The Future of the Liffey Quays

The Future of the Liffey Quays – by Ciarán Cuffe, published in the Irish Times May 1993

As the dust settles in the aftermath of the recent demolitions on Essex Quay, it seems that the time is ripe to have an informed debate about the direction that development is taking in Dublin, particularly along the Liffey Quays. The recent emphasis on living accommodation comes as a welcome change from the massive over-supply of office space in the 1980’s, and it now seems that the tax incentives have become successful in making people aware of the advantages of living in town.
After a generation’s headlong rush to the suburbs, there is now a re-discovery of the city. A clear advantage of city living is being able to work, live and relax within the same neighbourhood, and much of the enjoyment of this comes from the built environment that has emerged over the centuries. Visitors to Dublin often comment on its intimacy as a capital city, the friendliness of the people, and the human scale and feel of the city. However many recent developments has been of mediocre quality and done little or nothing to enhance the city. The previous vitality and vibrancy is being replaced by a dull mediocrity that detracts from Dublin’s essential character. Developments such as the mock-Georgian office block at Arran Quay, and indeed the Disneyesque petrol station on Usher’s Quay were early manifestations of the tax incentive led renewal, and there is now a danger that several proposals for apartment schemes now on the drawing boards will be of a similar quality.

The 1991 Dublin City Development Plan lays down a framework in which development can occur, but its authors could not have anticipated the spate of planning applications for apartment schemes in the inner city that have characterised the early 1990’s. The current Quays study undertaken by the Planning Department is attempting, in some cases belatedly to guide development along the River Liffey, and as a contribution to this debate I tabled a motion to the City Council setting out several principles that I felt should be used as guide-lines to judge development proposals along the Quays.
Now that we are seeing re-kindled interest in the city, there should be an increased emphasis on the quality, rather the quantity of building proposals. Sadly some of the more recent apartment proposals have more in common with second-rate American hotel chains than with any real attempt to provide a reasonable quality of life in the city centre. Artificially lit access corridors, internal bathrooms and kitchens, with minimal dimensions throughout, and bedrooms too small to swing a cat in should not set the standard for the city’s future development. The alternative need not necessarily be expensive. A well-designed small apartment can be attractive and spacious, provided that architectural considerations are addressed at the planning stage. It is also important that a range of apartment types is available. In America the phrase ‘vasectomy planning’ has crept into the vocabulary to describe neighbourhoods where studio and one bedroom apartment predominate, producing an environment in which it is difficult to raise children. New apartments should be generous enough to ensure that they do not become homes away from home that are vacated at the weekend, and should also integrate with the surrounding communities. The Local Authority has a role to play in this by providing pocket parks and open space conducive to city life. Schemes such as those reaching completion on Cathal Brugha Street and Cornmarket cope with many these issues, in a modern idiom without resorting to Georgian pastiche. The engagement with the street in these two schemes is a welcome change from earlier developments where there was an over-emphasis on car access to courtyards through remote control entrance gates.

More of the older building stock needs to be retained. Those advocates of architectural euthanasia, who decree that buildings that have ‘outlived their useful lives’ should be pulled down, often overlook the merits of older buildings, which can add to a modern streetscape by breaking down blocks of buildings to a human scale. Their craftsmanship and sophistication are qualities, which are difficult to reproduce today. The refurbishment of older buildings can provide as much employment as new-build construction, and this type of work is often more accessible to trades people with a traditional skills background. In the right hands their refurbishment need not be expensive, and can allow them to continue to add to the variety of the city landscape. Václav Havel in his recent play ‘Redevelopment’ stated: “Cities worth living in are like part of nature, they need to develop over centuries, they’re the result of generations of experience, quietly collected and handed down.”

Dublin is undergoing an exciting renaissance. The re-discovery of the city has been one of the most heartening changes over the last few years. The reduction in smog levels, the discovery of our archaeological heritage, the dropping of ill-conceived road plans, the Dublin Transport Initiative’s proposals all form part of a refreshing new approach to urban issues. Given the right initiative, this spirit should guide and enrich the shape of Dublin in years to come. Any renewal of the designated area tax incentives should favour the re-use of vacant upper floors, particularly for residential use, and removal of stamp duty on older buildings could tilt the balance in favour of their conservation, as well as stimulating employment in refurbishment. In the near future several important sites, particularly along the Quays face redevelopment. It is important that sensitive infill take place rather than allowing the cleared site mentality to prevail. These sites can and should be an opportunity for excellence, for the sake of those who will live there, for all Dubliners and for visitors to our city to enjoy in generations to come.

Twelve Planning Principles for the development of Dublin’s Quays

1 Existing buildings and facades should be retained or re-used, where possible.

2 Developments that respect the existing plot sizes and block pattern shall be encouraged.

3 Pastiche or mock period facades should be avoided. Roofs shall be in sympathy with existing and neighbouring roofs. Mansard and high pitch roofs should be avoided, where they are used to justify additional floors.

4 To encourage on-street activity throughout the day a mixture of uses shall be sought in all blocks, and within individual buildings. To this end, entrances to upper floors from the quayside shall be encouraged.

5 The street frontage of new buildings should respect the ‘foot-print’ of pre-existing buildings on the site, and shall avoid chamfered or rounded street corners.

6 Developers shall be required to retain the services of a practice, which holds one of the qualifications listed in the E.C. Architect’s Directive to prepare drawings of the proposed development.

7 Appropriate public space shall be provided, relative to the size of the proposed development.

8 Building heights shall be in harmony with surrounding buildings, particularly where fronting onto, or visible from the Quays.

9 Apartments should have an aspect in more than one direction, and receive adequate direct sunlight. Appropriate sunlit open space shall be available to all apartments.

10 Apartments shall have access directly from stairwell or lift lobbies, and shall avoid corridor access, wherever possible.

11 Apartment developments shall be commodious and contain a mixture of studio, single bedroom, and two bedroom and family type apartments.

12 Projects that demonstrate architectural excellence and creativity shall be actively encouraged.


First Published Irish Times May 1993, this page updated 9th January 2018