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The Arts Council has criticised new Busáras HQ plans which would see loss of Eblana Theatre

Michael Scott’s original vision for Busáras included plans for a nightclub on the top floor, a newsreel cinema, a crèche, and a barber’s.

Image: Leah Farrell/Rolling News

THE ARTS COUNCIL has objected to plans by Bus Éireann to bring the curtains down permanently on the Eblana Theatre as part of its plans to move its headquarters to Dublin’s central bus station at Busáras from its current base in Broadstone.

Planners in Dublin City Council have also expressed concern at the potential loss of the theatre which is located in the basement of Busáras and claim Bus Éireann has provided no justification for the removal of such a cultural facility.

The famous Michael Scott-designed building on Store Street is set for a series of internal changes including the conversion of the Eblana Theatre into a new training centre under plans drawn up for Bus Éireann by the architectural firm run by well-known TV presenter and architect, Dermot Bannon.

However, the Arts Council claims the proposal could result in the permanent loss of the original use and architectural character of the Eblana Theatre which has been closed since 1995.

Arts Council director, Maureen Kennelly, said the proposed development by Bus Éireann “does not take sufficient account of the historic and cultural status of the building and its place in Irish architecture culture.”

Kennelly claimed the Eblana Theatre was of “architectural value as a unique example of Irish modernism within an iconic Irish modernist building”, although she acknowledged that it was currently “in poor repair and not in use.”

She claimed the Arts Council was making a submission on Bus Éireann’s planning application because it had a specific interest in the works of 20th-century Irish architects and works of architecture with certain buildings considered “part of our creative and cultural heritage”.

Kennelly said the submission was being made in the context that some buildings had “value and meaning to society beyond their function or economic value.”

The Arts Council noted that Busáras is rated as a building of international status by the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage which described it as “widely considered the building that announced the arrival of international modernism in Ireland.”

Kennelly said the proposed architectural redesign significantly altered the original layout, architectural form, character and quality of the space housing the theatre.

She claimed Busáras already had “a history of inappropriate small changes” with which the current proposal could have a cumulative negative impact on a unique building.

Busáras – otherwise known as Áras Mhic Dhiarmada which is also home to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection – was built between 1947 and 1953. It is one of the first major works of modern architecture in post-war Europe and one of the first modern buildings to integrate art and architecture with its interior containing mosaics by the artist, Patrick Scott.

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Michael Scott’s vision for Busáras as a major civic building included plans for a nightclub on the top floor as well as a newsreel cinema, a crèche and a barber’s.

A conservation report noted the Eblana Theatre was effectively locked in a “time capsule” with unopened soft drink bottles in the bar area and a poster for the play “Goodbye to the Hill” at the entrance.

Under the latest plans, the current left luggage areas in the basement of Busáras will be converted into a staff gym and changing rooms, while there will be new staff offices on the ground floor and the mezzanine level will operate as the new headquarters office for Bus Éireann.

Amid concerns about the proposed development, Dublin City Council has sought further information from Bus Éireann about the project and asked the State bus company to provide justification for the loss of the Eblana Theatre as a cultural facility.

Council planners noted the Dublin City Development Plan provides that the local authority will protect as far as possible the cultural and artistic use of buildings in established cultural quarters.

However, they also acknowledged that Bus Éireann’s overall plans were welcome in principle as the building had suffered from poor maintenance and inappropriate and insensitive alterations, while some elements appeared dilapidated.

About the author:

Seán McCárthaigh

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