Re: Re: DDDA / Docklands Miscellany

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Some very well made points there. I think you will appreciate Ali Grehan’s talk transcript of last May ’08, when I get it online. Even though her talk was to do with BRL, Ballymun Regeneration Limited, she makes her points so well it is worth posting. Ali does refer at the end of her talk, with a deep sense of approval to this tower scheme proposed on North Wall Quay. I think her words were, ‘I feel very encouraged by the West 8 project’. (Obviously a company name used for the North Wall Quay site) It appears as if DDDA were positive about the project. DCC were too. It appears as though everyone was feeling ‘so encouraged’. I cannot understand how we ended up where we are.

One thing is clear though. As a nation, we have proven conclusively this time, that the Irish context doesn’t lend itself towards advancement of projects and development in general. The framing of the Irish constitution confers far too much power on individuals. Hence, the tradition of back-hander dealing, we all know about. Which has been covered so well in the press in recent years. There simply is no other way, to get anything done on this little island, except through the back door. The front door obviously doesn’t work, or isn’t there most of the time!

The ironic thing is that advanced engineering design was complete for the entire North Wall Quay site. That alone has consumed thousands, if not millions of man hours. The project had the financial backing of banking institutions and a cash rich developer. You can believe me, all of what you see on the SOM images, or a version of it, was definitely a ‘green light’ financially and feasibility-wise until now. We spent a fortune in tax payers money setting up organisations and bodies to oversee and enable things to happen. And we are looking at knocking down something? ? ? I mean, John McLoughlin introduced the DDDA in a May ’08 public lecture, as ‘enablers’ of development! That is a laugh. Not to mention the ripple effects on a fragile construction industry, which depends on key projects to happen at this minute. From the salaried engineers right down to the guy sweeping the street.

Eh, what’s so “moronic” about the above comment?? In terms of office space, which this thread is discussing, that’s almost exactly what the CCTV building is. He’s not referring to the visual appearance as I’m sure you realize (I hope)

I heard the chief engineer of Thomond Park in Limerick speak quite recently. He lectures some architectural students from time to time. Take an arch for example. It is quite simple from a mathematical, mechanics point of view to define an arch. Once you have defined one arch in those maths equation terms, every other arch in the world becomes the same. It is peculiar to architects, he reckons to go around the place, spotting ‘different arches’ and cataloguing them. But basically, from an engineer’s point of view, they are the one formula. The same argument could probably be extended to office space, from a Quantity Surveying and project economic feasibility point of view. Everyone else does a job. Everyone else finds ways in which to draw connections and make comparisons. Architects seem to be the only ones, who find the time to imagine everything as unique and special. Which it is I guess. Since every site is unique and special.

There are exceptions arising though in the environmental engineering field. Take for instance, wave energy converters out in open seas for generation of renewable electricity. In that case, it is feasible for designers to survey the site, for the characteristics of waves, in order to obtain the maximum conversion of wave energy into electricity. Engineers will actually fine tune their design to the site, as it pays off in lower cost per KWh generation. So the lines are blurring as we speak between architects’ view of the world and that of engineers.

The one thing I am sure about in 2008, is that business processes don’t vary that much from one side of the world to the other. Indeed, this is my point about Dublin having the opportunity to become a ‘destination’. We are not used to thinking of our island as a destination yet. The existing generations and mindset will have to be phased out first. Read books by George Gilder and others. We are looking at the death of distance in many ways.

I haven’t the experience with office block tenancy to back this up. But I suspect that from looking at an office management company like Regus, that height does matter. It is to do with organisational flexibility. A great reference on the subject of organisational flexibility is Richard Sennett. If you check out the bottom of his wiki page, there is a link to a BBC web cast interview. You will hear Richard highlight the difficulty of this new found flexibility and mobility of workers in modern day living. Another guy worth a listen to is Mike Wescsh who is actively pursuing studies into You Tube as a phenomenon. Wescsh is an anthropologist who believes that the way we connect, has a lot to do with our society. He refers to Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone as a critical study into modern day society.

That is why I was ‘so encouraged’ by Liam Carroll being allowed to develop on North Wall Quay site. Because I felt he had the right credentials and capability to furnish new age arrivals and global workers, with a work environment that was half decent. We are too provincial in our views alas. Caught up in our own little, tiny country. Our own pitiful institutions, and percentages per acre master planning and what not. Given the speed at which the digital society changes its course, and given our need to respond to changes faster, I believe the masterplan is an out of date tool. Indeed, there is much evidence to suggest, that as a tool, the master plan was flawed to its core, to begin with. A lot of that has to do with sequencing I spoke about earlier. The best reference by far, to bring in the appropriate biology, and ‘nature as a computer’ metaphor’s is Kevin Kelly’s book, Out of Control, which is available to read for free as his website.

Random Paths to a stable ecosystem:

I wouldn’t expect someone such as Frank McDonald, un-tutored as an architect, and embedded with a deep sense of ‘Irish-ness’ to grasp these subtleties. But as far back as 1998, Merit Bucholz then a humble part-timer at DIT Bolton St architectural department was toying around with the notion of ‘not using masterplans’. (Bucholz cooperated intensively with Ger Carty in that year) We took a site down near the sewage works on Poolbeg peninsula, of several acres and suggested ways in which to ‘colonise’ the site, in a many similar to that described by Kevin Kelly. Basically, you would take a structure, which was designed to be ‘repeat-able’, and could spread across the site. This was the commercial/light industrial portion of the plan. Having first established this condition, one would afterwards set about pollinating the system with residential and living quarters. Again, you would design a modular type of system designed to spread over the site, as required. In other words, it embraced one of those oldest of urban ideas: the city as constantly being a building site.

My own criticism of the docklands development formula, is that it doesn’t embrace some of these ideas. Both in the horizontal and the vertical dimensions. Getting back to the Regus concept of embracing organisational flexibility. Take the Twin Tower project in Vienna or the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur as examples. Or, I hate to use it as an example, but the World Trade Centre, Twin Towers in NYC had a very varied occupancy. Lots of different kinds of firms and enterprises co-existed in the one complex. Notice how fast the Americans are to re-build on the Ground Zero site. It wasn’t only a building that collapsed on that awful day. It was a hub of financial services activity and generation for that entire world region. Another nice reference is to look at that beautiful film, Man On Fire, about the tight rope walker who walked between the WTC towers in the 1970s, the building was only half completed, but still operational. The movie really gives you a sense of what the WTC meant for the city at that time.

Arup were entered for the Ground Zero competition, but instead decided it better to focus on China. China seemed to offer a future, US is only the past. The outcome of Arups focus on China, was their involvement in the CCTV project and so many others. In terms of the development that is happening out there on a global stage, and considering how ‘transport-able’ workers and companies are today. We should aim to be building things that matter, rather than trying to decide what we should demolish. What a miserable year 2008 has been for Ireland.

Brian O’ Hanlon

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