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'An unprecedented number': 1,700 buildings in Dublin are awaiting protected status

“A lot of amazing buildings are being torn down because they aren’t protected,” Green Party councillor Patrick Costello has said.

Dublin. Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies on Burlington Road Source: GoogleMaps

THERE ARE 1,700 buildings in Dublin waiting for protected status from Dublin City Council, recently released figures show.  

According to the council’s planning department, there are currently 400 proposed additions to its Record of Protected Structures (RPS) as well as an additional 1,300 recommendations from the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht - an “unprecedented number” of buildings, a spokesperson has said. 

Buildings listed on the council’s RPS are given special status. If an owner plans to alter a structure it must go through the council’s planning process.  

With a such large number of proposed additions, each structure requires expert evaluation which could take up to three years. 

Meanwhile, Green Party councillor Patrick Costello is concerned that the council is not taking the issue seriously enough and that buildings remain at risk. ”In particular our more modern built heritage and our industrial heritage,” says Costello. “The City Development Plan recognises this heritage but in practice nothing happens”. 

According to the council, the minister’s recommendations are based on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH) survey.

NIAH. NIAH architectural survey of Dublin Source: NIAH

The NIAH is the statutory agency responsible for preparing a comprehensive inventory of architectural heritage in each city in Ireland.

Since 2011, the NIAH has been undertaking a comprehensive, street-by-street, building-by-building survey in Dublin city.

Starting clockwise in the northeast inner city, the survey has now covered most of the areas within the canals. The NIAH are currently surveying parts of the southeast Dublin 2 area and have nearly completed their survey of Clontarf.

As a result, there’s likely to be more recommendations for buildings to be listed on the RPS in the coming years, the council has said, with a possible 500 further recommendations arising from the current southeast survey.

‘Question of sustainability’

For some, this raises the question of timescale and how the city needs to act quicker in protecting its built heritage. 

The number of buildings listed for protection or preservation in Dublin has risen from 2,203 in 1999 to 8,741 in 2019.

By comparison, there are 1,110 structures listed on Cork city’s Record of Protected Structures while there are 1,960 structures on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s RPS.

Dublin-based architect Ciarán Ferrie has said that the longer buildings remain not listed on the council’s RPS, the greater the risk of demolition they face. Or of being altered indefinitely, particularly more modern structures. 

“There is a concern that we’re losing a lot of that architecture,” Ferrie has said. “We’re in danger of doing to the architecture of that period what we did to Georgian architecture 40, 50 years ago, where there wasn’t much value placed on, it was considered a remnant of a historical era we didn’t really want to be part of”.

There’s continued debate in Irish towns and cities about modern buildings, says Ferrie. 

In Dublin, for instance, the Central Bank building on Dame Street and Phibsborough Shopping Centre have always divided opinion. 

In 2017, Irish architects rallied to protect the former Bord Fáilte headquarters on Baggot Street designed by Robin Walker and completed in 1961. It was subsequently demolished. 

With 1700 proposed additions to the council’s RPS – including numerous modern structures – Ferrie fears the city is in danger of losing parts of its modern built heritage if the council does not act quicker to list them. 

“[These buildings] are representative of a time in our history whether we like it or not,” says Ferrie.

“There’s a whole other question of sustainability, too -  demolishing buildings only to rebuild something bigger on-site. So it’s not just a question of preservation”.

Costello says that “a lot of amazing buildings are being torn down because they aren’t protected”. 

Fitzwilton House. Fitzwilton House on Wilton Terrace was built in 1969 and demolished last year. Source: DoCoMoMo Ireland

A better system could be to follow the UK example whereby buildings are given different grades of importance.

“I think the system [here] is too rigid,” he says. “Either a building is on the list or not. It’s too black and white”. 

To address the “unprecedented number” of proposed additions to the Record of Protected Structures, a methodology has been prepared by the council which involves prioritising buildings by significance, according to a spokesperson. 

The council aims to have the 1,700 buildings assessed by 2022.

Its Planning and Property Development Department has recently recruited two additional conservation research officers to undertake this “important work”. 

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