Re: Re: Dublin’s Ugliest Building

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I was so reluctant to comment on this ambitious development on a thread titled Dublin’s Ugliest Building (gunter’s double-edged mind working overtime as ever), that I actually forgot about it entirely. Perhaps no bad thing for the adjective-weary, but to leave matters hanging on tributes as glowing as: “Alot better then what was there before, namely dereliction”, is something that just cannot be allowed.

It has to be agreed that this is not a pretty building. This is not always a bad thing however, as striking forms and strategic massing can often exude a confidence and generate a sense of place which go far beyond that of the School of Sculptural Functionalism – Sod The Residents favoured by so many social housing experiments of the 20th century. I think this scheme balances a grandiosity of form and scale with human intimacy and domestic detailing quite well. The beautiful use of brick – probably the first large-scale use of the material in the city for purposeful architectual ends in the past twenty years – need not be overstated. It speaks volumes.

It is the road, and will always be the road, that detracts from this development though. Plonk it in a lavishly landscaped green setting and it would be transformed, as any design concept for this site would. It’s difficult to imagine that any softening of the architectural language – while acknowledging some degree of a tempering effect – would make such a difference, relative to the impact of the road on the scheme, as to warrant a radically different design. Likewise, the harshly engineered environs of the fronting pavement and public street area to the side do the development absolutely no favours.

The most successful aspect of the St. Luke’s Avenue facade for me is without question the easternmost (right-hand) block as viewed from the east. It is beautifully scaled, deftly modelled and elegantly detailed, with the neatly inset balconies harmonising with the wider facade being a particularly accomplished achievement. The block handles the corner very well, and is slenderly proportioned in a manner that proudly bookends the whole development. It is therefore a shame that the view of the same corner from the west is so blocky and leaden. It looks like it had a crew cut.

The low central brick section with its slatted timber inserts is beyond beautiful – the timber is fabulously detailed. Which is sadly more than can be said of the timber-clad storeys above. I find this section doesn’t work in the slightest – it is the 21st century equivalent of the fibreglass curtain wall apron panel on a concrete office block. It lacks substance, permanence and indeed relevance in the wider context of the solid, hewn-out-of-rock like formation of the rest of the development. The absence of relief in its blank facade, and the expansive use of timber suggesting structural form rather than an architectural accent as seen elsewhere, upsets the whole cart in terms of how the various blocks join together into a coherent whole. It looks like a grubby, infilled afterthought, and does an injustice to this otherwise accomplished piece of streetscape.

I like the rear elevations and enclosed winter gardens, and the open rooftop gardens set into sheltered cut-outs (commonplace in the Netherlands) look like fabulous spaces. The abundance of red paving at ground level I found a tad nauseating however.

The interiors of the apartments were surprisingly spartan. I thought social housing had moved up a gear, but clearly a budget fit-out is still the order of the day (I’ve seen similar standards in Louth social housing). The odd bedroom and kitchen I saw into were also surprisingly small – perhaps family units are more generously sized.

But definitely a thumbs up from me. Balancing public grandeur fronting a dual carriageway with residential intimacy is no mean feat. I think it’s been pulled off admirably.

If there is one wider niggling concern – and a point that was also on the mind of the person I viewed the scheme with – is that this is without question the Delany, McVeigh & Pike Coombe Housing equivalant of the 21st century. That was a similar 1970s development (just around the corner) of ambition and urban integrity, which sadly has not aged well. If there is hope for Timberyard, it is that the choice of material has been superb, unlike its glum predecessor, while strict controls regarding window, door and other element replacement and alteration should avoid the piecemeal deconstruction of the scheme’s design intention.

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