Re: Smithfield Market – what’s the verdict?

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On many levels, this is a very good ‘regeneration’ development, one of the best Dublin has yet received – as was acknowledged by a UK urban design expert in the paper last week. It fulfils many objectives of good urbanism: it’s permeable; provides quality public space; the materials and finishing are good; it creates new vistas; the tower is a landmark in itself but is still subordinate to the main landmark of Smithfield (the chimney); the apartments appear to be well-designed and spacious. But it must be said that it is an extremely bulky development, and it probably should not have been quite so bulky.

It is at least one third bigger (and heading for twice as big in places) than the development on the east side of the square (‘Chief O’Neill’s’). How did it end up so much bigger? There was only about 4 year’s difference between the planning of the two …

The scale of this development begs the question: In order to obtain a development of this quality, a development that compares favourably with the urban qualities of earlier Dublin (which I think it does), is it a given that we have to accept a significant increase in scale in the central area? Can a large site like this not be developed within the general scale of the area? Is it unviable? How come it was done on the east side only a short time earlier?

Granted an area like Smithfield was less ‘intact’ as a historic district and so less sensitive scale-wise than most of the rest of the central area, but still there is a sense of the scale of the area being totally overwhelmed.

There are a couple of hanger-on Georgian houses on the west side of Queen Street; the one on the left (probably originally 4 stories but now cut down to 2 – may be reconstructed to full height eventually) and the two white ones beyond that (all 3 being protected structures). You could not say that the new development is respectful of scale of these houses.


Just looking at Smithfield generally, its architectural coherence as an urban square is frankly a mess. While the two main developments on the east and west sides are individually of high urban design quality, they are considerably out of scale with one another. Then most of the rest of the square is made up of a knackery mix of leftover bits and pieces and bad ‘80s & ‘90s stuff.

At the top end (above) there’s one nicely-restored Georgian house on the extreme left. Then a potentially-charming but appallingly-dilapidated terrace of typical Dublin buildings in the middle. Then on the right is what I think is one of the worst buildings in Dublin; a 1990s red brick apartment block which is not only architecturally dismal in itself but commits the heinous crime of pushing a rounded corner into a square defined by right angle corners (a la Lavitt’s Quay in Cork). Then there’s the poor oul ‘80s Corpo housing along the side which doesn’t seem to quite know what to be doing with itself within the ‘brave new’ Smithfield …

The street furniture in the foreground is not holding up too well – many of the stainless steel bollards are bent and kinked.

The containment of the south end of the square is similarly messy. There’s this non-descript office block on the east side (more suited to Amiens Street or Grand Canal Street I think). The row of trees on the left fills in the line of the square where the Irish Distillers building is set way back (is this area going to be built on at some stage?).

Across the bottom is the back of the poxy Georgian-pastiche development on Arran Quay.

Near the bottom on the west side is this dreary 4-storey ‘80s building which had 2 floors added on top recently (why?! – shouldn’t it just have been demolished?).

I hope the architectural coherence of Smithfield can be improved from hereon in.

Smithfield was the subject of a lot of discussion on the forum in the past, but not much lately (a quick ‘Smithfield’ search throws up many old threads). It would be good to get it back on the agenda!

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