This is where the project really begins to fall apart.
Standing back from a singular planning application lodged for a development on D’Olier Street, Dublin City Council by any reasonable standard ought to have had, at the very least, a vision for the future of this critically important terrace, notwithstanding the obvious need for a design strategy agreed upon in-house. First identified by the O’Connell Street IAP as far back as 1998 in requiring refurbishment extending to O’Connell Bridge, the significance of the terrace was further highlighted in a second Dublin City Council policy document: its Shop Front Design Guidelines. In this, Howley Harrington Architects went to considerable lengths to again reiterate the design importance of the terrace and showcase the impact of full unification as originally constructed. Not only were all shopfronts shown reinstated, but upper floors were similarly unified through fenestration and removal of various adornments.
The starkly illustrated scene.
They emphatically stated: “A proposed restoration scheme is illustrated, showing how impressive this fine urban composition could be if the original detail was to be reinstated. The shaded area on these two drawings highlights the splendid granite surrounds which are such an important feature of the street. When parts of these are removed or distorted, the overall rhythm and composition of the terrace is lost, which reduces its visual and architectural integrity. If reinstated, this cohesive, colonnade-like effect would unify the entire terrace, making it a most impressive and truly significant piece of historic urban design.”
Need any more be said – it couldn’t be put any better.
In spite of this, however, and the substantial public funds paid for such expert advice, architects, planning consultants, public planners and conservation office staff all chose to ignore it and plough ahead with whatever was flung over the planning desk. It simply beggars belief.
Indeed, not only was the principal, critical theme of unification blatantly ignored, this development went out of its way to reverse the consolidating works carried out by The Irish Times. The gobsmacking ignorance involved in removing an expertly applied mortar or colourwash would seem like a joke were it not now standing there for all to see. What makes this all the more galling is that the 20th century brickwork, unbelievably, is a fact a faÃ§ade retention. Not only was the chance not taken to re-colour the red brick facades after cleaning, the unique opportunity to right an horrendous wrong and rebuild the facades in yellow brick was not grasped either!
Astoundingly, these people went out of their way to retain one of the most degrading elements of any historic streetscape in Dublin.
Likewise, the cumbersome detailing of the 20th century granite surrounds with heightened sills was not even remedied.
Where on earth were the Conservation Office on all of this? Goodness only knows, as the planner’s report states that the Conservation Office expressed no concerns over the development aside from the impact of suspended walkways at the back of the building! Was the historic assessment highlighting the red brick facades even read? Was the especial importance of the terrace and its shopfronts even recognised? Were the photomontages of the office development even looked at? And what conservation professional monitored these works? And, incidentally, where were the Department of Environment on this - one of the few applications affecting historic buildings of prime importance in the State, to whom this application was directly referred. Why was there no objection from there? In effect, what is being exposed is a gaping hole in structures of conservation input and expertise, unlike where in Britain an application of this stature would be almost single-handedly guided to the stringent requirements of English Heritage. Here, it’s a complete free-for-all.
The same absence of standards can be seen with the shopfronts, where unification was not enforced. As previously noted on this thread, the observation lodged by An Taisce urging the restoration the missing original shopfronts and quoting the DCC Shop Front Design Guidelines doesn't even appear to have been understood by the case planner:
"In terms of the proposed shopfronts, the concerns of An Taisce are noted. It would appear however that these concerns are largely met in the proposed development which proposes the refurbishment of the existing shopfronts. Details of signage will be required when end users of the units are identified and details of this aspect should be made the subject of compliance."
How can the needs of reinstating by met by not reinstating? Either they are or they are not. The existing shopfronts are entirely irrelevant. As a result, only part of one solitary shopfront was pieced back together – the rest remained as is. Seen below, the minimal granite surrounds installed by The Irish Times, though handsome in their own way, fail to do justice to the terrace as a whole.
These were all left untouched.
The works required to bring these back to their original format is actually much less that first impressions suggest, as the magnificent original panelled granite frieze survives above. All that is required is the insertion of minimally carved pilasters and doorcases to the lower levels. The lack of vision displayed with this project would make one weep.
However, observing the standard of reinstatement of the solitary shopfront at No. 9, it is a matter of some relief that the reconstruction of the missing shopfronts did not form part of this project. The quality of works is shockingly bad. For this standard of workmanship to be employed on a laneway of a provincial town would be bad enough, but on the most important Georgian commercial terrace in Dublin, with original carving serving as an informing template flanking each side, is entirely unacceptable.
Firstly, the granite chosen, unlike that sourced by The Irish Times, in no way matches the rust-toned Kiliney or Golden Hill granite employed in the original shopfronts as seen below.
It is virtually white.