I agree Parnell is a triumph of bad planning and lack of imagination. The policy towards it seems to have been build anything as long as those caparks and vacant sites get filled. I cant see anything on that street thats worth highlighting. The area north of O'Connell St is even worse.
I wish it were just down to something as simple, as 'bad planning' or 'lack of imagination',... but I am afraid, it goes much deeper than that even. It points to a very fundamental lack of confidence, in how to build, that we as a nation still suffer from in 2005, and possibly goes all the ways back to Famine times too. The only place to confront this sad under-confidence, is right in the architectural schools, where instead of decorating over the cracks and trouble, with reference to Rem Koolhaas or Foreign Office Architects, we badly need to admit we have a collective problem, a systemic brain seizure in this regard, and look at solving that problem initially.
Whenever the city decides to build up an area, the way that Parnell Street has got built up in the past couple of years, there should
be a very strong parallel initiative, with suitably able designers, looking at the pedestrian and public spaces,... that should be a must, not an option. Whenever you cover as much vacant land, as has been done now in Parnell St., right from the off, there should be embedded in the entire masterplan, a provision for 'X' amount of new open public space, which is treated as a high quality of open space, not a token gesture, just to gather beer-cans for the next 20 years and generally become an eyesore. But a real jesture, back to the city, that 'we care about it's condition' and the people living
within the environment of the city. The fact, that you can go ahead and build up an area such as Parnell Street without any focus on these sorts of issues, just speaks for itself, about how we 'build' in this country, in any city, any small town or countryside.
I see exactly the same kind of lack of confidence, and positive initiative displayed in other schemes around Dublin city too. The scheme to 're-develop' Stillorgan Shopping Centre is certainly one that springs to my mind. It is a unique opportunity to deal with open public space - yet that was entirely absent from the presentation put up on display. It is like the main driving force, behind that whole project, was that 'Dundrum is just down the road' and poses serious competition. In other words, from the off, you are trying to initiate something based on reasons of fear rather than couragiousness. I have a suspicion that a lot of new schemes do happen, within this overall context of 'fear' as a motivation, rather than something else.
I certainly didnt feel Dundrum was a stunning departure from the retail centres of the last 10 years. Its just bigger!
I really need to get around to doing my review piece on Dundrum, I took some major points down on paper, when I was visiting there a couple of evenings in a row, last week. I gave it a while, until the hype had sort of died down, until I could look at the project calmly and rationally. More to follow.
...full of state of the art technology (scanners, anti-theft devices, search facilities etc.
Yeah, they managed to include everything, except the 'architecture'. :-) I have thought a bit about Library design myself, because of two reasons. One, I like to read and enjoy an environment condusive to reading of anything. Secondly, because a lot of major figure architects down through the years have left their stamp on this building type,... Eric Gunnar Asplund, Alvar Alto, Louis Kahn, Rem Koolhaas, Bolles Wilson,... I am sure there are tonnes of others I am leaving out. There is still a lot of case to be made though, that in urban centres, the web cafe might have become the new 'public library'. That would certainly be an interesting line to take with a design thesis or something I would think. I mean, lets not just build 'a new Library', just because, we think, we need to build a new public Library.
Des McMahon, the architect, is always saying, what is it? Whenever, he goes to approach any new design. So a public library in 2005, and for the future, what is it?
Brian you've perfectly summed it up about Parnell St - it is exactly as you describe, the back yard, the service area, the plant room - not only of Henry St, but of the inner city in general.
Everyone sails in on its crude dual-carriageway ignoring the streetscape and environs and what they may have to offer, up into the gaping mouths of the various car parks belching their fumes around Parnell St's patrons, and then ta da! - out the other side into the nice and shiny city centre as if everything they've just come through never even existed.
Parnell Street has huge, massive retail opportunities, but from the beginning, it was ear-marked for something else - just like the oldest son, on a farm of land or business, is supposed to stay and look after things. Or as women in the olden times, were pre-designated to stay at home and mind kids etc. There was just a kind of pre-decision as to the faith of Parnell Street, which I certainly don't think was helpful or intelligent at all. Getting cars into the town, is not a bad thing,... but it would be clever, to allow people to disperse around a much wider area of the city centre, when they arrive, rather than being dog-collared around a pre-designated route, as is the current philosophy. Then you could see streets like Parnell Street, the upper reaches of O'Connell Street, Capel Street and so on, becoming much more than nightclub areas, and weird in-between spaces. The notion of front door/back door is something that has been repeated in other cities around Ireland aswell. It is probably a trick learned from some other country like cities in England, Paris etc, etc. I am sure planners, just like Architects are groupie's too, in that respect of copying was is done elsewhere. But cities are complex organisms, and they deserve a little more thought than repeating the same cookie-cutter solution a million times.
There is a certain behaviour I have seen in Dublin, with regard to urban design, of tackling things, 'a street at a time'.
It is just positively weird right now, how people applaud how well Henry Street looks, while lesser places like Moore Street look as if a Civil War had happened there recently. Of course, that is what the current tenants of Moore Street would like one to believe to keep rents at rock-bottom prices. While at the same time, benefitting highly, through association, to the richer big brother, which is now Henry Street. The lack of a strong approach, by Dublin city, to create a positive urban jesture on the corner of Parnell Street and Moore Street is just going to further reinforce the whole pitiful charade. I guess DCC approaches urban design using the 'boot-strapping' approach. Now we have fixed O'Connell Street and Henry Street, and done something with Abbey Street, we will try to 'pull-up' the rest, by their boot-straps. This is unfortunate, it would be far more realistic to bring everything up together at a steady rate,... instead of approaching each consecutive area one after the other,... like you would an army, trying to clean an urban area of undesirable resistance. It has a funny kind of effect on cities, as soon as an area, is set to receieve 'the treatment' all of the quirky stores, and stuff that lends some character, or diversity, scurries off to someplace else, and buys themselves another decade, before the cycle repeats again.
And I'd include myself in that brigade - used to do the exact same 'going into town' for Christmas, park the car on a derelict site, pay someone in a shed to look after it and saunter off into the city 'proper', as if it only started with Henry St.
Directed along the pre-designated route no doubt. The whole attitude of DCC to the pedestrian, rarely gets far away from the idea that you instruct the pedestrian what it must do, where it should go, and when it should go there. It is like some oppressive regime, which was never going to overlay very well on top of the complexity of urban life. Louis Kahn, the architect had a lovely name for these tunnels, that DCC seem to love making,... in lieu of proper open public jestures,... he called them 'Sneak Passages'. The extremely anti-social 'Sneak Passage' is by far the most dominant new urban form, throughout Dublin in the last few decades,... the IIlac being one of the most notorious in my humble view. It reminds me of those Vietnam War movies, where you see the Viet Cong burrowing around in the ground, trying to make themselves invisible to the Americans.
That brand new pedestrian way, through the wine bars and stuff, after you cross the Millenium bridge now, is anything but a 'social space' I think,... if anything it is almost anti-social,... because there are so many people drinking there, and so many eyeballs looking at you, that you just have to move on,... it is like one of those larger rooms within the earth, the Viet Cong used to make, along there tunnels, where the living quarters would be. Especially when you have a grand new urban space over at Wolf Tone Square, within nobody using it at all, think of how well that square could have worked, had DCC put the new pedestrian bridge in line, with Jervis Street, as was designed in the Temple Bar framework plan. No, I am afraid the DCC 'strong handed approach' to things, just doesn't suit, when it comes to urban design in a city centre area. Sorry guys, but you just cannot force pedestrians to behave the way you wish,... it is exactly like trying to dictate to an ant colony, or trying to herd cats. Sooner or later, they are going to beat even the most determined trainer.
That is how you get the dicotomy, that is Moore Street and Henry Street. Commerce has become attuned now, to DCC's approach of tackling problems, street by street. With the small shops always nesting in areas, with the lowest rents and greatest proximity to a major, 'over-tuned', fancy, all bells and whistles, Henry Street type of approach by DCC to urban design. Think about it, the worst looking street in Dublin right now, is Moore Street, and it is located right along side the best looking shopping street at the moment. As I said, if DCC wasn't such a big 'King Kong' kind of figure moving around the city, doing it's thing,... if it brought the whole city, up more gradually as a whole,... it would be less visible to the kind of Moore Street effect, where you drive an area into a slum, on purpose, to lower you rents and maximise your profits. Dublin City Council, in short, needs to wear camouflage I think.
Brian O' Hanlon.