October 19, 2003
Comment: Michael Ross
Last Monday the chairman of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, Peter Coyne, travelled to London to meet architects from the unfortunate 3W practice, whose design won the competition for the U2 docklands tower, only to be discarded in secrecy when the development body was unable to identify the entrant.
In their meeting, Coyne acknowledged that 3Wâ€™s entry was indeed the initial choice of the competition jury. He maintained the DDDA line that the entry had been invalid and so had to be discarded. 3W, for its part, had a receipt to prove its payment of the entry fee and maintained that its paperwork was checked several times before it was submitted. Nevertheless, a dÃ©tente of sorts was reached.
A joint statement from the DDDA and 3W later acknowledged that the firmâ€™s entry, â€œalthough disqualified, had been considered as a potential winner by the competition jury.â€ Andrew Wells, a 3W partner, said the practice was â€œabsolutely distraught to discover that our entry had found favour with the jury but was disqualifiedâ€.
There the matter rests, with 3W and the DDDA agreeing to differ on the salient facts. 3W, veterans of architecture competitions, know that there is no hope of having BDA/Craig Henry, the eventual winners, deposed.
Were it to sue the DDDA, 3W would run the risk of damaging its good name. Having lost the U2 tower through no apparent fault of its own, it could end up losing even more by getting a reputation as troublesome and litigious. Better to acknowledge graciously the worth of the competition winner, as it has, and to maintain good terms with the DDDA.
The DDDA emerges from the matter, however, with its reputation in shreds. Even the agreed statement is laden with the mendacity and dissimulation that have characterised the authorityâ€™s behaviour in relation to the U2 tower controversy. It is more than merely misleading to maintain that 3Wâ€™s entry â€œalthough disqualified, had been considered as a potential winner by the competition juryâ€. The entry was the juryâ€™s choice as winner. Only when its authors could not be identified, and when a hurried and ham-fisted investigation added to the chaos, was it discarded.
The DDDAâ€™s economical approach to the truth was reinforced in the weeks that Cultureâ€™s architecture critic, Shane Oâ€™Toole, spent working on his exposÃ© of the U2 tower competition, published three weeks ago. Even up until the last moment before the piece went to press, the DDDA maintained its line that we had got the story wrong. Only when we stood our ground did it finally acknowledge the truth, and the not until last week.
Had the DDDA, instead of seeking to obfuscate the chaos of the competition, come clean at the outset about the problems with the winner, Dublin might now be faced not with BDAâ€™s interesting twisted tower but 3W's more inclusive building, a landmark which would not just look good but would, particularly because of its daringly elevated observation deck, draw people to the Grand Canal Basin. Instead, the DDDAâ€™s sustained dissimulation made â€” and continues to make â€” a bad situation worse.