I tagged along (thanks Rusty for lunging me into a bearpit of a local residents meeting - much obliged!).
The CEO of the DDDA Peter Coyne was there, as well as their architect and social/community person. Peter Coyne is an excellent operator: somebody one would have confidence in delivering. He only took the job on two years ago as well, so we he's fortunate in not having to explain away the past decade.
It was admitted that the first phase of north Docklands failed insofar as mixed use, public space and urban vitality are concerned. It was often emphasised that this is a learning curve - something that's a little hard to swallow when it deals with people's quality of life and multiple acres of prime urban land...
Anyway the proposed new scheme clamped between Spencer Dock and Point Village is part of the 2008 Masterplan that's currently being drafted. The masterplan was first compiled in 1997 and updated in 2003. This plan is one that seeks to significantly boost the skyline of the the north docks. The base level of heights on and around the 'island' will be 6 storeys, punctuated by a number of blocky towers, around ten or so, ranging from 14-15 storeys to 25 storeys - the majority in the former range.
On land proper, to the north, one of the flagship projects will be a family-oriented apartment scheme, centred around existing housing off Mayor Street. To respect the existing scale of housing they will be graduated from about 3 storeys up to around 6-7 storeys, the taller buildings essentially forming an enormous courtyard with parkland in the middle. Everything in this scheme is to be designed around families. Nearby will be a state-of-the-art residential/drop-in facility for the elderly of the area, with accommodation I think for about 80 residents.
Of course the island is centre-stage in all of this. It really won't have the feel of an island it must be noted - the canal around it just generates that impression on a plan view. The waterway does have some merit, though I'd be concerned that the linear parks will be insufficient for practical use. The canal will be narrow and relatively discreet with small 'intimate' bridges crossing it. It is intended that the canal would also serve as a flood defence - absorbing water at high tides, and releasing again afterwards. Personally I cannot imagine such a meagre body to have such impact in the wider context of a flooding Liffey, but it's an element anyway. It is also proposed that the canal will act as a source for water recycling and grey water use etc.
Along the contentious projection out into the Liffey, it is intended to build a covered arcade along the river frontage, similar to an example in Hamburg, but along modernist lines. This would be lined with artists' shops and other 'cultural' and cafÃ© uses. It is to be wide and spacious, and provide cover from the wind. Taller buildings would then rise up behind and on top of this, all of which - either to the projection or to the island as whole, I'm not sure - are to be publically-oriented. Given a number of towers are proposed for the island, I imagine it refers just to the river frontage. The roadway of the campshires will continue as normal through the island. Pressed on the projection, the architect argued that this will be a defining development and that such a pronouncement into the river is justified as heralding/marking the new quarter on the river, 'much as the Custom House does with its river frontage' - a comparison I fail to make a connection with...
The quayfront to the west before the projection will feature a mixture of parkland and mix-use developments. Some of these developments will include roof gardens open to the public.
The renderings employed were well-executed, but conjectural. I found that things were moving a little too in the opposite direction from what we've experienced in Docklands thus far. In an attempt to move away from the homogenity of the previous development, this one seeks to punctuate a landscape with quirky stand-alone buildings. It all looked bizarrely theme-park like, but that could purely be down to the imagery employed. Essentially nothing has been designed yet - aside from the public parts, it's up to the developers to propose solutions compatable with the plan.
Indeed the latter is the most admirable aspect of the new masterplan - nothing
gets built unless it conforms with the plan. Liam Carroll has been refused no less than three applications in the Docklands area in the past short while as indiction of such. The DDDA are emphatic that nothing will be built unless it offers community and social gain (though I would have liked to hear design gain mentioned, even once).
Lots of encouraging aspects, but concerns about the Liffey projection, and the lingering question - why couldn't we have this thinking a decade ago?