Dr. Tom Spalding

Tom Spalding is a Fiosraigh Scholar in GradCAM and the Dublin Institute of Technology.

He worked as a mechanical engineer and designer before teaching product design for several years in the Dublin Institute of Technology. He is the author of several books on design history, especially dealing with Cork City where he has lived for many years. He has written two books about the design of street furniture (post boxes, lighting, railings, gates and signage, etc.). The first, ‘Cork City; A Field Guide to its Street Furniture’ (2009), dealt with this topic in general, whilst ‘Layers’ (2013) concentrated on signage, developing ideas from the earlier book and exploring the nature of nationalism as it has been displayed in the public realm. According to Ultrabold Magazine, the topic has seldom ‘been investigated with such depth or with such richness of detail.’

He has also written a general ‘Guide to Cork’s 20th Century Architecture’ (2010) for the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, and a history (with Daniel Breen) of the ‘Cork International Exhibition, 1902-1903’ (2014) about the largest and most successful public exhibition of art and industry  to take place in Ireland to that point. The Exhibition saw exhibitors from 20 countries and 1.5 million visitors. In this book, as in ‘Layers’, the issues of design and national identity come to the fore. This book was praised by the Irish Arts Review as ‘expertly researched, deftly written and beautifully produced this book is a worthy addition to the growing body of literature on Irish design history.’

His research has been recognised nationally through publications, appearances at conferences, blogs, and broadcasts on radio and television.

He holds a Master’s Degree in Industrial Design (Engineering) from the Royal College of Art, London, and a Bachelor’s (Hons) in Mechanical Engineering from University College, Dublin.



Title: A Sense of Place: Quotidian Design in Modern Ireland

Supervisors: Dr Tim Stott and Ms Mary Ann Bolger, Dublin School of Creative Arts, DIT

Overview: I am engaged at GradCAM on my PhD thesis: ‘A Sense of Place’; Quotidian Design in Modern Ireland. As indicated by the thesis’ title, I am particularly interested in the design of everyday objects, spaces and buildings; what might be termed the ‘fine grain’ of the urban realm and on Ireland’s relationship with Modernity and with the United Kingdom. The thesis explores this relationship though an investigation of twentieth century design history in the regional capital of Cork City, 163 miles from Dublin. To elucidate this theme, I am exploring several case studies during the period 1922 – 1970: suburban housing, road signage and public houses.

Research Statement: My research is inspired by my varied work experience in industry, private design practice and research. My academic speciality is in the field of design history and in particular the design of the public realm; of streets, shopfronts, signs and buildings. I count myself amongst those (de Certeau Highmore, Kracauer, et al ) who hold that through a thorough examination of the minutiae of the every-day world we can learn much about people and the past which can illuminate these periods and inform the present. I am attempting to undertake a three-pronged investigation of mid-twentieth century design history in relation to Cork City:

Firstly, I want to research the phenomenon of Modernism (in terms of design history) as it has manifested itself in the built-environment of Cork (as a representative Irish provincial city) in the period between the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922 and 1970.

Secondly, through my research, I wish to investigate preconceptions about the perceived insularity of an Irish regional city and create a better understanding of its relationships with design and visual culture in the UK, the US and Europe using a number of case studies, namely: the design of publicly and privately provided suburban housing in the 1920s and 1930s, the design of road signage from the 1920s on and the design of the interior of public houses in the 1960s

Finally, to explore the idea whether a ‘history of design’ as an enterprise presupposes the study of objects and buildings situated in a metropolitan, industrialised, location (such as Paris or London) or whether a relatively small and lightly-industrialised place like Cork can be said to be a location where ‘design history’ can happen.

Research Outputs

Academic Work since Oct 2016 (Commencement of PhD)

Paper delivered – National Conference

Spalding, Tom. “Changing Places: Name Changes and Placenames in Cork and other Cities” to ‘Mise Éire: Shaping a Nation Through Design’, National Museum, Collins Barracks, 5 Nov 2016

Paper delivered – International Conference

Spalding, Tom. “Paper on Cork’s built environment – delivered as a walking tour” for delegates to ‘Urban Space and the Body’, 9-10 June, UCC, sponsored by the Department of Italian, UCC; and the Dipartimento di Architettura, Università degli Studi di Firenze

Paper in Press

Spalding, Tom. “Show me The Way to go Home: Signage in Cork City in the Georgian and Regency Periods, 1717 to 1837’.” Edited by M.A. Bolger, Clare Bell and Rathna Ramanathan. Faceforward, 2018.

Recent Conference Papers Accepted

Spalding, Tom. “Murphy’s Law – Corporate Design in Cork Pubs in the 1960s”, for the American Conference of Irish Studies, UCC, 19-22 Jun 2018

Spalding, Tom.When We Were Modern; Corporate Identity in Cork Pubs 1960-69”, to International Conferences on Design History & Studies, 10+1 Barcelona, 29-31 Oct 2018

Conferences Attended

‘Facing the World Differently? Seventy years on from the Britain Can Make It Exhibition Symposium’, University of Brighton, UK, Oct 6-7 2016

‘The Honan Chapel Centenary Symposium’, University College, Cork, 19 Nov 2016

Recent Public Events & Outreach hosted

Heritage Week, August 2017

Public Talk about Church Recording in St Anne’s, Shandon, Cork.

Public Lecture in Cork City Central Library (100 attendees) on signage.

Events for the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork ‘Under the Goldie Fish’ Exhibition; conducted a gallery tour and led a city walking tour related to the exhibition (2x 30 people).

Culture Night, September 2017

Arranged an event in ‘Callanan’s Bar’ with family, staff, and visitors about the history of the area, the pub and Murphys brewery (c.45 present).

Open House Cork, September 2017

Walking Tours of South Parish, Cork and of quays for 80 people and a tour of Cork’s historic pubs.

Local Radio interviews on matters of culture and history

Interviews with Neil Prendeville (Cork’s 96fm) 31-03-17 and 11-05-17, and for ‘Evening Drive’ programme on (Red fm).

Professional Work- Patent Application filed on behalf of Latitude Kinsale Ltd.

Nash, Robert P., and Tom Spalding. A frame for 3D objects having an artificial light source set within the frame, and a woven background material. United Kingdom Patent GB1622181.4, January 2017.

Published Work prior to Commencing PhD

Breen, Daniel, and Tom Spalding. The Cork International Exhibitions, 1902-1903; a Snapshot of Edwardian Cork. Maynooth: Irish Academic Press, 2014.

Spalding, Tom. A Guide to Cork’s Twentieth Century Architecture. Cork: Cork Architectural Press, 2010.

—. Cork City: A Fieldguide to its Street Furniture. Cork: Finchfortune, 2009.

—. Layers: the Design, History and Meaning of Street Signage in Cork and Other Irish Cities. Dublin: Associated Editions, 2013.

Spalding, Tom. “Public Lighting in Cork City.” Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies XIII (2011): 60-77.


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