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Dublin: 15°C Sunday 3 July 2022

An insider's tour of Dublin in 6 much-maligned modern buildings

We asked two architects to share their thoughts on Dublin’s notable buildings that are often overlooked.

LIKE ANY CAPITAL city, Dublin is home to a host of iconic buildings and structures. The likes of Guinness Storehouse, Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin Castle, Liberty Hall, and the GPO are steeped in history and character. The city’s skyline would be incomplete without them.

But what about the buildings we walk past every day and scarcely give a second thought to? Modern buildings that were constructed in the latter half of the last century. Offices, flats, industrial headquarters. They may not be as aesthetically pleasing, but they’re as much a part of the city’s story as their more imposing neighbours.

We decided to consult two architects to get their thoughts on buildings that are unfairly maligned or otherwise overlooked, and to find out whether we’re in danger of losing some of the city’s heritage should we continue to ignore them.

Emma Gilleece (@Gilleeece) is an architectural historian and a committee member of DoCoMoMo Ireland, a voluntary organisation committed to preserving modern architecture in Ireland.

Michael Hayes (@Michael_K_Hayes) is the online editor of Architecture Ireland and the editor of 2ha, an independent magazine that explores architecture in suburbia.

Phibsboro Shopping Centre

Phibsboro Centre was built in 1969 and designed by David Keane of McCormack Keane and Partners. There are currently plans to redevelop the structure into student accommodation.

It has often been dismissed as an eyesore, but Hayes maintains it’s a “rare Dublin icon”.

Hayes: A much maligned and misunderstood building, its reputation hasn’t been improved by decades of neglect and poor maintenance. Despite this, its strong forms, rare height, and subtle concrete finishes make it a rare Dublin icon (in the best sense of the word). Future plans for the area will hopefully see improvements to the centre’s pubic spaces but will lead to the unfortunate obscuring of much of Phibsborough’s distinctive tower.

Marrowbone House, Dublin 8

marrow Source: Google Maps

The flats on Marrowbone Lane were opened in 1937. The four-storey complex was one of several social housing schemes to be designed by Herbert Simms, who was housing architect with Dublin Corporation from 1932 – 1948.

Gilleece: This scheme was designed and built by Dublin Corporation, designed by Housing Architect Herbert Simms, representing a bold use of decorative materials and skillful placing of a big structure within a triangular site. The brick bands emphasise the building’s horizontality mediating its large scale.

Irish Life Centre

#irishlifecentre #architecture #brutal #brutalism #dublin#ireland#mirrorwindow

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The Irish Life Centre was built in 1978 and designed by Andy Devane of Robinson Keefe Devane, who designed numerous public buildings, schools and hospitals across the country.

Hayes: Perhaps the last of Dublin’s significant modernist office designs, the Irish Life Centre shares some similarities with its predecessors, though the scheme adapts this typology to its surrounding urban environment.
Integrating an internal shopping street, apartments, recreational facilities and offices via an architecture of curved edges and tripartite facades, the project was the first in a future of mixed-use developments.
Recent refurbishment work has ensured the building’s continued integration and usefulness to 21st century life whilst maintaining a piece of modern architectural heritage.

Both Hayes and Gilleece are also keen to celebrate a number of modern buildings in Dublin that are scheduled for demolition or redevelopment in the coming years.

Gilleece warns that we’re in danger of losing the city’s architectural heritage should demolitions and redevelopments continue at this pace.

She cites the ESB’s demolition of sixteen Georgian houses on Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Street in the early 1960s as an example of what we’re in danger of emulating.

“It seems that the destruction of Georgian Dublin that took place in the 1960s is happening to buildings of the modern movement today,” she says. “Dublin City Council repeatedly fail to place buildings from this era on the Record of Protected Structures leaving them vulnerable.”

There is no reason why these buildings can’t be retrofitted/adapted if we really do pride ourselves in this country on sustainability.

AIB Bank Centre, Ballsbridge

Like the Irish Life Centre, the AIB Bankcentre in Ballsbridge was designed by Andy Devane.

“It consists of eight stacks of five-storey office blocks flowing over green space, stepping in height so as not to overshadow its residential surroundings or the RDS building across the road,” says Gilleece.

“At its opening on 19 February 1980, Charlie Haughey referred to it as ‘the hanging gardens of Ballsbridge’ because of the shrubbery flowing from the balconies. the art of orderly development making a subtle statement on Merrion Road without height.”

In October 2016, permission was granted to developer Johnny Ronan for the demolition and redevelopment of four office blocks on the site.

Fitzwilton House

#brutalistdublin #brutalism #dublinarchitecture #fitzwiltonhouse

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This imposing nine-storey tower was built in the 1960s and designed by Emanuel Shoolheifer and Don Burleye. Hayes describes it as “a modern office development that continues to impress nearly fifty years after its completion”.

In October 2016, permission was granted to demolish and redevelop the building, a move that Hayes describes as “a loss to both the history and urban fabric of the city”.

Gilleece concurs. “Unfairly maligned, a walk by the canal wouldn’t be the same without Fitzwilton’s reflection rippling on the water.”

Bord Fáilte HQ, Baggot Street

bord Source: Google Maps

The Bord Fáilte building on Baggot Street was designed by Robin Walker and completed in 1961. DoCoMoMo has described it as a “a seminal work of Irish modernist architecture of the 1960s” and “an exemplar of concrete frame structure”.

“The Bord Fáilte building is yet another mid-century work of Irish architecture left near abandoned only to be subsequently threatened with demolition,” says Michael Hayes.

“Even in its neglected condition, there is an appreciable sensitivity in the proportion and rhythm of window bays, the raised ground floor and stepped entrance is a gentle nod to its Georgian surroundings. The low-level courtyard to the rear is a hidden oasis of calm that any contemporary office worker would envy.”

It too, is facing demolition after Irish Life secured planning permission to knock the building and redevelop it. DoCoMoMo is currently appealing Bord Pleánála’s decision.

In conclusion? Appreciate these buildings while you can because you never know when they might disappear from the skyline.

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About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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