Re: Re: DDDA / Docklands Miscellany

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West 8 Lecture.

The Netherlands

Much of the land in the Netherlands consists of 3005 polders, both large and small. An unintended consequence of the 20th century Dutch engineering projects was it produced a lot of beaches and amenity areas. Ever since then, the Dutch design practice of West 8 has been fascinated by the opportunities presented for using these man made amenities. Indeed the history of human created or altered environments, goes back many hundreds of years in the Netherlands. Martin Biewenga made a point on how cities produce their own wastelands. In relation to the Poolbeg peninsula I think. We could look at how these areas can be re-vitalised and drawn back into the urban fabric.


Unlike in northern European locations, such as the Netherlands or Ireland, it is very easy to make a public realm in Spain. All you need to do is put out a bit of garden furniture and people do gather around each other. 7 Km of infrastructure and public realm. The river in Madrid had to be damned during construction. Only one year to collect all of the trees needed for the Madrid project. The idea was to introduce some character into the trees themselves and to avoid the ‘lolly-pop stick’ appearance of many trees obtained from commercial nurseries. Trees that grow in the wild always have some character about them, being blown by the wind, beaten down by the elements and lasted nonetheless.


West 8 did a comparison with other rivers in cities they knew. Such as those in Venice, Paris, London etc. A 2 kilometre length of river in Dublin has 12 bridges. In the Dublin docklands area, much waterfront length exists. But the density of bridges is only 3 bridges per 2 kilometres of waterfront instead of 12. The proposal therefore was to increase the density of bridges in the docklands environment. West 8 also noticed many of the streets which lead to the waterfront are unattractive. The connection between major transport nodes and waterfront locations are often ill-considered. Design opportunities to link the city with the water, in better ways had been lost. Barrow Street Dart Station being one example. A scheme of bridges and routes was proposed, which would link Barrow St station, the newly completed Grand Canal Square, and beyond to a train station on the north side. When one looks at the ‘commodity, firmness and delight’ provided by the new bridge near the CHQ, once does realize how much the proposed bridges and spaces, would improve ‘flow’ through the docklands amenity space. Martin showed us some slides of Copenhagen, where a floating public swimming pool had been constructed on the edge of an existing dock. The possibilities of creating platforms, in Dublin’s docklands, by using floating jetties moored together in different arrangements, was explored in some sketches by West 8.

Bringing ecological diversity back into the city, does require a huge amount of consultation with the stakeholders – engineers, planners, city mayors, traffic concerns etc. Not to mention property developers. A task which West 8 took upon themselves and came unstuck in relation to ‘Liffey Island’. Martin did remind us however, with a slide of the 1686 map of the Liffey river delta that docklands land is really man-made anyhow. Even as recently as the 1950s, the land for the Dublin Port container terminal didn’t exist. I had to be created by means of fill material dumped over the existing sea wall, which you can still see as you walk down through Poolbeg peninsula. The edges which originally defined the edge of Dublin city, are constantly changing. Except for those edges protected by the EU. Apart from West 8’s framework plans, other landscape design projects in the Docklands include the Royal Canal Linear Park designed by Agence Ter, a French practice. And Martha Swarthz’s completed design for Grand Canal Square. West 8 seem to be working towards a solutions to the systemic problems in cities highlighted so brilliantly by Mike Davis in his book, Planet of Slums. For instance, West 8 are doing a project for the 7km mass tourism strip at Majorca.

The design brief at Majorca was to look at the side of the island with a 7km beach, and dozens of high rise hotels. All the trees had been cut down, in the construction of this place. A place that is now losing money hand over fist, to the other side of the island of Majorca, which still has trees and an ecosystem very much intact. West 8 came up with a plan to re-green the mass tourism strip of 7km. To tie it back to the more natural parts of the island, by means of ecological corridors through the city. West 8 are doing a project for the waterfront in Toronto too. All of these projects are much larger and more extensive than any one development. Ecology wants to be expansive, not constrained into the ‘mini-habitats’ that urban designers provide. It is a strange turn around for modernist architects, who are all about concrete and steel buildings. They built icons all over the world, in the 20th century. Now they are trying to re-green, and to re-instate habitats which were lost in the original ‘build-out phase’. If memory serves me correct, I think Steven Holl was involved in a project in New York, where they used some old railroad infrastructure. An old steel viaduct railway line to plant a new linear green parks, at high level, through New York city. It is odd. We are doing the opposite to the 19th and 20th centuries. William McDonagh’s book Cradle to Cradle also talks about greening of roofs of ford motor company buildings, on a grand scale.

Ken Yeang is another international architect figure, which springs to mind. His bioclimatic skyscrapers being another interesting development in recent years.

Brian O’ Hanlon

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