Ha - if only!
In fairness to Penneys, whatever of their clothing, they have an exemplary track record not only in Ireland but also internationally under the Primark brand, when it comes to dealing with planning matters, store presentation and showcasing architecturally significant properties in their portfolio.
It is fitting that their flagship store in Ireland, and the mothership of their increasingly global empire, sets such a handsome standard by way of branding, urban design principles, shopfront design, and embracement of architectural heritage. The former Todd Burns department store of 1905 has been meticulously refurbished to, arguably even beyond, its former glory, and even more importantly in my book, they are doggedly militant in the upholding of high standards of presentation - a virtue almost lost in Dublin these days. Their signage, lighting, window displays and all the other optics of modern retailing are all carefully managed - and have been for a long time. Their immaculately proportioned shopfront here is easily one of the best in Ireland and a robust contemporary foil to the ebullient upper facade.
It is incredible how the reopening, for the first time in decades, of the first floor of this flagship building late last year received so little attention. Along with the wider revamping of this truly colossal building, it was probably the largest single retail investment made in Dublin in the past five years, and one of the most transformative in a decade in terms of its branding and architectural impact. What was so remarkable about this project was the sudden reemergence of a vast period floorplate in the heart of Dublin’s north retail core, which had all but vanished from collective memory since its conversion for storage use, likely in the 1970s. I had always wondered what survived of the original Edwardian interior at first floor level, given the grandeur of the casement windows and the substantial floor to ceiling heights, and sure enough much of the original detail is still there. Less decadent than Clerys of a decade-and-a-bit later, Todd’s was always more of a warehouse-like store, thus the detailing is more robust and spartan, comprised of handsome squared columns and pilasters with decorative capitals, minimal cornicing and leaded glass partitions. The crowning glory is the series of delightful large roof lanterns which flood the deep plan interior with national light - all of which are intact. Of course, the ceiling has been overlaid with the must dizzying array of services one is ever likely to encounter, all sprayed gunmetal grey along with the ceiling, but one imagines the precedent had already been set with the storage facility up there.
The wider interior has been dressed with a funky array of interventions which complement and showcase to strategic effect the original features of the store, some of which required very substantial reordering of circulation to make it work. The stairwell with sharp glass lift shafts is magnificent.
If there is one continued note of concern, it is that only the facades and roofscape of Todd’s are designated under its Protected Structure listing - not the interior. Along with Arnotts further down the street, the vulnerability of buildings of this period in Dublin to piecemeal erosion and demolition remains, as showcased back in the late 2000s with the proposed wholesale demolition of Arnotts aside from its facades (much more of the Victorian store remains that paid professionals would acknowledge), while even Todd’s itself succumbed to damaging intervention as recently as 2003. Here, the entire original ground floor decorative ceiling was strengthened with additional stanchions and beams, the floor above screeded over, and the ground floor ceiling clad out with a new suspended ceiling. Sadly, this is effectively irreversible now.
Still, the first floor of old Todd’s is well worth a visit. The glass in the roof lanterns could have been unified a little better, and their lighting handled a little more warmly, but otherwise it is a well considered scheme, executed under the steady hand of Jack Coughlan Associates.