By Niall Morahan from Project 42

What do flying houses, cars powered by poo and artificial intelligence designed to build empathy have in common? Yes, they’re all wacky ideas but they also may help us address some of the most serious challenges we face as a society in the coming years. All through the month of June, young people from Tallaght have been coming together to design the transport, habitats, clothing and food of Dublin 2050, as part of the Fiosracht initiative. Fiosracht is a groundbreaking partnership between the Institute of Technology Tallaght, national children’s charity Foróige, South Dublin Libraries and UK-based social enterprise Project 42.

The young people (aged 12-14) are set briefs by experts who lay out the challenges in each area, such as overcrowding and pollution, unsustainable materials and the growing need for space. The young people then develop new ideas to address these challenges throughout the week. They follow a ‘design thinking’ process – first completing research, then having ideas and testing their ideas through simple prototyping. They are supported by a team of designers and engineers who mentor them through the process. At the end of the week, the young people present their ideas to an audience of impressed adults made up of the experts in each area, parents and figures from the local community such as the mayor of Tallaght, Guss O’Connell.

A new real estate market in the sky: Harry Hinde (Age 12) designed a flying house that helps owners escape in event of extreme weather conditions. Laura Colwell (Age 13) looks on.

After coming to one of the presentations, Mayor O’Connell had this to say:

“What I especially like about Fiosracht is that it has no boundaries. The futuristic world imagined and produced in model form by the young people is just fantastic. The adult mentors were there to assist and support but definitely not to judge or build boundaries or barriers. And it worked.”

The Fiosracht initiative is funded by the Science Foundation of Ireland’s Discover Programme, which aims to promote public engagement with STEM. It helps engage young people with STEM by introducing them to it in a new way, which is hands-on, puts them in the driver seat and focuses on building their confidence. The camps also build soft skills such as teamwork, collaboration and communication.

Make a sandwich, grandad! Young people take part in an empathy-building exercise. Their motion and vision is restricted to simulate old age, so they can assess the user-friendliness of different types of packaging.

The approach was developed and piloted in London by designers based at the Royal College of Art, who were interested in bringing design thinking into education to support children who may learn better with a different approach than is the norm in mainstream education. Design thinking is a growing field that has been transforming the worlds of business and government, but its use as a tool for education is a new and exciting departure.

Through completing a design process, young people learn important skills such as the importance of empathy and how to view failure as a necessary step in any process, rather than something to be avoided.

Inspiration: A research trip to the Science Gallery. From left: Harry Hinde (Age 12), Cillian Holohan (Age 14), Ryan Douglas (Age 14), Seán Connaughton (Age 13), James Lucas (Age 13), Holly May Mahoney (Project 42), Science Gallery Facilitator.

“The main thing I learned this week that I think I can bring into school and life is to embrace mistakes – every mistake is one step closer to success, ” said Keva Condren (13). Keva worked on the fashion challenge and designed a new concept for a clothes shop where people can ‘upcycle’ old clothes.

The young people are not the only ones who learn – adults involved with the camp find themselves continually impressed by the creativity and ingenuity of the young people, and the wealth of new ideas generated.

“There’s a total openness – no one knows at the beginning of the week what will be there at the end of the week”, said Peter Donnellan, project administrator and designer-in-residence.

What will 2050 bring for Dublin? We can’t know for sure, but if these young people are allowed to realise their potential, it will be a great place to live.

For more information on Fiosracht Discovery Centre please visit or contact

Dr Gerry Ryder.

For more information on Project 42 and the methodology behind the camps, please contact Niall Morahan on [email protected].

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!