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Rory W

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Does the Spire miss the point after a change to the design?

The newly-lit Spire of Dublin does not quite deliver all that was promised in 1998, writes Frank McDonald, Environment Editor.

What’s the point? That was a common reaction to Dublin’s Spire when a model of the soaring stainless steel needle for O’Connell Street was first unveiled in November 1998. Some people still hold this view today, six months after it was finally erected.

But the real question about the Spire ought to be “Where’s the point?” Because it was meant to taper to a pinnacle of cast optical glass, half-a-metre high, above 12 metres of perforated stainless steel through which light would be diffused from an uplighter within the structure.

As depicted at the time, this beacon was to emit a soft light, like the halo of a candle flame. Instead, not only is the light harshly white, but the Spire is topped by an even brighter aircraft warning light, held in place by a clasp above the tapering cone and separated from it. In other words, it does not come to a point at all. Yet the environmental impact statement (EIS) on the project, published in June 2000, clearly states: “The top 0.5 metres of the monument will be made of cast optical glass”, faceted to “make the tip refract and reflect sunlight.” Furthermore, the EIS stated baldly that “there will be no aircraft warning light fixed to the top of the monument”, as the architect – Mr Ian Ritchie – had “opted for the more sensitive specification of an apex constantly illuminated by luminaries within” as well as external floodlighting.

“This approach has been approved by the Irish Aviation Authority”, it said.

Yet the authority had stated in 1998, when Mr Ritchie’s scheme was short-listed in the design competition, that it did not see the need for an aircraft warning system, but subsequently changed its mind.

A spokeswoman said yesterday that, under 1994 regulations, anything higher than 90 metres “constitutes an obstacle to aviation and requires to be lit”. But she added that the authority had accepted the architectural lighting solution and did not insist on a separate light on top.

Despite the fact that O’Connell Street is not on any known flight path, the authority maintains that some aviation warning system is needed in the interest of safety – if only to protect the Garda helicopter, which has been particularly active in the city centre at night-time in recent weeks.

However, the bulge of the clasp holding the white aircraft warning light is clearly visible during daylight hours. At night, it becomes invisible, but the fact that it is physically separated from the architectural lighting within makes what was meant to be a pointed pinnacle look disjointed.

Instead of an internal light projecting its beam upwards to be diffused through some 11,300 perforations near the top, a much more powerful lighting rig has been installed within the perforated section of the spire. This would account for the harshness of the light it emits.

Mr Jim Barrett, the city architect, said yesterday that the original lighting scheme didn’t work and had to be redesigned, though he agreed that the aircraft warning light on top is “too strong”. But he added that there was a control mechanism to regulate the intensity of the lighting.

The upper part of the spire, above the glossier section near ground level, also looks somewhat weather-beaten after just six months.

This rather undermines early claims that the stainless steel would be “self-cleaning” and suggests that it will need to be cleaned every so often.

But though duller than it looked last January, the spire can still become a dazzling “blade of light” on sunny days, as Mr Tim Brick, deputy city engineer, observed yesterday.

It had also achieved its primary objective of making a powerful urban design statement in O’Connell Street.

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