Why our empty buildings can’t be turned into schools, hospitals or jails

empty buildings

Focus Ireland has suggested using some of the Republic’s 250,000 empty buildings to house the homeless. But how workable are the many proposals for ways to reinvent our empty shells? We’ve all seen them as we walk or drive around: the empty or unfinished buildings that are a highly visible reminder of the overdevelopment of recent years. There are estimated to be about 250,000 empty buildings in the State. Many of these developments will be examined by Nama in the next year, and the question of their future use will not become clearer until that process has taken place. In the meantime, many people and organisations have an opinion on what could be done with these buildings, beyond leaving them unoccupied and unused.

They include Focus Ireland, the agency that advocates for the homeless. Last week, at the launch of the organisation’s annual report, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy suggested that “these houses can be used to house the people who are homeless and those people who are on the housing waiting list.” Among other uses that are regularly mentioned for the now-closed hotels, empty offices and ghost estates are nursing homes, hospitals, schools, community centres and prisons. But how practical are these suggestions, even leaving aside the issue of who will own these properties in a year or so?

David Petherbridge is a director of RKD Architects, a practice with offices in Dublin, Cork and Belfast, as well as in Dubai and Antwerp. Its Irish commissions include Tallaght hospital; Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, in Crumlin; University College Hospital Galway; and Samson House, a clinic that specialises in hair transplants.

The Irish Times