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ACE2458 Cork by Design! Cork's History in (about) 100 Objects

Started 7 Feb 2024

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Full course description

Course Overview:

Design history is a relatively new field related to art and architectural history, but which often concentrates on mass-produced things or objects considered outside the usual canon of fine or decorative art. Design historian are interested in everyday objects as well as exceptional ones, and in anonymous designers as well as famous names. The social role of design is key to understanding the value of designed objects in peoples’ lives.

This course will provide learners with a basic background to the history of design from the eighteenth century to the late twentieth century concentrating on products, interiors, graphics, the urban environment and buildings.

Students will be introduced to the commonly-understood design styles (Gothic Revival, Art Nouveau, Modernism, Art Deco, etc.) but where this course will differ from a basic primer in the history of design is in the manner by which specific examples from Cork city and county will be used to illuminate and elucidate the discussions. This will bring the course alive by putting the best and most interesting examples of local design in a national and international context. Some of these Cork examples may be familiar to learners, but the course aims to surprise as well as inform. It will be of interest to those with a curiosity about social history, local history, architecture and antiques, as well as those familiar with the story of design in other places.

Course Practicalities:

 Wednesdays 11am-1pm from 7th of February to 27th March 2024

Venue Cork Enterprise Centre, Room 7/8, Distillery Fields, UCC North Mall, Cork


Closing date for applications: Monday 29th of January 2024.


Course Content:

Week 1. Introduction to Design History. What is ’design history’? Who is and who is not ‘a designer’? What are the best-known design styles? This session will tease out these issues to provide a solid foundation for later talks.

Week 2. Design in Georgian and Regency Cork. The talk will concentrate on the design of everyday objects (transport, lighting, shops, signage …) and architecture (domestic, civic and religious) with some social history to provide context.

Week 3. Victorian Cork 1. – Gothic Revival and Industrialisation. The rise of the Catholic middle class and of Cork’s religious institutions, the development of UCC, transport infrastructure & the National Monument

Week 4. Victorian Cork 2. –Italianate Architecture in Cork and Cobh. Followed by The Victorian Suburban House – A detailed Case study of one Cork home. The History of Design Education in Cork What allowance was made for training designers in Cork at this time and what kind of work did they produce?

Week 5. The Celtic Revival and the Irish Arts & Crafts movement. The development of a local arts & crafts tradition, including the role of the language movement and examples of work exhibited at the Exhibition of 1902, culminating in the Honan Chapel, but including some other examples which may surprise.

Week 6. Cork Housing 1900-1940. This talk will examine how Cork grew from 1900 and how public, military and private suburban houses were designed, decorated and used.

Week 7. The birth of Modern Cork: Pt 1The aftermath of the Burning of Cork. Pt 2Cork’s Modernisms- An examination of the rise of Modernism in the C20th, with reflections on how Modernism and the International Style were explored in Cork after Independence.

Week 8. Pt 1Contemporary Design in Cork. This talk examines how Ireland began to adopt European ideas about Industrial Design in the 1950s and the first exhibitions of Contemporary design in the city. Pt. 2. Cork from the 1960s to the 1980s - How did the city respond during the 1960s economic ‘boom’? And the 1980s ‘bust’?


Optional, subject to demand: Two additional weeks, week 9 and week 10, are designed as separate walking tours with an additional payment requirement to join. These walking tours will be subject to demand and are not part of the in-class eight-week programme.

Week 9. Walking Tour No.1: Neo-Gothic and Celtic Revival – UCC Area

Week 10. Walking Tour No.2: ‘Mostly Modernism’ – City Centre

(WEEKS 9 & 10 are optional as a linked standalone 2-week course)


Course Lecturer:

    Tom Spalding earned his PhD on Cork city’s everyday twentieth century design at the Technological University Dublin in 2021. He holds a Master’s degree from the Royal College of Art, although his primary degree was in Mechanical Engineering. His books include A Guide to Cork's Twentieth Century Architecture; Layers: the Design, History and Meaning of Street Signage in Cork and Other Irish Cities; and The Cork International Exhibitions, 1902-1903 (with Daniel Breen). His work as a consulting historian includes contracts with the University of Leicester, Cork City Council, art galleries and private enterprises.


Teaching Experience, To Adults:

· ACE Course A Compendium of Cork Art, History and Culture run at Nano Nagle Place (2 seasons, 2019 & 2020)

· Ashton School A Glimpse of Cork – 10 wk course concentrating on local history (with Ronnie Herlihy, 10 seasons, 2016-2020)

· Friends of the Crawford (guest lecturer on three occasions)

· Cork Literary and Scientific (guest lecturer on two occasions)

· Cork Historical and Archaeological Society (guest lecturer)

Teaching Experience, To Undergraduates:

· Technological University Dublin, Product Design (BSc), 2004-2010

UCC, History of Art, BA, 2018.

MTU (Crawford College of Art & Design, 2018 & 2020) and NUI Maynooth (2009)


Entry Requirements:

Applicants must be at least 18 years old at course commencement.

Contact Details for Further Information:


Please note our refund policy as follows:
100% refund  if student cancels before course commencement
100% refund if student's course is cancelled due to insufficient numbers. 
If the student cancels after the first week of the course - full refund minus €50 processing fee 
If the student cancels after the second week of the course - no refund