Re: Re: what now for Irish Times D’olier Street buildings?

Home Forums Ireland what now for Irish Times D’olier Street buildings? Re: Re: what now for Irish Times D’olier Street buildings?

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GrahamH
Participant

DISASTER ON D’OLIER STREET

The failure of built environment professionals to understand the composition of historic Dublin has allowed a golden opportunity pass though the city’s hands, while compromising its finest Georgian streetscape legacy.

Any visitor to D’Olier Street over the past number of weeks cannot fail to have been struck by the newly refurbished handsome terrace that comprises the thoroughfare’s western flank. In the warm morning light of late summer, the mellow brickwork and regularity of marching ranks of fenestration present an eye-catching spectacle to the passer-by, and to the hoards of crowds waiting for buses in the gloomy shade on the opposite side of the street. The buildings are commanding, strong, stoical, yet gracious – at once the essence of historic Dublin.

Conceived by the Wide Streets Commission in the final years of the 18th century as part of the iconic triangle of newly planned streets in the ceremonial centre of Dublin, linking College Green with what is now O’Connell Bridge, D’Olier Street, as with its sister streets, was remarkably innovative for its time. Laid out on a grand scale, matched by a strict architecture of the regimental classical school, the street was ambitiously lined with shop units to the ground floor with living accommodation in the floors above, faced with rigidly proportioned facades of yellow brick with minimal granite dressings. Eventually completed by the early 1810s, this was a mould-breaking development in Europe, pre-dating the establishment of formal retail streets such as London’s Regent Street, and placed Dublin firmly on the international stage.

As the sole surviving Wide Streets Commission terrace in the capital to retain substantial original fabric and design coherence, the former The Irish Times terrace on D’Olier Street is a collection of buildings of not only unique and special importance to Dublin, but is an urban streetscape of European significance. On either of these levels, the terrace demands the highest standards of building conservation, restoration, and design excellence, based principally upon a thorough understanding of the design significance of this terrace. Everything else is secondary. What we have just experienced, however, is a shambles. Ignorance, apathy, poor execution and good old fashioned arrogance are themes that define this project.

By the late 2000s, the former The Irish Times terrace was tired, worn, ill-equipped for modern use and in dire need of restoration. The Irish Times had invested significant funds on the exterior of the terrace in the late 1980s in an attempt to recreate something of the design intention of the WSC, involving the insertion of minimal granite shopfronts where original shopfronts had been lost to create a coherent rhythm along the street, and the removal of façade-mounted signage, plastic fascias and wiring. As part of this project, an expert bricklayer was invited to Dublin from Nottingham to resolve a major fault in the middle of the terrace: a pair of houses that had been rebuilt in red brick in the mid-20th century. An alleged fire that broke out in 1973 has been attributed as the cause of this, however the disastrous fire of 1951 that destroyed much of the printing works to the rear seems more likely. In any event, the houses were rebuilt with a steel frame structure and a glaring red brick façade – red brick probably being perceived as typically ‘Georgian’, in spite of the obvious uniform yellow brick context. The re-colouring of the red brick was remarkably successful; as seen below, after a few years of grime the difference was almost imperceptible.

Stern and forbidding, the unity of the terrace was admirably restored.

In 2006, developers P. Elliott and Company bought the terrace for €29 million. Clearly the principal aim of the project was to maximize site value through the redevelopment of the former printing works to the rear. Remarkably, they achieved this with gusto, with the application for an arrogantly over-scaled seven-storey office block over basement car parking sailing through the planning process without so much as an appeal.

Works underway.

An Taisce’s observation in relation to the penthouse storey over the red brick pair being intrusive and inaccurately represented was dismissed by the case planner as the extra storey not being “visually dominant when viewed from either the Westmoreland Street or D’Olier Street areas”. The weak report concluded, “Overall it is my opinion that by virtue of the scale of the penthouse level and the degree to which it projects above the parapet, its location between two chimney elements and relationship to the overall façade composition and existing roof elements, that this element would not be excessively visually prominent and would not have a negative impact on the character of the D’Olier Street conservation area.”

Indeed. Just what about the rest of the development?

Such spectacularly ill-informed decision making, as was rife during the boom years, has resulted in this outrageous spectacle. To think we have learned nothing a decade on from the Westin.

No matter where you turn, there is no escaping this arrogant, mindlessly inept, chronically un-contextual pile of junk. The most important vista of all below, from O’Connell Street, is jaw-dropping. Do these people – architects HKR and Dublin City Council planners – know anything about what they’re dealing with? How could this possibly happen in 2007 in a sophisticated society? The very icon of 18th century street planning, defaced by plastic penthouses and service plant?

Truly, how has it come to this, two decades after the famous ‘bungalow’ was dumped on top of the apex of the two streets as part of an illegal pastiche re-erection of WSC buildings?

Even basing a fallacious justification for this on an arrogant declaration of a contemporary design statement, it still collapses on its face by virtue of the expressionless, tarted-up, prefabricated biscuit tin spin-off from Hawkins House that has been excreted on top of this masterstroke of urban planning.

Of course, the impact of the above was selectively depicted in the planning application, as overseen by John Spain Associates planning consultants, from the western side of O’Connell Street, where it was naturally concealed. Views from the GPO were depicted with the clipped lime trees in front of the camera. Infantile stuff. But of course it worked wonders.

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