Time for visionary planning

Ireland has built more over the past decade than at any time in its history (at least until the property bubble finally burst) – tens of thousands of new homes, hundreds of new office blocks, hotels and retail magnets, dozens of new libraries and arts centres and even a handful of new theatres and stadiums. But how much of it all qualifies as “architecture”? Not much is the answer. The truth is that there is almost no research on what constitutes “quality” in the built environment; that’s been lacking since An Foras Forbartha, the National Institute for Physical Planning and Construction Research, was abolished in 1987.

So what we’ve produced, as architect Alan Mee scathingly observed – paraphrasing British architectural historian Nicklaus Pevsner – ” could all be just a pile of bicycle sheds”. Even so-called “object architecture” devalues itself if it ignores the context in executing a star turn, and the spaces that surround it don’t work in urban design terms.

By far the worst, most unforgivable legacy of the boom is suburban sprawl – all those corrals of identikit houses tacked on to the outskirts of Dublin and its satellite towns throughout Leinster as well as every other city, most appallingly Galway – “pure mule housing estates in the floodplains around Irish towns,” as architect Gerry Cahill put it.

And then there’s all the dross that goes with it – the petrol stations with their convenience stores, the big-box retail warehouses and the out-of-town shopping centres with acres of colour-coded carparking laid out on impermeable tarmac, and our madly over-the-top construction of motorways that served to promote sprawl.

The Irish Times