Cork was hungry for a design fest

Inspired by design weeks in Milan and London, Cork architect Amy McKeogh brings Design POP to the city in May. KATE RYAN caught up with the UCC graduate to find out what it’s all about
Cork was hungry for a design fest
Amy McKeogh, founder of Cork's Design Pop Festival

A BRAND new festival celebrating design and food will be popping up in Cork for one weekend, from May 17 to 19.

Design POP will bring together design, architecture and food in a way that can literally be consumed by those who interact with it.

Inspired by Clerkenwell and Milan Design Weeks, Amy McKeogh — a Cork native, UCC architecture Masters graduate and founder/director of Fíor Studios — wanted to unite the buzz of design and Cork’s food heritage in a festival where both become part of the scenery — an interactive experience where ideas about design and food find a common ground shared in the public realm.

I caught up with Amy to talk about Design POP, and how she went from idea to reality in just a few short months.


“I’m an architect, originally from Cork, which is why the festival is happening in Cork!” she said. “I graduated in 2014 from Cork School of Architecture, and moved to Dublin to work with Heneghan Peng — an incredibly well-known architecture practice with a phenomenal reputation internationally. I worked on projects like the National Gallery of Ireland, an incredible experience straight out of University — basically my dream job!

“I then moved to London and worked for a firm based in Clerkenwell so I could get the final professional qualification to allow me to establish my own practice; that’s always been my ambition.

“That’s where the whole idea for Design POP began to fester. Walking to work every day, it was just boring, grey, grungy London streets, not very exciting and not the polished side of London. But then, during Clerkenwell Design Week, these amazing bright structures, installations and pavilions would pop up. It really kicked off the summer and the parks all became full of these vibrant pieces.

“One thing that made me really stop and take notice was when I saw an older gentleman engaging with a young kid over a kind of board game, and I remember thinking I didn’t know if they were related but wouldn’t it be cool and so much nicer if they weren’t but working together to try and figure out this game for this moment.”

Uniquely Cork

“I loved how Clerkenwell Design Week drew people out, the vibrancy it brought to a small area within the greater part of London, and then how the design practices opened their doors to the public. It became a really lovely experience, and I thought the concept would really work in Cork.

“I was lucky enough to be in Milan for the build-up of Milan Design Week, and again saw what the hype, buzz and atmosphere these kinds of design festivals do for a city. So I decided to look into it and discovered that there aren’t any ‘public-realm’ design festivals in Ireland. I wanted to give designers and architects the opportunity to design a series of temporary pavilions right on the public’s doorstep in cool, very urban areas; that was where the idea for Design POP came from!

“I was thinking what would make Design POP uniquely Cork, and I realised it has to be its reputation for food. It was an easy fit; the people of Cork really embrace their food culture and they love it — and maybe I could get the people of Cork to love design as much as they love food!”

From idea to happening

“Last summer, I started my own architecture practice and I was looking for a project. I was drawn more to temporary structures rather than a permanent building, so I applied to Electric Picnic and created a temporary structure called Impermanent Connections: units of modules constructed in triangles formed a structure, then deliberately disassembled and turned into shelving, seats and other objects.

“It was designed to deliberately have a purpose after something: about re-appropriation and sustainability. I really loved the experience of watching the public talking about it, taking photos with it. Most of all I loved seeing it being built; for me, that’s why I wanted to be an architect — the satisfaction of having something in your head and seeing it come to life.

“In October, I walked into the Local Enterprise Office and met Adrienne Rogers with a two-page brief and said this is my idea, what do you think? Adrienne, Seamus Coughlan and Paul McGuirk from Cork City Council have been incredibly supportive. They loved the idea from the start, they were as excited as I was, and I think recognised that the city was hungry to do something like this. Design POP wouldn’t be happening if it wasn’t for them, really.”

The Low Down

“Design POP is centred on six pavilions dotted around the city. The pavilions have been designed by six designers in collaboration with six food producers. The challenge is to design a pavilion that captures the ethos of that food producer.

“Rather than the structures being just structures, I wanted them to get people talking: to ask why are things designed in a certain way? This structure is sustainable because this food producer is all about sustainability — starting a conversation rather than it being just a beautiful structure or pavilion: about why things are done a certain way and what are our choices.”

Who’s involved?

Good Day Deli will be working with Alan McIlwraith of Jack Coughlan Architects.

Amy said: “Alan designed the Garden Pavilion in Nano Nagle Place that Good Day Deli operate from. I love that Alan gets a second chance to do something else there.”

My Goodness are paired with Meitheal Design Partners and will be located on The Boardwalk in front of The Clayton.

SOMA Coffee will have their pavilion in Bishop Lucey Park just around the corner from their coffee shop.

Shane O’Driscoll is paired with Suzanna Melinn of Banana Melon Kitchen.

Amy added: “Suzanna is a graphic designer turned foodie, and Shane is a graphic designer so I thought it would be really cool to put them together and create something really colourful in Emmet Place.”

Meanwhile, Alex Pentek is a sculptor based in Cork, paired with Applebee Bakes.

“Anna Applebee is an architect turned baker — we worked together when we were really young, “ said Amy.

“Finally, All Full Up is a brand based out of Killarney. Their ethos is about honouring the things that fill you up and make you feel good: taking the time to stop and have a chat, slowing down, taking a moment. My own design studio, Fíor Studios, is working with them and we’ll be based in Elizabeth Fort.

“All the designers are from Cork, and all the food producers, except All Full Up, are from Cork too.”

The same, but different

“I’ve given everyone free reign to decide for themselves what they want to do inside the pavilions. Some will be serving food inside it, around it or a farmers’ market style stall next to it, and it will be about taking the time to enjoy the food on the pavilion.

“Inside the Fíor Studios / All Full Up pavilion, there’s a sequence to moving through the space: reading what the brand is about, enjoying it and then engaging with the pavilion.

“I like the idea of four people who may not know each other, sitting down and eating together, just for a moment and then move on. The pavilions will encourage people to stop and take some time, these aren’t pop-up, grab-and- go places: they have a message, there’s a story and flow to them.”

Festival Programme

“I love the idea of Design POP and it’s easy to work on something you love, especially in Cork. People are offering to help in any way they can.

“Fiona Kearney of the Glucksman is giving us space to exhibit the design sketches of the pavilions, and is hosting a walking sketch tour over the festival weekend too.

“There will also be a programme of talks and workshops in two locations in the city.

“Crawford Gallery will hold panel discussions and talks over the weekend in the sculptor gallery upstairs, and a lecture or two in their theatre.

“We will also be putting in some exhibitions in Thompson House on MacCurtain Street. It’s a beautiful and historic building — once a bakery. There will be a showcase of Irish furniture designers, talks, lectures and an exhibition space focused on Cork and Irish food producers with talks and demos too.

“We will also hold a series of talks called Behind the Pavilions where each of the designers will present their creative process for the pavilions they created for Design POP.

“Most events on the programme will be free, with a small charge for events that have limited capacity. The food offerings in the pavilions will have a small charge too, but run like a farmers’ market.”

Long Term

“The idea is for design to showcase something. Food was an obvious one for Cork for the first year, but my ambition is for Design POP to grow — who knows, next year it could be Design and Tech. Design is a great platform for showcasing something else, and I love it when two seemingly different things come together. That’s when the magic happens. I’d love to see Design POP become as big as Clerkenwell —give me ten years!”

Amy is looking forward to…

“Eva Jiřičná is a formidable woman, and has achieved so much as a designer. Eva is well known for her stair design, particularly the staircase in Somerset House in London. She is coming to give a talk, and I will be going to that.

“Most of all, I’m looking forward to the simple thing of watching the public’s reaction to the pavilions. Seeing these structures and these talented people come together in Cork will be brilliant — I’m so excited!”

To see the full programme log onto Also see Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @designpopcork.

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