Portugal.

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