Busaras – City Planning, The Custom House and the Busáras Project
It requires the greatest call on Christian charity to have to fight for a building with those officials of Departments of State who are merely administrators of a branch of fluctuating government power and who yet impose their personal whims on permanent buildings.(Michael Scott, 1955, p.63)
Busáras is situated behind James Gandon’s masterpiece, the Custom House (1781-1791) and beside Beresford Place (1795-1800). The Custom House is considered architecturally the most important building in Dublin and is sited on the river front with Beresford Place to the rear. Beresford Place is a short curving terrace of five houses built on an axis with the central dome of the Custom House. The terrace was designed by Gandon in 1790 but was much simplified from his designs in execution.
The Custom House was the first major public building built in Dublin as an isolated structure with four monumental façades. The eighteenth century was a period of great confidence in Dublin, with the former countryside to the north east of the medieval city being developed by the Fitzwilliam and Gardiner Estates in a series of wide streets and squares, and the work of the Wide Streets Commissioners in laying out the great civic set pieces like Parliament Street through the heart of the old city. The site chosen for the new Custom House met with much opposition from city merchants who feared that its move down the river would lessen the value of their properties while making the property owners to the east wealthier. The previous Custom House (Thomas Burgh, 1707) had being sited upriver at Essex Quay. The decision to built further down river was forced by the Rt. Hon. John Beresford (1738-1805) who was appointed Chief Commissioner from 1780 onwards and was instrumental in bringing James Gandon to Ireland.
Beresford favoured shifting the city centre eastwards from the Capel – Parliament Street axis towards a new axis on College Green with Sackville Street and the construction of a new bridge linking the two sides. Naturally this was supported by the Fitzwilliam and Gardiner Estates who had much to gain. Luke Gardiner was also a Commissioner and a brother-in-law of Beresford. The Custom House was built on land reclaimed from the estuary of the Liffey when the Wide Streets Commissioners started to construct the Quays. The line of the crescent that surrounds the Custom House follows roughly the line of the old North Strand along the estuary before the construction of the Quays.
On the northside of the river Liffey, it was the Gardiner Estate that held much of the property and was responsible for developing Drogheda Street into the wide boulevard that became Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street). The Gardiners then proceeded to develop streets to the north of this with Rutland Square (now Parnell Square) and Cavendish Row. As construction of the Custom House went ahead, Luke Gardiner drew up plans for an axial street leading from the new Custom House Crescent to a new symmetrical square they proposed to build on high ground to the north. This street became Gardiner Street (1787 onwards) and the square was named Mountjoy Square (1792-1818). This is shown on one of the proposed designs for Mountjoy Square with a note: “Gardiner’s Street extending in a right line from the centre of the new Custom House”. This is a distance of some three quarters of a mile, and until the completion of the Loop Line Railway bridge, the Custom House presented a magnificent ending for the vista.
Prior to this period, Lower Abbey Street was a country lane which meandered between Sackville Street and the North Strand. The old Eden Quay area followed the irregular shoreline of the river estuary. It was felt by the Wide Streets Commissioners that this should be rectified and so Abbey Street Lower and Eden Quay were driven straight through from Sackville Street to end in the new crescent allowing the Custom House to close the vista. There was also discussion about constructing a new avenue to radiate from the Custom House to the Royal Barracks (now called Collins Barracks) nearly two miles away. The other street intersecting with the crescent, Store Street West, was placed on an axis originating in the dome of the Custom House. At the time of the Custom House construction, this area was largely unbuilt land and Store Street was laid out as a short street of the same width as Gardiner Street merely for symmetry in much the same way that the Gardiners laid out Belvedere Place from Mountjoy Square as a dead-end.
The line of the street, as it existed in 1916, curved around the Custom House from Butt Bridge as far as Beresford Place where it turned left down Store Street around the old dock and bonding warehouse to Amiens Street. The bonding warehouses were built in brick and curved on the same radius as Beresford Place. These warehouses ended on the edge of the old Custom House dock.
In 1916 the Civics Institute of Ireland held a competition for suggestions and designs for the city planning of Dublin of which the judges were Patrick Geddes (1854-1932), the Dublin City Architect C.J. McCarthy (1858-1947), and John Nolen. The winner was Patrick Abercrombie of Liverpool University. This competitive design formed the basis of the Abercrombie Report published in 1922 which, apart from recommending a site at Aston Quay for a Central Bus Station, also suggested the removal of Butt Bridge (which was then in a dangerous state) and the completion of the crescent around the Custom House by filling in the redundant dock. Since the dock’s construction, the docks had expanded and moved further down river. In addition a new bridge positioned centrally in front of the Custom House was to be constructed and Amiens Street Railway Station extended down to the quayside. All the buildings surrounding the Custom House were to be rebuilt in a Beaux Arts style with the station closing off the Abbey Street vista with a huge colonnade. Abercrombie was influenced personally as an architect by the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and particularly by Baron Georges-Eugéne Haussmann (1809-1891) whose city planning of Paris he admired. It was reported in The Irish Times that Abercrombie felt that it was necessary: … to complete a crescent surrounding the Custom House with buildings for offices of similar purposes which would form a regular setting for the central building, The design of these buildings as shown in his Dublin report of 1922, was of a Renaissance character but they might quite equally well have been carried out in a more modern idiom. In any case he thought it would have been necessary for the surrounding buildings to be considerably higher than the Custom House.(Anon, 8 October 1946, p. 7)
Nothing ever came of this report and Abercrombie’s recommendations were largely ignored. In December 1922 the Greater Dublin Reconstruction Movement published their proposals for the city. This report, like Abercrombie’s, advocated extending Amiens Street Station to the quayside and new docks constructed alongside it for passenger services across the Irish Sea. It also suggested the removal of the Loop Line railway bridge and its replacement east of the Custom House which would become the new General Post Office. Again, nothing ever came of this.
Throughout the late 1930s the general public had been agitating through the newspapers for better transport facilities specifically the provision of bus shelters along the quays where long distance bus passengers caught their buses. In 1937 The Irish Builder and Engineer suggested that a Central Bus Station be constructed on the bonding warehouse site next to the disused and abandoned Custom House Dock. It was not the first time that the dock was suggested for use in civic improvements. In 1927 the same journal had reported a far sighted plan to fill the dock with an underground car park for two hundred cars and placing a new road over it to the quayside.
The 1939 Sketch Development Plan for County Borough of Dublin and Neighbourhood by Professor Abercrombie, who was now Professor of Civic Design at Liverpool University, Sydney Kelly, a Liverpool architect, and Manning Robertson (1888-1945) a Dublin based town planner, also proposed a Central Bus Station which was to be sited at Aston Quay on the McBirneys Department Store site keeping the original building frontages: It is proposed that the central omnibus station should be situated behind the frontage of Astons Quay between Bedford Row and Aston Place. The continuity of building along the Quay frontage would be preserved. (Abercrombie, 1939, p. 21)
This plan also recommended that a site be put aside at Wood Quay for a future station as needs may change. In early 1944 it was decided to follow his proposals and improve the facilities and services offered to long distance bus travellers by building a Central Bus Station in Dublin at a site to be decided.
The site was required to be central, and convenient to rail, sea and road arteries and near the Liffey which it was felt would always be the centre of the city. Four sites were considered: Store Street, Aston Quay, north of Christchurch Cathedral at Wood Quay and a portion of the Haymarket at Smithfield. The site eventually selected by the Irish Omnibus Company (a subsidiary of the Great Southern Railway Company) was the one at Store Street, which was the cheapest and easiest to acquire and was bounded on two sides by roads. By opening up a new road and bridge to the east of the Custom House, the site was to be made into an island, making traffic circulation easier. The site was also close to Amiens Street Railway Station (since renamed Connolly Station) which was to be the new central railway station as proposed by Abercrombie, and the B&I Ferry terminal to Britain on the North Wall, as well as the local bus routes. The area was, and still is, the focus of most of the traffic coming into the city from the north of Ireland. This was not, however, the site favoured by Dublin Corporation. They preferred the site at Aston Quay with a separate bus depot at Winetavern and Fishamble streets (Wood Quay), while the Government preferred the Smithfield market site. In later years, while attempting to justify its decision, the Board of CIE strongly disagreed with the Government and declared that: The area is in the opinion of the company entirely unsuitable. Long distance passengers must be brought in to the centre of the city. A station at Smithfield or elsewhere in that area would cause considerable inconvenience and besides the approaches are narrow and unsafe from an operating point of view.(Anon, 2 September 1949, p. 3)
So the bus company went ahead and secretly bought the Store Street site from the Dublin Port and Docks Board for £13,000. Michael Scott had been holding unofficial discussions with the Irish Omnibus Company since May 1944 and in early 1945 produced a plan for a two storey circular bus station on the site for the newly formed CIE. This was to have a concourse on the ground floor with a restaurant, booking offices, newsreel cinema and other facilities on the first floor. This was granted outline planning permission and the old bonding stores were quickly demolished and part of the dock filled in. CIE promised the travelling public that the station would be open within twelve months. Then in early 1946, after no progress had been made on-site, the Corporation revealed that CIE had still not submitted detailed plans for the site.
New plans were then submitted which consisted of a block with four storeys instead of two. CIE had intended extending their existing offices in O’Connell Street and amalgamating their administration staff offices that were scattered all over Dublin at the old regional railway company headquarters. After examining the O’Connell Street property, it was decided that it was unsuitable for extending, and so the office space was added to the Bus Station design. The new design was to be rectangular along the Store Street frontages and semi circular in its new street fronts.
After the Store Street site was chosen for the Bus Station, the concept of a round building prompted the city corporation to contemplate the continuation of Beresford Place around the outside edge of the new building to Amiens Street. The area between this street and the quays was to be reserved for a new headquarters for the Ports and Docks Board. When the concept changed again to a four storey structure with rectangular frontages along north and west Store Street with a curved façade between them, the corporation re-instated the plan to continue on the crescent. For traffic reasons it was decided that Amiens Street would have to curve into the crescent, creating a wide traffic intersection, destroying the outside line of the curve. From this design, the building developed into the final design concept with two blocks in a ‘L’ shape and a curving station between them. A new bridge over the river would be constructed later. The grand radial streetscape that Gandon intended to be formed around the building was completed as the crescent of the new street enclosed the Custom House.
On the 3 October 1946 The Irish Times printed a photomontage of the Custom House and the proposed new building on its front page. This showed a massive block looming over the Custom House. The photomontage was purported to have been derived from the elevations and plans submitted to the corporation and to be an exact representation of the appearance of the area. It seems that the person responsible for this image had an axe to grind in exaggerating the mass of the Bus Station because from that position, the building would not have looked as large and with its set back pavilion and services would not have been as disruptive.
According to Scott, Ernest Aston who was the planning correspondent for the newspaper was responsible for most of the articles against the building (Walker, 1995, p. 132). Aston was one of the prime movers behind the Greater Dublin Reconstruction Movement and was also a sub-editor of The Irish Times and a regular correspondent to The Irish Builder and Engineer under the pseudonym Nomad. It was only after his death that The Irish Builder and Engineer re-assessed its position and came down in favour of the building. This photomontage however was to backfire on The Irish Times as, on the 8 October 1946, it was revealed that Michael Scott had initiated legal proceedings against the newspaper.
Mr Scott understands that the plans of this building will be under discussion by the Corporation on Monday. In view of this he has instructed us to inform you that has caused an originating summons against The Irish Times Ltd., claiming damages for libel in respect of the publication by them, in their issue of the 3 October 1946, of a picture of the Custom House and its vicinity superimposed with a purported representation of the proposed new building of CIE designed by Mr. Scott. Mr. Scott has instructed us to write you this letter being apprehensive that the Corporation might be left under a wholly false impression if he were not to make clear immediately his entire repudiation of the picture. Mr. Scott instructs us to state that the picture does not truly represent the proposed building either as to its form, its relative size, or its relation to the existing buildings in the vicinity including the Custom House. These are of course questions which as between Mr. Scott and The Irish Times Ltd. must be decided at the hearing of the action.
Mr. Scott instructs us however that he feels it is of urgent importance to him that the Corporation should be made fully aware immediately that he wholly dissociates himself from the picture and claims that it is misleading and libellous. (Anon, 8 October 1946, p. 7)
After a lot of behind the scenes movement, Scott finally got his apology in April 1947, in the format laid out by his solicitors, as well as payment for his expenses – he had paid to have a model made of the design. In accordance with the agreement, the glass plate from which the photomontage was printed was broken in to several pieces and handed over to Scott so it could never be reprinted. At the time of the picture’s publication however, considerable fuss was made over the fact that the new building was to be much taller that the Custom House. The Irish Times was leading the opposition against the building and printed that the exterior façades were “more suitable for a factory than for a public building beside the Custom House” (Anon, 3 October 1946, p. 1). The Corporation Planning Committee postponed their decision until they could take advice from the Royal Hibernian Academy and other interested bodies. When Abercrombie was asked his opinion as regards planning and impact on the Custom House he stated: … the architect Mr. Michael Scott had solved this very difficult problem in a bold and satisfactory manner. He had put the loftier part of the building as far back as possible, and run it at right angles to Amiens Street forming an ‘L’ shaped building, the lower wing being radial to the Custom House. Facing the Custom House was a blank wall which as then submitted had a concave curve following the line of the crescent. (Anon, 8 October 1946, p. 7)
After producing the design for the building, CIE submitted the plans for permission to start construction and was refused by a narrow majority of the Planning Committee. They then went to appeal, resubmitting their proposal to the General Purposes Committee of the Corporation. It was passed narrowly on the condition of stylistic changes which were to be carried out. Originally the office accommodation was to consist of one eight storey block at the rear of the site mounted on a two storey bus station podium. This design seems to have been recycled in later years as the firm’s competition entry for the Wood Quay Corporation offices except with a taller main block. However the length of the city’s fire ladders and rights of light on Store Street dictated that the main block’s height be lowered by two storeys and the space be placed in a three storey block at ninety degrees to the other block. During this period controversy reigned with the newspapers declaring that the new building would create too much cross-town traffic causing problems on the quays.
Even at this early stage Busáras was arousing interest in the architectural world. The journal Architectural Design referred to it in July 1947 including a sketch of a design which was fairly similar to that built: The actual building is still at the foundation stage, but by the time it is finished, it can easily claim to be one of the masterpieces of modern architecture judging by the sketches and descriptions received to date. (Anon, July 1947, p. 198)
“The main difference was the alternative treatment being given to the third floor offices. Instead of the recessed loggia which was eventually built, the offices are projected clear of the surrounding curtain walling. The description accompanying the illustration made much of the wide range of materials being used in the building: Michael Scott combs countries far and wide for suitable materials for this creation of his. Brass, bronze, copper, mosaics, timber, tiles – even perhaps, goat skins – all and more embellish the already fine structure. (Anon, July 1947, p. 198)
After the building was started CIE began to experience serious financial difficulties suffering losses of over one million pounds in 1947 which was a colossal amount for the time. At the start of the design process in 1945 the bus arm of the company had made a profit of £850,000 – so this represented a serious downturn in turnover. As a result it became a common opinion that the building was to be a large white elephant and folly for such a cash strapped company. So when the general election of the 4 February 1948 brought in a new Coalition Government led by John A. Costello (1891-1976), it was decided not to proceed with the project in its original form and work was halted. Soon after, Sir James Milne’s report for the Government on the transport system made recommendations regarding the Store Street building:
It was doubtful whether the objective of providing an omnibus station and central offices at Store Street, Dublin was sufficiently important to justify such an ambitious project. A modified scheme should be prepared making use of existing buildings in place of the proposed new chassis maintenance and body building shops at Broadstone.(Milne, 1948)
The new Government decided that the office accommodation was too prestigious for a transport company and that it should appropriate the building for use as Government office space. McGilligan, the Minister for Finance, stated that although the Government had been unable to stop the project, they “hoped to turn it to some useful purpose” (Anon, 27 July 1949, p. 1). It was felt at the time that the building was very much a monument to the previous Fianna Fáil Government and was resented as such by the current administration. The Irish Times put those feelings into words:
It seem not quite credible that political cynicism and irresponsibility could be such that plans, however good, are being cancelled or changed merely because, having being instigated by Fianna Fail, there is a reluctance on the part of this Government to see them come to fruition. But in the absence of an official statement, this suspicion must prevail.(Anon, 20 August 1949, p. 1)
The major political parties in Ireland were formed around the two sides from the Irish Civil War and at this time tended to carry on their ideological differences at the expense of the country. In the newspapers, it was alternatively suggested that it could be used as a headquarters for the Civic Guards (Garda S’ochána), the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, a Rank Film Studio or for a Radio ƒireann Station. Then in early September 1949 it was suggested that it was intended to be used as a headquarters for the new Department of Social Welfare and the Tanaiste’s Office. It was also proposed by the civil servant Dan O’Donovan to use the ground floor as a women’s unemployment exchange with space for over 500 people. Patrick Scott, who was an assistant architect on the project, remembers this period well:
I do remember doing drawings, perspective drawings of the Bus Station concourse as it would have looked if it was a women’s welfare office. I really made it look ridiculous by drawing this long counter through the concourse with loads of little women with shawls standing around. (Interview with Patrick Scott, 1995)
In fact CIE’s board had already decided that they did not urgently need the office space. This was partly due to their perilous financial state – CIE now owed the Government over three-quarters of a million pounds. The building had so far cost £250,000 and it was estimated that it would cost another £750,000 to fit out and complete. So it was decided to sell the building to the Government for £200,000 for a use still to be decided. CIE was to abandon its new “luxury Bus Station”, as Aston in The Irish Times insisted on calling it at the time, swallow its pride and build a utilitarian structure in Smithfield. This station was to have no provision “for the luxury of a refreshment bar, cinema and shops as was included in the Store Street plan” (Anon, 2 September 1949, p. 3). The Irish Times of 2 September also warned:
It is not intended to adhere rigidly to the original plan. Indeed before work is resumed on the building it is likely that the blueprints will be greatly changed in order to adapt the final construction to its new purpose. The cost of this adaptation will, however be slight, especially having regard to economies which are likely to be effected in the final contracts.(Anon, 2 September 1949, p. 3)
This adaptation was to mean the elimination of many facilities and amenities originally proposed for the interior and would cause many arguments between the architects and the new client. Although rid of their financial millstone, it was still not the end of CIE’s problems. At the Dublin Corporation meeting of 19 September 1949, their planning submission for Smithfield was referred to a special committee meeting of the whole house. Several councillors, including Alderman Gilbert Hughes, were vehemently opposed to the Smithfield site and Government interference.
Something here is about to be sabotaged for some purpose or other which has yet to come to light and the Corporation has no right to give to any company one of the most valuable open spaces in the city. It is a daft proposal as the Smithfield site is most unsuitable. (Anon, 20 September 1949, p. 1)
At the same meeting it was suggested, just to add insult to injury from the frustrated passenger’s point of view that the Corporation buy and convert the partially built Store Street building into flats. On 22 October at a special meeting, the Chairman T.C. Courtney and the General Manager Frank Lemass (a brother of Sean Lemass, the former Fianna Fáil Minister for Industry and Commerce) informed the Corporation that CIE had definitely abandoned the Store Street project. They also told the meeting that the potential purchaser would refuse to buy the building unless the ground floor was available.
It was then decided by the Government to nationalise fully CIE in a bid to bring some financial control into a company that was generally seen as profligate. On the 26 October 1949 during the second reading of the Transport Bill that would nationalise CIE, Mr Morrissey, the Minister for Industry and Commerce stated in defence of the Bill that the need for a Central Bus Station in Dublin was unquestionable but there was no need for CIE to build five storeys of offices above the station, spending over one million pounds on the building when a station alone could have been provided for £150,000, at a time when their finances were so unstable (Anon, 27 October 1949, p. 1). The Bill was passed, and CIE was to become a State company on the first of January 1950. In early December Alderman Hughes tabled a motion at the Corporation weekly meeting. Hughes had been a defender of the building throughout the controversy and his motion called upon the Government: to take steps to have the decision of CIE to abandon the Store Street building set aside and to have the project there completed and put into service as a Bus Station at the earliest possible date. (Anon, 3 December 1949, p. 4)
Hughes felt that the building provided the best possible facilities for the travelling public and that a cheap alternative station in Smithfield would simply not be adequate. The Government attempt to railroad a decision to build a new station in Smithfield on the grounds of finance was now taking a serious assaulting from all sides. During the debate of the Transport Money Bill, Sean Lemass of the Fianna Fáil opposition launched a blistering attack on the concept.
The public very strongly recognised the need of a Central Bus Station near the main shopping centre and he refused to accept the belief that the completion of the bus terminus part of the building would be £250,000. I think that the suggestion of establishing the station at Smithfield is mad.
I would say that if you got the two men who escaped from Dundrum Lunatic Asylum to pick a site in Dublin for a Central Bus Station, they would not pick Smithfield. Visitors to the city were horrified by the spectacle they saw along Aston Quay with thousands of people queuing up under leaking corrugated iron roofs. (Anon, 7 December 1949, p. 1)
He went on to state that the Smithfield site would be unusable without major expenditure on street widening schemes in the area – a point that both the Government and CIE had glossed over. In support of Lemass, Captain P. Cowan, an Independent T.D, stated that it was a grave mistake to suggest that the ground floor of the building was useful as anything other than a Bus Station – the purpose that it was designed for. Then, for the first time, the aesthetics of the building entered the political debate, when he said that he had been informed of the architectural importance of the building, with architects travelling from all over Europe to see it (Anon, 7 December 1949, p. 1).
At this stage The Irish Builder and Engineer was sitting squarely on the fence, slamming the construction on one hand yet, urging its completion.
The erection of an enormous building in its relation to and blocking permanently from Amiens Street, the view of the Custom House can only be regarded as a major delinquency; compared with it, the construction of the Loop Line Bridge becomes a trivial indiscretion.
There seems to be no earthly reason why the Store Street Central Station having progressed so far should not be hurried to completion and put into service even if the upper part of the building awaits further determination as to its use. (Oculus, 12 November 1949, p. 1038)
It was then announced in the Dáil by the Taoiseach John A. Costello that the Department of Social Welfare was to purchase the premises for use as offices. After the Christmas recess the matter continued to be debated in the Dáil. Morrissey, the Minister for Transport and Communications went on the record as saying that the building was to be put to a use for which it was better suited – the Department of Social Welfare – an unusual claim in that it was designed as a Bus Station. Sean Lemass opposed this vehemently, arguing that it had been expertly designed and the cost would be considerable. Jack Lynch described abandoning the site as the “height of folly” (Anon, 17 February 1950, p. 3). Throughout the Dáil debates, the opposition defended the building and the CIE plan despite preferring the Smithfield site while in Government themselves – using the building as a political stick with which to beat the Government.
Meanwhile outside of the Dáil, the two sides put forward their arguments. The Smithfield traders attempted to swing the discussion by advocating the revitalisation of the area, an argument also put forward by the Talbot Street traders. By March the building was being described as a “monument of civic ineptitude” (Anon, 23 March 1950, p. 1).
The Irish Builder and Engineer had changed its editorial position again and was calling the decision to abandon the building as hasty, and referred to it as “so skilfully designed as a bus terminus” (Oculus, 4 March 1950, p. 201). Meanwhile the Transport Bill on CIE had reached the upper house of the Oireachtas – the Senate, and the Senators were no less forthcoming on their theories and views than the T.Ds, with the majority of them deploring it.
…if ever there was a monument built to those who have no consideration for the beauty of this city – it is this building. (Anon, 21 April 1950, p. 5)
These were the words of Senator Eleanor Butler who was the daughter of R.M. Butler, the former head of the Architecture Department in UCD. She had been placed in the Kildare Street Competition with a traditional classical design and obviously shared her father’s opinions on modern architecture. As a Corporation Councillor she was totally opposed to the development and Abercrombie’s report. In the Senate Professor Stanford of the University of Dublin, asked the Tanaiste to take just the upper storeys of the building that had been designed as offices as this would not incur any extra cost. It was also pointed out that the various concessions, restaurants and bars in the Store Street building would bring in an annual rental of some ten thousand pounds and that a cheap utilitarian structure elsewhere would not bring in near that amount, if any at all (Anon, 21 April 1950, p. 5).
The Government’s main reason for abandonment had always been finance and claims were now been made that 106 families would have to be rehoused and road widening and moving of services would cost £300,000. Morrissey then declared that “as far as the CIE company is concerned Store Street is out” (Anon, 21 April 1950, p. 5).
He also railed against the newspapers particularly The Irish Times and The Irish Press which he felt were now giving too much credence to the opposition’s claims on the building – the pressure on the Government was beginning to show.
Apparently the idea was that if statements were repeated often enough and loud enough, some people would believe them, especially when those who made them were in the position of knowing that these statements were to be reported in full in a certain newspaper which was read by a considerable number of people, 95% of whom read no other newspaper.
Somebody said when The Irish Times and The Irish Press were in agreement, it was time for some side to look out. (Anon, 21 April 1950, p. 1)
Tanaiste Norton (1900-1965) continued to insist that the entire building was needed for his staff and department. The Irish Times editorial of the next day slammed Minister Morrissey’s and Tanaiste Norton’s desire to get Store Street for the Department of Social Welfare, pointing out that, as CIE was a nationalised state owned company, whether CIE or the Department of Social Welfare finished the project was immaterial; the country was going to have to foot the bill anyway.
The Store Street site is a site in a thousand. It is invested by four of the broadest highways in Dublin; it is only a few hundred yards from O’Connell street; it is contiguous to Amiens Street station, the most important railway station in the country and the station which within another year will be the centre of the entire nationalised transport system. There is only one argument against the completion of the Store Street building for the purpose for which it was intended and that is the desire of Mr. William Norton to have comfortable quarters for his still inchoate Ministry of Social Welfare. (Anon, 21 April 1950, p. 5)
This was the first statement of common sense to be issued by anybody since the debate started but very few paid any attention to it – The Irish Times was still very much seen as an instrument of Protestant Ireland and was mistrusted by the majority. The Irish Press although a mouthpiece for Fianna Fáil, was seen as the voice of the common people and it also advocated completion of the building as a Bus Station. This was fuel to the fire that already raged about the building with a considerable letter campaign being waged in The Irish Times.
The artist Louis le Brocquy was involved in a lengthy correspondence with a John Manning on the subject. Le Brocquy, who was a supporter of the building, as well as a friend of Scott, wrote:
Dubliners are not merely to be denied all the thoughtfully planned amenities of this centre. They must also witness the mutilation of a building worthy to stand in dignity and harmony beside our Georgian Custom House – a unique building, planned and made by our own citizens in the context of our time which can as Collinstown already has, earn us the admiration of the world. (le Brocquy, 5 May 1950, p. 7)
Three days later Manning replied sensibly that a change of use would only affect internal arrangements because the structure was so far advanced. Le Brocquy seemed to be taking an alarmist tone perhaps to galvanise the cultural elite of Dublin in defence of the building, because a couple of days later, he wrote:
The entire spirit and purpose of the building are to be permanently distorted and maimed at ground level. Gandon’s Custom House and Scott’s projected Bus Station representing the finest architectural standards of their respective centuries must each enhance the separate qualities of each other.
The Bus Station is the first building of European importance to be built by Dubliners in the city of Dublin since we became independent. It is to be the single greatest contribution that our nation has made to architecture. Its growth is being eagerly followed by architects and their journals all over the world. (le Brocquy, 12 May 1950, p. 5)
Architects travelled from all over Europe to see this marvellous building that was causing such furore, with one intrepid traveller, Robin Boyd coming from Sydney, Australia. Boyd was the editor of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects Journal and was very enthusiastic about the building:
Even in its unfinished state this building is clearly destined to be a distinguished contribution to the development of imaginative modern architecture. It has the scale and vigour and breath of vision so lacking in much of the dull heavy work of post-war Europe. (Boyd, 1950, p. 5)
He ended his letter with a plea that the authorities not destroy this work of art and commented: If your authorities persist, you may gain a welfare centre, but you will lose, as well as a Bus Station, a building of value to Dublin and to world architecture. (Boyd, 1950, p. 5)
Such was the campaign against the building at this stage, that when this letter complimenting the Irish on their architectural daring and forward thinking was published, another correspondent two days later asked him not to meddle in things that were not his concern and to go back to Australia.
As the first construction contract was finished, work had been halted since 1948 and the discussion upon the merits both artistic and otherwise of the building continued to rage. People espousing various other causes used the building as a rallying cry with their own aims in mind. One letter writer to the Editor of The Irish Times used the concrete structure of the building as a reason in favour of concreting the Rock Road along the south coast. Another used the proposed Portland stone cladding to raise the profile of the closing of Ireland’s limestone and granite quarries.
The whole issue now galvanised the artistic and cultural elite of Dublin to defend Scott and the building on the grounds that as the building was a work of art, the act of dismembering a work into different parts was impossible and that the attempt would completely destroy the concept. One letter writer to The Irish Times, signing himself as O’Donovan Rossa, suggested that:
It would appear to be a vandal’s suggestion that an architectural triumph be completely diverted from the purpose for which it was designed without ever having served that purpose. (O’Donovan Rossa, 1950, p. 5)
Throughout the summer of 1950 letters were published in the national newspapers from people like Uinseann MacEoin, Barney Heron, the Arts Association of Ireland and the Irish Exhibition of Living Art. The Irish Exhibition of Living Art was a Salon des Refuses from the RHA formed in 1943 after work by the artist Louis le Brocquy was turned away from the RHA’s annual exhibition. For a time the group was led by Mainie Jellet (1897-1944) who was succeeded by Norah McGuinness (1903-1980) and contained many of the important artists from the period. These groups took the side of the building in a public and at time acrimonious debate in the letters page of The Irish Times. Although the impression existed that the artistic sector of Irish society was rowing in behind Scott, it must also be pointed out that most of these people were friends or colleagues of his, and as such would be expected to back him anyway. The Irish Exhibition of Living Art group was in part funded by Scott who remained on its committee for many years, while Uinseann MacEoin worked for Scott from 1945 until 1948 as did Barney Heron. Later, Heron was to design the wooden handrails for the bus station.
A grave error of judgement is contemplated in requiring an architect to alter the plans of a partially completed building that was originally conceived as an aesthetic and functional whole. The original intention of the architect is now being made impossible. (Irish Exhibition of Living Art, 1950, p. 5)
When something that was manifestly a necessity proves in execution to be a major achievement of architecture attracting the admiration of Europe and America wherever civic and municipal planning is given its due consideration, are we to have this triumph arbitrarily snatched from us. Is this brilliantly planned amenity to be distorted from its function and reduced to the slatternly condition of an employment bureau whilst we look on and look foolish. (O’Brien, 1950, p. 5)
A copy of a letter dated 15 May 1950 exists in the files of Scott Tallon Walker with an address but no signature. Three days later this letter is published in The Irish Times with the same date and address and attributed in the paper to A.E Barry. Another letter published on 25 May 1950 is also present in the files dated two days previously. This was signed by an M.E. McDonald.
Another unsigned, unaddressed letter to The Irish Press exists with a note asking the secretary to find somebody prepared to sign it. It seems that Scott was orchestrating his own defence through anonymous letters. This must cast doubt on the validity of all the pseudonymous letters published of which there was quite a few including the letter above signed as O’Donovan Rossa. He also received letters of support from many people, including one from Lennox Robinson including another unsigned letter, suggesting to Scott that he use the contents for whatever purpose he see fit. Scott would not have been above manipulating the press as he had on occasion changed his side of events as the need suited him.
Scott was vehemently opposed to the Department of Social Welfare take-over and had tried to offer his resignation to the Taoiseach. He had also appealed to the RIAI and the Raymond McGrath at the Office of Public Works for help in fighting the design alterations and interference from the client, arguing that it breached his contract (Michael Scott, STW Archives, 1950).
In September 1950 Hibernia magazine produced an article covering the entire public debate and the history of the building in an attempt to explain the whole situation. They included interviews with people involved with design and architecture from outside of the state. In an interview Sydney Kelly ARIBA ARIAI, who was co-author with Patrick Abercrombie of the 1939 planning report for the city of Dublin, wrote from Australia:
It is a public scandal of the first magnitude to convert the Store Street structure to any other purpose than that for which it was intended. I consider this structure one of the finest contemporary buildings in Europe, admirably suited for a Bus Terminal and one that could not be converted adequately for any other purpose as it was designed to handle the problem of heavy traffic in a capital city. It could only be suitably used for that purpose.
In my travels around Europe I was considerably impressed with the railway termini in Italy particularly in Rome but nowhere in Europe have I seen anything so admirably designed for its purpose as a Bus Terminus as Store Street. Your Store Street building has created such an interest in the architectural world that Dublin is now the focus of all eyes. (Anon, 1950, p. 14)
Michael Scott had also been impressed by the Termini railway station (Eugenio Montuori, 1947-51) in Rome and it was there that he first saw the application of mosaics by SARIM of Venice.
Mrs Astrid Sampe Hultberg, a Swedish Royal Designer of Industry visited Dublin especially to view the Store Street building. Astrid Sampe was a leading Swedish Industrial Designer who worked extensively with textiles for the home, experimenting with the use of glass fibre. She had worked on the interior design of the Swedish Pavilion at the New York World Fair of 1939 and was friendly with Frank Yerbury who was a regular lecturer to the AAI. In an interview in Hibernia, she stated:
It is an outstanding building, the only Bus Station of its kind in the world. I had heard architects in London speak about it, but it is even more wonderful than they suggested. I have been to America recently and I have seen many modern buildings all over the world but this has a character all of its own. It is the ideal Bus Station. (Anon, 1950, p. 15)
As those involved with the design and architectural professions all declared their views on how great the building was – the public, or at least that section of the public that writes to newspapers declared their dislike for it. One hardy soul writing as ‘Viator’ claimed that he did not want a Bus Station with toilets, shops and other luxuries, no matter if it was an architectural triumph, but a small station in Smithfield would do just as well as long as he got where he was going.
At this time the building and its surrounding controversy started to become the butt of Dublin humour. Myles na Gopaleen (Brian O’Nolan (1911-1966), alias Flann O’Brien, who was a friend of Scott) suggested to Scott that if it became a women’s unemployment exchange he could always call it the “bust station” (Walker, 1995, p. 146). John Manning sent in a short poem on the discussion:
Shame that our nation,
Should submit this unique building to serious structural alteration,
Yet one shouldn’t be too solemn,
Over the change in the function of a reinforced concrete column.
(Manning, 2 June 1950, p. 5)
However in the midst of all this public discussion the Corporation Planning Department gave CIE permission to develop the Smithfield site, but CIE was to carry the costs of street widening and underground services in the area.
In October the members of the Safety First Association of Ireland, who first endorsed the Store Street site in 1937, held their annual meeting and discussed the impasse. They reported that in their opinion the Store Street site was still the most suitable and that the proposal for Smithfield was ill thought out and inconvenient to the passenger who would have to use it. The Association won the support of the Corporation who voted to send their letter and report to the Government with their full backing.
A couple of days before Christmas The Irish Times again issued another editorial of common sense asking the Government to make up its collective mind as, since they had suggested taking over the building no construction work had been carried out on either that Bus Station or a new station, and that the general public who voted for the Government and who could vote them out of office if they so pleased, were still catching their buses in the rain on the quays. It ended with the ominous words: “The people’s patience is not everlasting” (Anon, 22 December 1950, p. 5).
In 1951 The Irish Times threat came to pass – in the general election of 14 June 1951, a new Fianna Fáil Government was elected. Fianna Fáil had campaigned for the retention of the Bus Station with Eamon de Valera promising “the restoration of many beneficial projects stopped or curtailed by the previous Government, including the use of the Store Street building as a Central Bus Station” (O’Flaherty, 1989).
On the 3 July 1951 a discreet front page column in The Irish Times announced that the Store Street building was to be finished for its original purpose and that the Smithfield project had been abandoned. It was a rare victory for common sense in Irish politics. A compromise had been decided on – the offices were to be used for the Department of Social Welfare, and the Bus Station was to be used by CIE for its original purpose. Years later, in 1960, this was formalised in a lease which stated that CIE had the tenancy of the station areas “for the term of two hundred years, from the nineteenth day of October 1953” at an annual rental of £15,000 (O’Flaherty, 1989).
The architects’ problems were not over The new Fianna Fáil Government had re-appointed Dan O’Donovan as the liaison officer between the architects and the Department of Social Welfare – he had been dismissed by the previous Government after trying to blackmail Scott (Walker, 1995, p. 157). Since that incident O’Donovan and Scott did not get on, especially as Scott now had to send him every drawing produced by his office for the project. Scott was constantly complaining about him, as O’Donovan often over asserted his authority and made design decisions without consulting Scott and overruled him on grounds of cost or more spurious reasons. Towards the end of the project, Scott wrote to both the Taoiseach and Minister for Social Welfare stating that when he was showing foreign architects around the building, he would personally point out the features that were produced by O’Donovan and not by his design team. He wrote: “It is disheartening that these people will see anachronisms in design and planning for which I am in no way responsible” (Michael Scott, STW Archives, 1952).
The building’s problems were not over either. In 1952 CIE had a strike by an electrician’s union in its bus and train maintenance department. In sympathy the Electricians Trade Union decided not to work on the CIE portion of the building but continued to work on the Government offices. This was to delay the opening of the station for a further six months, while the Department of Social Welfare were already using their offices. By the end of 1952 when the concrete shell of the building had been clad with stone, opinion on the design was changing. The Irish Builder and Engineer remarked upon the fact in an article which lauded the building and printed that “studied from the Custom House side the massive structure is now most imposing” (Oriel, 11 October 1952, p. 950)
After the Government take-over of the project, costs became the overriding factor in its completion with many of the planned facilities, fittings and decorative elements being dropped from the design. In August 1953 The Irish Builder and Engineer reported that:
The parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Social Welfare stated in the Dáil that the cost of erecting the Store Street Bus Station was £1,014,000 up to 31 July last. The final cost cannot be computed until some further work is carried out on it. (Anon, 15 August 1953, p. 851)
Finally on 19 October 1953, some seven years after construction began, eight years after the design was completed and nearly fifteen years after the site was suggested, the Store Street building finally was officially opened to the travelling public. It was announced two days before the official opening that it was to be known as çras Mhic Dhiarmada after Sean MacDermott, one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation who was executed for his part in the Easter Rising. The name Busáras is a more or less official nickname it has acquired from Dubliners since. After all the fuss and discussion about its construction, it was opened with much fanfare. All the daily newspapers devoted upwards of six pages to “Dublin’s Wonder Building” as the Irish Independent referred to it (Anon, 20 October 1953, p. 2). Articles devoted much space to boasts of cost, statistics about glass and square feet of floor area, and photographs of interiors. Even its former detractors claimed to admire it. The design team which had put up with so much criticism and abuse received plaudits from the Government and the public, but were just glad that the job was completed.
We were fed up with being messed about by the change of client and all that. The battle with the man from the Department of Social Welfare [Dan O’Donovan] was exasperating, there was another angry man there as well. We were all pretty glad to get it finished and that it was still a bus station. (Interview with Patrick Scott, 1995)
The building met with much admiration and discussion among the architectural press – all the major journals including Architects Journal and Architectural Review producing large articles on it. A hardback edition was produced by the publishers of Hibernia magazine devoted exclusively to it. Acclaim was universal and architectural critics praised Ireland’s boldness. The Architects Journal wrote:
The setting of the Bus Terminal is primarily Georgian even now, and in these surroundings it will retain for many years the quality of a bold architectural gesture which was once possessed by such buildings as the Ministry of Health in Rio de Janeiro. (Anon, April 1954, p. 464)
Comparing Scott’s work to that of Oscar Niemeyer is perhaps a coincidence but Scott and his team listed some of his work as an influence. They were also contemporaries and both were responsible for their respective nation’s pavilions at the New York World Fair of 1939. Niemeyer was also a great follower of Le Corbusier.
The construction of the building changed the area irrevocably. The buildings in the area were all relatively low in comparison to Busáras. The building now dominates the view from the side entrance to Connolly Station on Amiens Street and looms over north Store Street, causing it to be always in shadow. In the surrounding network of streets and narrow lanes the building appears in the most unlikely places. Travelling down Pearse Street on the south side of the river, the building is visible down the narrow streets that run to the quayside, terminating the vistas. The building also towers over laneways between Talbot Street and Store Street. Quite unexpectedly down narrow lanes, the ‘wing’ over the Department entrance and pavilion storey can be glimpsed over sheds and the Loop Line bridge. In this way the building dominates the area to the north although it does not overshadow the Custom House.
Dublin is primarily an eighteenth century city – its major public buildings are constructed of stone (granite, Portland and limestone) while its domestic architecture is mainly brick faced. When the construction of Busáras first started, the Georgian city was still complete if a little dilapidated in places. Many of the once glorious houses had been turned into squalid tenements and would later be demolished in a rash of modernisation in the 1960s. So Busáras was obviously going to create a huge impact on both the skyline and the direction of future architectural development in the city. As a result the use and quality of materials on the exterior became very important.
Scott was very aware of this and although a committed modernist, tried to create a link between Busáras and its nearest Georgian neighbour, the Custom House. This may have been foisted on him by the City Corporation who regarded the Custom House as the jewel in the crown of Dublin architecture and may have preferred a pastiche solution and indeed could have forced one, but Scott was well aware of the importance of the building and rose to the challenge of inserting Busáras sympathetically into the streetscape. He regarded the Custom House as “one of the chief architectural glories of the city of Dublin and one of the most notable buildings of the world” (O’Flaherty, 1989). He also felt that “modern buildings blend in well with the eighteenth century character of Dublin, if they are sensibly designed with good detail” (O’Connor, 1978, p. 4).
Respect for tradition does not mean the complacent toleration of elements which have been a matter of fortuitous chance or of individual eccentricity nor does it mean the acceptation of domination by bygone aesthetic forms. Walter Gropius (O’Gorman, 1937, p. 59)
Accordingly Scott’s team placed Busáras with the smaller block closest to the Custom House. For a time in 1945, Scott was trying to persuade CIE to place an extra two floors on Busáras, raising the structure by 25 feet in order to remove the “aggressive thrusting smaller block” which he felt may detract from the Custom House (Michael Scott, STW Archives, 1945). This however was vetoed by the authorities on the grounds of fire safety and rights of light. In the photomontage published by The Irish Times in 1946, there was no visible sign of the smaller block. It is possible that this montage represented accurately the height and mass of this one block concept. According to Uinseann MacEoin, what was built was design No. 12 but there was a conceptual Design No. 13 which was two storeys higher, so The Irish Times may have been publishing a representation of the most recent concept. Had Scott got his way in 1945 with one tall block and podium, the curved outside line of the crescent would have disappeared after the houses of Beresford Place.
The smaller block is very similar in height to Beresford Place and so continues on the parapet line of the street. The end façade descends to meet the ground – this elevational treatment was suggested by Professor Abercrombie as a more suitable treatment in relation to the Custom House and hangs uneasily with the stylistic treatment given to the ends of the larger block. Originally the same treatment was to be given to this end wall as to the other two but it was felt that the brickwork plinth would not complement the Custom House even with the presence of Gandon’s Beresford Place nearby. It would have been a stylistic inversion of Beresford Place with the brick underneath the stonework. Abercrombie also suggested that this end wall be curved to carry on the curve of the terrace, but in the end this was rejected as the curve required over fifty-five feet would have been very slight and expensive to produce. Because of the road building schemes, the brick plinth at the east end of the large block was cambered allowing the roadway to sweep around to meet Amiens Street whilst still allowing the block to overhang.
However some of the more obvious links are accidental due to costs. On the exterior the most noticeable material is the Portland stone used to clad the main concrete structure. Cut in three inch thick slabs this was applied to all the upper storeys. It has been said that this was Scott’s recognition of the Custom House – by choosing the same surface finish he was attempting to contextualise the Bus Station into the existing streetscape. Originally the exterior cladding material Scott wished to use was granite, since he felt that he should use an Irish stone if possible.
Portland stone is a very gracious stone which suits Dublin well because of its happy colour and soft quality. I would have preferred to use native granite but as it cost nearly twice as much as Portland stone, it was decided to use the latter. (Anon, 20 October 1953, p. 8)
The cost was prohibitive because of the lack of expertise and mechanisation in Irish quarries. According to Uinseann MacEoin, the choice of the Portland stone meant a saving of some £10,000 even though the full cost of the building was over one million pounds. This use of granite would have been a stylistic repeat of the hospital at Tullamore where the International Style was finished in traditional limestone masonry. According to reports in Architectural Design in 1947, it was intended to clad the building with granite, so the decision to change to Portland stone was taken during the halt in construction. The stone is clad in an alternating pattern and has worn very well, even on the columns between the windows where it has been applied in very thin pieces. The cladding pattern on the end walls of the blocks is reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s work at the Maison Suisse (1930-31) at the Cité Universitaire, in Paris. Bands of stone slabs in a portrait format are succeeded by a band in landscape format and so on. Scott may have been familiar with this building through the slide collection and lectures to the AAI of J.V. Downes (1891-1967). Downes was a lecturer and later head of the Architecture Department in UCD and travelled widely through Europe and the United States in the 1920s and 30s, taking photographs of buildings in the new style. More than anyone else, he was responsible for bringing Modernism to Ireland. It is possible that after seeing the slides, Scott visited the building in 1946 while on his way to St Lo. Alternatively it was the publishing of Le Corbusier’s work at the Maison Suisse that influenced the design team. Drawings published in 1947 show a cladding pattern nearly identical to that on the Maison Suisse. In the Busáras sketches, the narrow bands are used to express the position of the floors externally, corresponding with the bands of Thermolux, unlike the Maison Suisse where the narrow bands mark the line of the bottom of the window openings. Throughout the building stages of the project, various drawings and sketches show different cladding patterns on the endwalls, the completed pattern only appearing in the later drawings after 1949.
It is perhaps as well that the financial resources were not present for the use of granite. With the two blocks being arranged as they are, with the smaller of the two facing the Custom House, it gives Busáras a deferential air towards its older neighbour. The Portland stone is a more subtle material, giving at a quick glance the appearance of concrete or stucco. Indeed many of the people who use the building assume that the finish is concrete. The proposed use of granite on such a scale especially on the huge end walls of the blocks could have been oppressive and depressing. Masonry in the style of Tullamore hospital would have been completely overwhelming.
In the structure, the design team placed cantilevered concrete canopies over alternate windows in the restaurant pavilion. The openings are floor-to-ceiling so the canopies act as brise soleils during the summer months. They are suggestive of the dormers on the east façade of the Custom House. These canopies are only placed on the south side of Busáras facing Gandon’s building. The window cleaners rig that runs around the top of the two office blocks echoes the cornice on the Custom House while the railings echo the balustrading above the cornice.
Another material that was used, and that also links the two buildings, is copper. The upperside of the bus canopy and canopies over ventilation outlets on the roof on the small block are clad in copper. One of the most obvious features of the Custom House is the distinctive copper dome and roof. The copper in Busáras is unobtrusive and is visible only from above in the offices themselves. Originally the complete concourse roof was to be clad in copper, but this idea was discarded by 1947. The copper rooftop ventilation covers are miniature versions of the canopy with a smaller pitch. Even without the symbolism of the pavilion canopies, the window cleaners rig and the Custom House dormers, this use of similar materials prove that Scott’s team did not accept modernism uncritically and adapted the supposedly international style for a particular site and environment without descending to obvious regionalism or celtic revivalism.
The event that the 1940s civic planners most feared has surely come to pass with the Custom House now positioned among the greatest concentration of modern architecture in Dublin. Although they wished the crescent to be completed, it is doubtful that its current appearance was what they desired. With the exception of Liberty Hall (Desmond Rea O’Kelly, 1964), the Custom House is not diminished in any way by these buildings as they, including Busáras and the International Financial Services Centre (Burke-Kennedy Doyle, 1987), reflect the building in their glazing and are placed far enough from it, and with set backs so as not to dominate the rather low Custom House. However none of these other buildings have the same attention to detail and references to the Custom House as Busáras. Scott, in the design of his house in Sandycove, made references to the neighbouring martello tower and here at Busáras, he links the building to the Custom House through materials and symbolism. The greatest offender to the Custom House’s appearance is the loop line railway bridge which Abercrombie proposed to remove in 1922 as it marred the Custom House but which is still there despite reports of CIE plans for its removal. This bridge also disrupts the view of Busáras from Abbey Street and O’Connell Street which would otherwise show the building peering out from behind Beresford Place.