Re: Re: Sam Stephenson Old 1980s Documentary on RTE

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Alvin Toffler in his book Revolutionary Wealth, speaks about Europe itself going in the opposite direction to the trend in the 21st century. Europe is trying to move back towards a large, centralised industrial society and government. These centres such as Brussels are gigantic production and broadcasting facilities of information for the superstate of Europe. Toffler reckons that Europe should now embrace what he calls ‘The Third Wave’. Toffler used to act as a consultant for industry in America and elsewhere. Toffler said, that many industrialists in America were sorry for building such large production facilites. They realise today that large facililties are dinosaurs of a long gone past. It is important to note, that Stephenson learned his architectural formula in the United States and imported it back here to Ireland. At just the time, when American industrialists began to realise, that big was no longer the way to go. Remember in the 1980s the Japan was looking to pass out America as a superpower. Japan with its lean and mean Nissan system of production on much smaller property lots, with much tighter inventory control and better quality management.

I think it is fair to say, that both Haughey and Stephenson believed in an economy built around information production. Look at the buildings they created. The Financial Services centre, the Central Bank and the Wood Quay Civic Offices. They were large centralised bureaus for the industrial scale production and transmission of information. They were strong statements in the heart of the city, that this country was going to turn around and embrace a new future based around its own knowledge capital. It is like pure Keynesian-ism for the industrial information economy and the city of Dublin. Haughey and Stephenson believed in the older model of industrial scale information production. In large measure this kind of organisation of information production is irrelevant today. The notion of de-centralisation would have appeared very silly to Stephenson or Haughey. But they could not have foreseen that production would become so dispersed. The whole concept of ‘De-Centralisation’ could not even happen, without the Internet and cheap individual Intel processors. Most people assumed after the telegraph, the printing press, the radio and television that digital media technology would be more of the same. Requiring massive investment of company or state capital in one large central facility. No one imagined anything like the radically dispersed capital structure of today’s information economy. In stark contrast to centralised radio, television and newspaper media technology, no one organisation or government owns the entire infrastructure, or any major component of it. Although we have companies like Google emerging, who can lay claim to a large chunk of search engine technology. They have expanded in size accordingly. Their premises in Barrow Street will employ 1,500 people. Ronald Coase’s paper from the 1930s, The Nature of the Firm does throw some interesting light on why large firms might be necessary.

Dublin City Council office in Wood Quay, is for all intents and purposes a large broadcasting facility. It is a dinosaur of a bygone age, as much as the Berlin Wall is now. But the need to broadcast on this massive scale was important in the twentieth century cultural environment. Everyone had nuclear missiles and big media canons pointed at one another. I know it sounds very 007, licensed to kill, but that was how people saw their world. Remember James Bond was licensed to kill, so he could steal valuable information from other countries. It was before Google, before Napster and Netscape and Microsoft. The search engine and this sharing idea of ‘many to many’, which put James Bond out of business. In order to build strong statements in the twentieth century, it made perfect sense to cut through the red tape. You did need to disregard the urban context, because you were trying to scale up to the scale of CNN and that of large media moguls. In order to ensure that government and its voice remained a strong and powerful one, in the emerging media environment. You really needed to create significant markers on the landscape. The financial services centre, the central bank and Wood Quay offices do provide that. So one could argue that Sam Stephenson did read the brief and responded to that brief appropriately. We like to congratulate ourselves today for fighting the good fight. For respecting the urban context, for saving archaeology and the Georgian streetscape. But we can sound very smug behind our laptop screens working in our nice service industry jobs. Lets not forget, it was people like Haughey and Stephenson who managed to swing the country around in this direction. They were responding to the economic and information context as much as the urban context. Their buildings are a reflection of the great intentions they had for Ireland as a developing nation.

Brian O’ Hanlon.

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