Re: Re: college green/ o’connell street plaza and pedestrians

Home Forums Ireland college green/ o’connell street plaza and pedestrians Re: Re: college green/ o’connell street plaza and pedestrians


I thought it would be best to continue the College Green discussion here rather than the Westmoreland/D’Olier Street thread.

@gunter wrote:

No notjim, I have not misunderstood your point.

You have an emotional attachment to the lawns and that’s fine, there’s no shame in that.

The urban condition can be gritty and hard and little bits of lawn are a comfort blanket ; )

The point I’m trying to illustrate is that, in urban realm terms, we’ve gone backwards. The College Green of the Joseph Tudor print and Rocque’s map (both 1750s), was clearly a more urbane space, and one more in line with comparable central urban spaces in comparable (mainland) European cities, than the College Green of today.

Rocque shows the new (not yet completed) front of Trinity with the same ring of stone obelisks linked by simple chains that Tudor depicts. While we may not be able to compare the traffic loading of a couple of sedan chairs to a constant string of double decker buses, there’s no question that College Green originally read as an civic space and now it reads as a traffic junction. The transition of the Trinity forecourt, from a being a simply demarcated arc across a single paved space, to the defensive zone with ‘Don’t walk on the grass’ lawns we have today, has played a part in this transition.

As magnificent as those Victorian railings are, and as manicured the lawns, the fact remains that these later 18th & 19th century additions negate some of the original urban qualities of the space.

How do you not see this?

On your belief that ‘main university buildings almost always have grass in front of them’, no they don’t. You’re thinking of English influenced, or the slightly out of town universities, I’m thinking of inner city, old school, universities (Edinburg, Bonn, Freiburg, Heidelburg, anything in Italy etc. etc.) and, in any case, it’s the urban space I’m talking about, whether or not there’s a college on one side.

gunter, as much as I understand your reasoning regarding Trinity’s lawns, I think it is misdirected. The problem of College Green – as we have talked about for years on this site (and acknowledging it takes a while to read through 20,000+ posts) – is how this once grand civic space, as you highlight, has essentially been appropriated to vehicular traffic and effectively vanished from the popular mindset.

What is probably the grandest expression of urban space in Ireland, by virtue of the importance – past and present – of the institutions that flank it, the international quality of its architecture, its grandly-scaled spatial qualities, and the convergence of the main arteries of the city, is completely lost through:

1) The devotion of so much physical space to traffic.
2) The complete dominance of traffic in the spatial and atmospheric character of the ‘room’, to the detriment of the appreciation of all other elements.
3) The obscuring of both buildings and their interrelationships by inconsiderately planted trees and random street furniture.
4) General mindless and uncoordinated clutter, particularly abounding on the central ‘island’.
5) The fact that there even is an ‘island’ – when roadways should be islands amongst pavements.
6) A shoddy and ever-degenerating public domain.

Thus the vitriol towards Trinity’s lawns I think would be more usefully directed to the area outside its railings, rather than within. It can of course be appreciated that the West Front could introduce a new quality to College Green if it directly addressed a new plaza unhindered, but I don’t think this facade is particularly approachable in that respect. It was clearly never designed to be a civic building in the true sense of the word – rather, in the manner of a modern-day shopping centre or department store, it presents a largely blank frontage that is decorated as a token civic gesture, whilst really only aiming to do one thing – cloak a megastructure and draw the patron inside. The West Front has nothing of the arcaded or multi-entranced ground floor typical of most European plaza-licking piles – indeed even compared to its colleague across the road – similarly there is no grandiose portico or full-scale verticality which acknowledges a hypothetical flanking space. Jacobson clearly designed this facade with some form of frontal enclosure (and admittedly budget) in mind. The entire facade effectively floats above a heavy base of rustication which is pleasant when on show, but is equally dispensable behind a shroud of railings.

(Incidentally note how grubby the facade has become in 13-15 years)

Pretty much since the foundation of Trinity College the complex has been bounded to the west by some form of wall or railing – this tradition continued with the West Front, albeit broken by the obelisk episode which appears to be more influenced by the contemporaneous Gardiner’s Mall than any real consideration of the site. It’s possible they even pre-date the West Front given so many of Tudor’s prints date to the early 1750s. Certainly by 1761 the front had been railed in with full-scale Georgian railings.

So if the railings were taken away today, you’d pretty much be walking by people’s bedroom windows, or at best catch glimpses of a storeroom piled high with lavatory rolls or an administrator’s dingy office layer with suspended ceilings. As is, the decorous but spare Victorian railings do much to add dignity and graciousness to the West Front with their curved sweeps, and if ever fully exposed through the removal of clutter would actually help delineate and orientate the facade which in reality is off-centre and concealed at both ends in most views.

What could however be achieved (ever the compromiser) is the widening of the hard surfaced space within the railings which is unduly narrow and fails to acknowledge the breadth of the central breakfront of the building. Thus what is currently this:

…could be something more like this:

Also bearing in mind that it would be beautifully paved in Irish granite, detailed with Portland stone, and lined with seating and feature a distinguished lamp or two. A world away from the current dingy asphalt and poorly articulated entranceway.

However to prove I do have time for plazafying notions, I would concede that should College Green eventually be subject to a radical masterplan, and I mean an all-encompassing plan that addresses the space as an ideal world scenario, there would be some validity in the removal of the Bank of Ireland railings should the building as a result directly address a wider plaza space unhindered by traffic.

This would return the BoI complex to that originally envisaged by Pearce with a radical European colonnaded piazza opening out onto a wider civic arena. At present the columns and wider dignity of the structure are curtailed by the horizontal band of railings crossing the site, essentially concealing the weight and grandeur of the building as it hits the ground, as much as it also rises from it. The exposure of the original views of the building from Grafton Street, Dame Street and College Green itself would benefit greatly from this, but moreover the approachability and public interaction with the building – essentially becoming the essence of College Green rather than the stage set function it is currently reduced to. (Aerial pictures cannot of course explain such a concept).

What this area is also crying out for, and this was originally meant to be the point of this post, is a re-evaluation of one of the city’s signature buildings, a structure which has effectively been lost more so than the College Green fronts of Trinity and the Bank combined. It is part of the bank, yet to all other purposes it is a separate – if begrudgingly associated – building, as was its intention – the House of Lords portico.

Utterly lost in a bewildering sea of modern urban distractions, this once-dominant feature of the city can only be appreciated as a series of disparate elements: a rank of disengaged column bases you pass by at street level, a fleeting raking view you might encounter standing at the pedestrian lights opposite, the flash of a statue over the trees from the top of a double-decker. The wider appreciation of this compact Gandon building, encompassing portico, substantial projecting wings and flanking later monumental doorcase is lost in a sea of passing buses, trees, mindless clutter, more trees, and of course disused public toilets and their associated paraphernalia. It is nothing short of extraordinary how one of the landmark buildings of the city, with a once-striking vista down College Street, has all but disappeared, both from public consciousness as well as actual street view.

As part of the College Green ‘reordering’, when and if it ever gets underway, central to this ought to be nothing short of the creation of a piazza space that addresses this building. Many of the same spatial problems affect this structure as once did the GPO – primarily the harsh curtailment of its columns by the roadway immediately adjacent. Similarly views of that building were once compromised by trees, as here, while the wider space fronting it did not acknowledge the building in a manner commensurate with its status, as also at the Lords.

In any other city a project of this type would be given top priority (or moreover would never have got into this state in the first place), yet what do we do here? – only commission a set of all-singing public toilets with entrance pavilions to be plonked above ground right on an island in the midst of a sea of traffic right in front of one of the major classical buildings in the city. It simply beggars belief. As things stand, if things were done properly here, there would very simply, be nothing left standing except Moore on his pedestal and a properly landscaped civic space covering the majority of this important triangle.

I won’t even attempt to suggest traffic plans for this area, but as far as I’m concerned, traffic, including the majority of buses, need to get out out out of the College Green-College Street zone, and both transformed into attractive civic spaces as well as suitable launch pads for their attendant major streets. The College Street area in particular has been unresolved for the past 200 years and someone really needs to take the bull by the horns here and make some decision about what really matters in this city – traffic islands and public conveniences or a stately sense of presence, civic pride, and urban design status befitting of a capital city. The ceremonial heart of urban centres may very well be token public relations gestures, but they more than anything represent the standards and ethos of a city in its entirety, as well as shape the lingering impression of a city in the mind of the visitor. If we can get these spaces right – properly and ambitiously – we could make major headway in the transformation of the image of Dublin from a provincial city to that of European capital.

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