The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray: an overview of Dublin’s lesser-spotted notions for design.
Once, when we were richer than we are now, we wanted to remake Dublin. There were good reasons for this: Ireland’s population was rapidly rising, with an 11% increase in the decade before 2006, and the population around Dublin was expecting to reach two million by the year 2022.
But there were other, less sensible reasons. Like an Old Testament deity, we wanted a landscape built in our own sleek, rich, sexy image, rather than the classical Georgian surroundings that history had left us. We wanted the city to look a bit mental, because we were a bit mad.
The area around the docklands is now notable for the buildings that weren’t constructed there – seven skyscrapers taller than the Spire (120 metres) were planned for the area. The Montevetro tower in the Grand Canal Dock, thought to be the city’s tallest completed building, is only 67 metres high. St. Patrick’s Cathedral barely scratches the sky at 43 metres from the tip of its tower to the ground.
As the boom enabled us to emulate the tacky excesses of wealth that Dubai is famous for, it also supplied a space to create innovative infrastructure and environmental solutions. Although the U2 tower is known as symbol of wealth, its design allowed it to independently produce electricity to offset its carbon cost. The completed Convention Centre nearby used environmentally-friendly cement to be the first carbon-neutral building of its kind in the world (though this was partly through the purchase of carbon credits.)
Fighting against the urban sprawl that overtook Dublin, Transport 21 provided some of the most ambitious infrastructure designs that Dublin had seen. Architecture competitions for Metro North and West saw judging panels flooded with strange, fluid and elegant designs for bridges, tunnels and roads. Big plans like these had us shortlisted for the World Design Capital 2014, ultimately to lose out to Cape Town.
The downturn has stopped many of these schemes dead in their tracks, but strangely it has also provided some unusual design opportunities like the reclamation into the public trust of the Bank of Ireland building at College Green, or the Liffey’s linear park which was proposed after the crash.
Ultimately, if all the plans made during the Celtic Tiger came to fruition, large swaths of our city be almost unrecognisable. That it stayed the same may, in many cases, turn out to be a blessing, but it has also meant that most people have never even heard of some of the wildest plans for a city whose construction is, now, suspended indefinitely.
Set up in 1997, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) was in charge of leading the regeneration of the east side of the city. Those shiny developments you can see along the Liffey as it goes out to sea: Spencer’s Dock, The Point village, The Bord Gais theatre – that was them. Possibly the most controversial organisation in architectural circles, many of the most outrageous building designs during that period passed through the offices of the DDDA. During the boom years they were seen as mismanaging the CHQ building and, in the words of DDDA board member Tom Stafford, “throwing around cash like confetti”. In 2012, the government criticised the DDDA for spending €431 million on a site worth €45 million. Running out of money and political favour, the DDDA was forced to wind down operations in 2012.
Their most famous project is the U2 tower, easily the tallest building in Ireland at 120 to 180 metres tall, depending on who and when you asked. The proposed tower was given its name due to a deal which forced the sale of U2’s old recording studio in return for a new suspended pod-shaped studio which would be built for them at the top of the tower. The rest of the building would have housed apartments costing between one and one-and-a-half million euros each.
An earlier design of the building featured a twisting tower where apartments spiralled up around the tower’s central core. However, there was a mix up when the contact details of the winning architects were lost and the entry number was unable to be matched. The design that was finally and controversially picked instead looked like an origami swan with solar panels arranged around the outside in a fish-scale pattern. The construction was postponed indefinitely in 2008 and the land handed over to NAMA in lieu of debts in 2011.
Opposite the U2 tower, on the North bank of the Liffey, ‘The Watchtower’ would rise 39 storeys to 120 metres in height. It was hoped that the two towers would act as a ‘gateway’ into the Liffey. Along with viewing decks, a rooftop bar and bullet lifts running along the outside of the building, the Watchtower would house its own TV and radio studios.
The building would allow residents to plant ‘winter gardens’ in the space between their apartments and the glass outer layer, and four giant glass lanterns containing ‘sky gardens’ would be set into the structure. Due to be completed in 2010, the project was abandoned with the economic downturn and the completed foundations covered over. Now Harry’s bar has set up shop in the underground space and is serving the public.
The proposed Dublin Harbour Public Baths was a scheme with more egalitarian intentions. “It’s hard to resent someone when you’re in a swimsuit” may have been their guiding motto. Following similar schemes in Paris, Berlin and Copenhagen, the bridge-slash-leisure centre would consist of pools for children, diving and swimming, as well as changing facilities and a café. The designers, Julien De Smedt architects, claim (in broken English) that “A social separation between the North and South exists through a physical divide. We want the harbour bath to serve as a Hub that reconnects the differences”. Of course, this scheme may have been more effective if the proposed site of the Baths wasn’t the Grand Canal Dock, with Ringsend on the Southern side, and Hanover Quay on the North. To save you loading up Google maps, both these areas are on the South side of the Liffey.
Although interesting both visually and as a social amenity, perhaps the reason that the bath was never intended for the Liffey was that other plans had already claimed our capital river.
Tethered to a platform floating in the middle of the river, the Liffey Observation balloon would soar 200 metres above Dublin, giving better views than the Guinness Storehouse, the Smithfield chimney or even the highest plans of the unfinished U2 tower. Filled with Helium, the balloon could take up to 30 passengers per trip.
The balloon’s platform could be accessed by a drawbridge extending from the front of the Smock Alley Theatre’s reclaimed church façade. The bridge could be taken up at night time as a safety precaution. In the Winter season, it could be dismantled altogether. Proposed by Howley Harrington Architects, with a design modelled on similar balloons that exist in France and Switzerland, the balloon was intended to provide the observation point that many thought that the Spire’s missed out on.
Probably the most ambitious project for the Liffey is Fergal McCarthy’s ‘Ribbon of Green.’ Note the present tense. You may have heard of Fergal’s work already. He’s the artist that let loose a load of buoyant monopoly houses to float down the Liffey as a statement about the property market. He also built a little artificial island in the river which he lived on in a tent for a week. He spends a lot of the rest of his time photographing, swimming and catching hypothermia in and around the Liffey. He’s really into the Liffey is what we’re saying.
His most recent plan, explained at an independent TED talk, is to create an eight kilometre long, linear park along both banks of the river from Heuston station to Dublin port. The park would have to take up one of the three lanes on each side of the road, with a small granite wall to block out the sights and sounds of traffic.
Fergal sees the park playing host to playgrounds, markets, parades and skateparks. If it is successful enough, offshoots could be built connecting the parks to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Guinness storehouse and the Phoenix park. The ‘ribbon of green’ refers to a possible unifying theme made of a small continuous trail of green tiles running through length of the park.
Fergal points out that the Campshires linking the O2 with the IFSC already does something similar, and that the area was successfully pedestrianized for the Long Ships festival. The city of Paris is currently trying to set up a similar scheme along the Seine.
A more restrained proposal was put to the designer of the famous ‘Angel of the North’ Sculpture, Anthony Gormley, who was commissioned by the DDDA to build a 48 metre high statue rising up out of the Liffey next to the Sean O Casey footbridge. Costing an estimated 1.6 million, the sculpture would depict a human figure made out of a “bubble matrix” inspired by Weaire-Phelan foam (named after two Trinity College researchers) which describes a theoretical low energy way to stack bubbles. The frame, constructed using techniques never used before, was planned to look like a drawing across the skyline. Expected to be completed in 2012 and to last 120 years, construction never began.
Transport and Infrastructure
Ireland almost had its own subway. Known either as the ‘DART underground’ or the ‘Interconnector’, the plan was to change the layout of the DART so that it had two separate lines crossing over each other underneath Dublin’s city centre.
The existent route goes from Howth, through Connolly, to Greystones. The new plan proposed that this route from the north east would bypass Connolly Station, instead going to Spencer’s dock where it would then drop 80 feet underground, cross under the Liffey, stopping at Pearse station, Stephen’s green and Christchurch (all in under ten minutes) before rising back above ground in Inchicore and continuing out to Celbridge in Kildare. A new dart line would then be built coming from Maynooth, which would cross over its sister line at Pearse station and continue on to Greystones.
Although the plan is still in the works, where it was once thought the first twin-track line would be completed by2015, it’s now clear that funding won’t be available until 2016 at the earliest. Ultimately the plan was supposed to treble Dublin’s rail passenger numbers, provide an east-west link and increase access to the city centre. Unlike, say…
With the best name for a bad idea, the ‘Suas’ was a proposed ski-lift taking passengers from the Guinness storehouse, 260 feet up through the air, and setting them down at Spencer’s dock. While the Liffey cable car company’s project initially went well, privately raising €52 million, the full cost of the project, the plans met a lot of opposition. The scheme originally envisaged Guinness pint glass-shaped cable cars giving 30 people a view of the city at a time, but this was against advertising code.
A poll on the architects’ website found that only 10% of the respondents thought that the project would be a good idea while 41% claimed it would destroy the appearance of the city. Ultimately, the plans failed to win planning permission and the scheme was cancelled, prompting MESH architects to ask if the cancellation was “the recession’s greatest benefit?”
Closer to the ground, there have been calls to restrict all traffic through College Green and turn the area into a pedestrianized plaza. The plan is to give Dublin an open social space similar to Trafalgar square. Dublin City Council already announced plans to pedestrianize the area in 2009 and were examining new proposals in 2011.
Former Lord Mayor Dermot Lacey, Senator David Norris, then-TD Ciaran Cuffe, a lot of Dublin city councillors, Dublin Civic Trust and Trinity College Dublin all have announced their support for the idea.
Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan publicly promoted the idea as well as a plan to reclaim the Bank of Ireland building there for the public. He entered into talks with the bank negotiating for the building in return for the large injections of cash the state gave during the bailout.
Originally designed by an MP to house the Irish Parliament, the building was sold to the Bank of Ireland after the Act of Union made this aspiration redundant. The building’s architectural style is often credited with being the inspiration for the US Capitol. Some have suggested that the BOI take over the Central Bank building when its staff move, as is planned, into the unfinished Ulster Bank building in the Docklands.
Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD, Kevin Humphreys TD and The Irish Times have all asked that the Central Library be moved from the Ilac centre to College Green. Other suggestions include converting it into a Museum or restoring it as the new house of the Irish Senate. However, many of these ideas revolving around pedestrianization were put forth back when it seemed like Metro North and the Interconnector were going to be built and, without these, there are concerns that closing the car lanes may simply be too disruptive to traffic.
Published in Totally Dublin, March 2013
An online version can be found on the Totally Dublin Website at: http://totallydublin.ie/more/features-more/the-blueprint-notions-for-redesigning-dublin/