custom is a platform for collaborative practice in architecture founded by Orla Murphy, with a focus on research, public engagement with architecture and design. Below are some of the projects I’ve collaborated on. Many focus on the rural towns in Ireland, their character, value and conversations about their future.

Town Centre Living Initiative Synthesis Report

This report records the findings of the Department of Rural and Community Development’s (DRCD) Town Centre Living Initiative (TCLI) using primary data received directly from the 6 pilot towns and participants. The Town Centre Living Initiative (TCLI) is a pilot scheme managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD) where up to €100k has been made available to participating towns to develop innovative proposals that encourage the reuse of vacant and underused buildings in town centres for living.
Six towns were selected to take part in the pilot scheme:
• Ballinrobe, Co Mayo
• Banagher, Co Offaly
• Boyle, Co Roscommon
• Callan, Co Kilkenny
• Cappoquin, Co Waterford
• Castleblayney, Co Monaghan
The TCLI was announced in October 2018 by the then Minister for Rural and Community Development, Mr Michael Ring TD. The towns were selected to provide a geographical spread, a mix of size and character, and on the basis that the pilot scheme could build on efforts already underway to address challenges. This report documented the activities and findings of each pilot project in the six towns and a collaborative workshop involving representatives from the TCLI pilot towns and other stakeholders held in September 2019. The report also analyses and synthesizes the findings, identifying issues arising and suggestions for action areas. The report informs the developing Town Centre First Policy, as a key action of the 2020 Programme for Government.

This report was prepared by Space Engagers, a research and co-design collective that explores how towns and cities can be made more resilient and sustainable. The report was researched and authored by Philip Crowe, Orla Murphy and Madeleine Leyes.

Access the full text of the report here.

Ballinrobe Adaptive Re-Use

This project was commissioned by Mayo County Council as part of its Heritage Plan, to explore the potential for adaptive re-use of 3 existing long term vacant buildings in Ballinrobe for re-use as homes. The project included liaison with the building owners, to see what supports would help them to upgrade and re-use the buildings, and to identify the barriers and opportunities for re-use of vacant buildings in town centres. In collaboration with Laurence Lord, Jo Anne Butler, Tara Kennedy, Miriam Delaney and Jeffrey Bolhuis.

Free Market

In 2017 Orla Murphy, Jo Anne Butler (Culturstruction & Superfolk), Miriam Delaney (DIT),Tara Kennedy (Culturstruction & CCAE), Jeffrey Bolhuis and Laurence Lord (AP+E) were selected to co-curate the Irish National Pavilion at the 16th International Architecture Venice Biennale in 2018.

The Irish Pavilion, entitled Free Market highlighted the generosity, humanity and possibility in the public spaces of Ireland’s market towns. Small town market places, once the economic and social hubs of rural Ireland have undergone fundamental change and many have seen their function as places of exchange and congregation diminished.

Free Market proposed to reclaim these places of interaction and community, building on the research of our team and others, and on the lived experience of these spaces, to re-imagine the shared urban territory of the small town market place. Free Market News, an accompanying publication brings together original writing about towns from over 40 contributors.

In 2019, the team brought the Free Market pavilion back to Ireland to tour to four towns: Castleblayney, Macroom, Mountmellick and Killmallock. The pavilion, exhibition and a public engagement programme were tailored to each of the four towns, their public spaces and the stories and people of the place. The team continued to Learn from Small Towns throughout the process and presented their findings to the Dail Committee on Rural and Community Development in November 2019.

For more information and to follow the project, please visit the project website.

Ireland at Venice is an initiative of Culture Ireland in partnership with the Arts Council and Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The National Tour of Free Market was supported by the Arts Council, Creative Ireland and local authorities of the four towns on the tour.

Building Ireland

Building Ireland is a television documentary series that explores the industrial, landscape and built heritage of Ireland. Over three seasons, each consisting of six episodes, key places, buildings and landscapes are documented. The series is co-presented by Orla Murphy, Susan Hegarty and Tim Joyce, and is produced for RTÉ by Esras films.

Donegal Traditional Shopfront Guidance

Donegal County Council commissioned this publication as part of the County Donegal Heritage Plan with support from the Heritage Council. The purpose of the publication is to provide an insight into the character and quality of traditional shop fronts in Donegal, their role as part of the living heritage and built fabric in the county at a variety of scale, and to offer guidance to architects, planners and existing shop owners about how to maintain existing and/or to design new shop fronts which continue the rich tradition of shop front design in Donegal. Published in 2019.

from the small country shop, which has almost vanished, to the main feature of most towns, a central hotel, every type of business, from pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, estate agents, solicitor’s offices, hardware stores and bakeries, all endeavoured in the day to give an attractive and eye catching front in order to establish and promote that particular business or enterprise”

Gerry McGarrigle, sign writer

Mulranny Geodesign Workshop

Mulranny Geodesign Workshop Phase 1. Geodesign is a methodology for planning large-scale urban and landscape settlements devised by Harvard Professor Carl Steinitz and used to design and evaluate how to plan and design future settlements. Steinitz has been developing on online Geodesign platform with Hrishi Ballal of UCL over the last two years. The Mulranny Geodesign Workshop was the first of its kind in Ireland and the first time globally in which community members played such an active role in collaboration with design professionals and academics. This two-day event involved 30 participants, a mix of local community members, local authority stakeholders, architecture and landscape specialists from UCD and invited experts in heritage, ecology, and environmental design.The workshop consisted of an intense two days of group work, facilitated by Carl Steinitz, and Hrishi Ballal, in which teams evaluated the study area under selected themes and then worked to make designs based on their earlier evaluation models.The workshop was a joint initiative of Mulranny Community Futures and the UCD School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy and was supported by the Heritage Council, Mayo County Council, Irish Design 2015.

Mulranny Geodesign Workshop Phase 2. The second phase involved a refinement of the projects and proposals made in Round 1. These were then placed on public exhibition and a public ballot of proposals was taken, which established a Public Design. This design was then negotiated in a final workshop to produce the Final Negotiated Design for Mulranny.  This design is evidence based, has been negotiated by community stakeholders, local authority representatives, invited experts and academics and by the public through the open ballot process. The resultant package can be used a template for future planning in Mulranny.

Mulranny Crowd Mapping. As part of Heritage Week 2015, we designed a crowd mapping event, at which local community members from Mulranny recorded their knowledge of the cultural landscape of Mulranny village and the surrounding area under a number of headings including place names, habitat, routes, commonage, coastal change. The event was supported by the Heritage Council and the resulting maps were used as a source of data for the subsequent Mulranny Geodesign Workshop.

Beyond Pebbledash

As part of the Beyond Pebbledash Engagement Programme, curated by the National Museum and Dublin City Arts Office, Custom delivered a series of workshops for families and secondary school students from 3 schools in Dublin City in conjunction with Culturstruction and Bláithín Quinn. The City Makers workshops explored the qualities of a good city, good neighbourhoods and good housing and involved model making, writing and drawing. The work was exhibited in the National Museum in Collins Barracks in December 2014.


TOWN is the result of a 2 year research project, carried out with the support of the Arts Council and OPW Kevin Kieran Award 2009-2011.  Four case study towns were studied – New Ross, Longford, Bandon and Westport during the course of the research, which included a morphological study and contemporary analysis.  A manifesto for towns is proposed along with 4 specific themes for action entitled Connect, Overlap, Exchange and Accommodate.  The research was published with the support of the Heritage Council as Town: Origins, Morphology and Future in 2012. The work was also disseminated through a lecture series in rural towns.

Town Short Film

A key part of the Kevin Kieran Award dissemination of research, TOWN is a short animated documentary that engages a broad audience with the ideas and research behind the broader Town research project.

Written and directed by Orla Murphy.

Animation and Art Direction by Orla Mc Hardy.


  • Kerry Film Festival
  • Cork Film Festival
  • Galway Film Fleadh
  • Blackrock Animation Film Festival
  • DOK Leipzig
  • Chicago Irish Film Festival
  • Monstra


  • Galway Film Fleadh: Highly Commended
  • Chicago Irish Film Festival: Special Mention
  • Blackrock Animation Film Festival: Community Recognition Award

Mapping Towns Offaly

As part of Offaly County Council’s 2013 Engagement with Architecture Programme, Custom collaborated with Offaly Co. Co. in the design and delivery of Mapping Towns Offaly, through which local communities mapped, recorded and made proposals for their towns, mentored by local architects.  The local communities came together at the end of the project to exhibit and share their work.

Atlas of Cavan

Orla Murphy and Dermot McCabe were appointed architects in residence in Cavan Co. Council in 2007.  As part of the residency, they mapped the laneways between Cavan town’s two main streets and designed and produced a hand-made Atlas recording them.  Secondary school students contributed to the research, through a series of workshops. The work residency culminated in an exhibition in 2008 and publication of the Atlas of Cavan.

Westport Re-Imagined

This project was a collaboration between several architectural practices in Westport, each of which responded to sites within the town as part of the Westport 2007 Arts Festival. Our project involved the survey and record of two long sections through this ‘planned town’, which were then drawn at large scale and hung along the section lines.

A walking tour of all the installations took place as part of the project.

Uncle Vanya

Set Design and installation for TheatreWorksWest’s production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, in Westport and the Linenhall Arts Centre Castlebar. The backdrops were also presented at Describing Architecture 2014 in the City Assembly Rooms Dublin.