Re: Re: The Building Boom Is Over!
That’s outstanding stuff again from notjim! I can’t understand how a person can be so attached to the pointless bits of lawn on College Green, and then can go on to be so incisive in the rest of the urban debate.
The dichotomy posed in the Rose article, and which is evident in the recent record of DCC Planning Department, the supposed choice between openess and innovation (change) and backward looking resistance to change (stagnation) is grounded in the fundamental question of whether a city is necessarily always in a state of flux, or whether a city can ever aspire to a state of ‘completeness’.
I remember listening to some Scottish wunderkind (I don’t think it was Richard Murphy, but it could have been) giving a lecture at the RIAI a few years ago and when he came to some project at the Grass Market in Edinburgh, that the local planners had sought to clip his wings on, he quoted, with derision, the planner saying that ‘when this particular site is developed, there will only be one or two sites left to tackle and then the ‘old city’ will be finished’. The audience in the RIAI happilly laughed along with the derision, but I wondered at the time, and I still wonder, whether, as architects, we may be fundamentally wrong about this.
Obviously it’s a more comfortable notion for an architect to always see the city as ever changing, as a canvas to be worked on, an unbridled opportunity for architectural expression. That way you get to use words like dynamic, creative, innovative to describe fee-generating mega-schemes that are really just big, derivative, mediocrity.
The alternative notion, that the city is the collective creation of others and that, through damage, neglect, bad judgement or other intervention, the city now needs mending, this notion hands a much more limited (and demanding) brief to the architect, and responsibility to the planner.
In the old days urban planners were an under-educated bunch subservient to the technically better educated roads engineers and they had little or no understanding of the components of urbanism. Nowadays you can’t go to an urban design event in Dublin without tripping over half a dozen city planners in full ‘eager evening class’ mode. The problem is that the more the well meaning city planner, like Kieran Rose, starts to see things in urban design rather that urban planning terms, the more he is likely to be infected by the perceived architectural wisdom that all cities are in constant flux and the alternative to constant change is permanent stagnation.
Cities like Dublin are not virtually complete set pieces like Venice, or inner city Paris, or Edinburgh, but they have a predominant urban character bequeathed by a predominant building period (in our case the 18th century) and this character could, and perhaps should, lead to an aspiration towards ‘completing the city’. This notion of ‘completing the city’ should not be interpreted in terms of getting out the black and white photographs and banging in a bit of pastiche everywhere there’s a gap in the streetscape or a 1960s office block, it means developing a comprehensive programme to combine the pro-active conservation of the existing building fabric with sensitive, contemporary, urban repair, where required, but all the time guided by a philosophy of fixing what’s broken, mending what’s damaged, creativity in context, imagination, but with respect.
As long as the predominant philosophy in architectural, and now planning circles, is change for the sake of demonsrtrating an openess to ‘progress’ and an ability to be detached from the past, every in-fill site in this city is going to be subject to development proposals that are the opposite of urban repair and the opposite of sensitivity to a valued existing context. Random ‘Iconic’ landmarks will continue to abound, there will be no way to get the toothpaste back in the tube.
Dublin has fudged this issue for too long. Every development Plan comes out with wads of high minded aspirations for the ‘re-use of older buildings’ and respect for the ‘existing character’, but there’s never an overall statement that this city has a defined urban character and that the first objective of this plan is to protect, repair and enhance this urban character, not chuck it out by grasping at every proposal that promises a bit of gleaming change.
No developer would waste money of plans like those we’ve seen for Frawleys or the Clarence hotel if there was a strong statement from DCC on what the intrinsic character of this city actually is. As long as the messages coming down from DCC remain the muddled, contradictory, visionless, pick and mix that they are now, the character of this city will continue to erode to the point where we’ll be having discussions about whether it even exists at all, if we’re not at that point already.