Ballsbridge High Rise
The proposed development of the Jury's/Berkeley Court site in Ballsbridge with a 37 storey tower and a clutter of eight 18 storey blocks has proved contentious. Village presents two contrasting views:
Dublin City Council (DCC), supporters in so many ways of the daring, eye-catching plan in this privileged part of Dublin, have given Sean Dunne permission to build his controversial scheme, but snatched away its icon. The development's most dynamic feature and, at the same time, its most controversial, has been rejected.
If this landmark high rise, designed by Henning Larsen Architects, was intended for an area of Dublin in need of rejuvenation or in a part of the capital that can provide for buildings of this scale, perhaps its 37 storeys could justifiably have been approved.
But surely the prosperous city suburb of Ballsbridge does not need investment on this scale. At any rate, DCC has granted permission for development of six of the proposed eight blocks, including an 18 storey building.
At a purchase of €54m per acre for the site, Dunne's logic in constructing this massive scheme seems to be about recouping his costs.
Proper planning should have nothing whatsoever to do with gambling. On the seven acre site, Dunne's plans include a supermarket, a department store, five café-bar restaurants, 47 shop units and four food courts. The vet college site beside it has also been given permission for 12 shops. This amounts to an extremely large shopping centre – bigger than the original cap imposed on the size of the Liffey Valley Centre.
What has already been granted by DCC is clearly excessive, yet Dunne now insists he may not develop the site without his flagship No 1 Berkeley Court on board. With that in mind, he has decided to appeal the full original scheme to An Bord Pleanala.
We are fortunate that Dublin City Councillors appear to be aware of the potential damage of high-rise development. In contrast, city planners are determined to permeate the city with tall buildings.
It was the city councillors last June who rejected a local area plan involving a re-zoning of the area proposed by Dublin City Management, after Dunne had purchased the site, that would have allowed high-rise developments in Ballsbridge.
If the consequences of the adoption of that local area plan were obvious, the implications of a document drafted by the city planners, ‘Maximising the City's Potential, a Strategy for Intensification and Height', are also very clear.
Here the stakes are much higher – we are looking at a document that would allow huge scale, high-rise development across the entire city.
The ‘Maximising' document appears to equate desirable high density in the capital with high rise buildings. It purports to contravene the only report carried out by DCC, with regards intensification of land use (DEGW, 2000), which declared potential sites suitable for landmark buildings and high-rise clusters in the Docklands and Heuston areas.
Disturbingly, this draft document refers to potential high intensity clusters in the “knowledge axis” of Grangegorman and the Digital Hub. It also leaves open the possibility of higher buildings and intensification around Mountjoy, the Markets and Ship Street; and the opportunity for “landmark” buildings in urban centres such as Finglas, Rathmines and Ballyfermot.
High rise development in the inner city would seriously demean the capital's historic core. It would lead to a spray gun mentality for jubilant, trigger happy developers. Controversial projects currently being appealed include a 16 storey redevelopment by Arnotts, an 11 storey development on Chancery Street and the proposed demolition of most of the Clarence Hotel in favour of a hyper-celestial halo.
It doesn't have to be this way. The public's confidence in our city's planners can be restored and preserved.
Much of the redevelopment of Dublin over the course of the boom has resulted in inefficient and uninspiring architecture. The myopic approach to regeneration does not have to be repeated. If it is, it will be in a more drastic, definitive and punctuated fashion.
Intensification and high density is a desirable objective, and every effort should be taken to halt sprawl, but this does not mean violating the city's historic integrity and its skyline.
Parts of Dublin's centre already have population densities of 9,000 units per kilometre, which compare very favourably with model European cities such as Lyon and Copenhagen. It is in suburban Dublin that density levels are extremely low and inefficient, and where there is a stronger argument for high intensity clusters.
High rise does not automatically equal high quality or, indeed, high density. Genuinely modern, contemporary and innovative developments can indeed re-invigorate certain parts of Dublin's centre. Indeed, such architecture should have been insisted upon instead of much of the poorly designed construction that is a testament to Ireland's boom.
Already, developments constructed over the past ten years are being rebuilt. In March DCC gave Liam Carroll permission to demolish his five-storey block of flats on the corner of Watling Street and Island Street, just south of the city quays, and replace it with a six-storey office block.
Unquestionably, the regeneration of the city is an ongoing process, but it should not be at the expense of restoration and preservation. New tracts of land, in the Poolbeg Peninsula, for instance, are being earmarked for potential high rise in the future. In the meantime, the Heuston and Docklands areas can accommodate any immediate city council demands.
Finally, returning to Sean Dunne's scheme, it appears highly unlikely An Bord Pleanala would grant permission for a development that so clearly breaches the city's own Development Plan and that would have a negative impact not only on Ballsbridge but on other areas of the city zoned for shopping and offices.
Dunne has said that if he does not get approval, he may leave the current hotels to continue operating there, or he may turn the site into a car park, or build apartments in a closed off complex, which would be contrary to the Development Plan.
But DCC seem determined to accommodate the developer at the expense of good planning. Remarkably, he has been invited to re-lodge a proposal for a high rise on the site, although Ballsbridge has not been identified as an area suitable for high rise in any document.
“It is the strong view of the planning authority that a landmark building of architectural excellence is required at this location, and equally that the building be of sufficient scale to act as a landmark,” according to a report by senior City Planner, Kieran Rose. Rose said the city planners “would consider by way of a new planning application a building that meets these criteria on this part of the site”.
Ballsbridge is not a deprived area of Dublin but it is an architecturally dilapidated area, an area that defines much of the city because of its expanse and its proximity to the city centre.
Architecturally dilapidated because of a clutter of monstrous constructions on the Lansdowne /Pembroke Road junction, the awful buildings adjacent to and south of Jury's, the woeful American embassy, the carbuncle edifice of the Four Seasons Hotel. A congestion of ugliness.
Lansdowne Rd itself is OK on the north side going down to Shelbourne Rd but both Jury's and the Berkeley Court are hideous.
That a new development would be to the further financial enrichment of a developer is irrelevant as far as the architectural merit of the proposed scheme is concerned – not irrelevant of course in the terms of tax policy and the fair distribution of wealth. What is at stake here is simply: would the proposed development enhance the city environment, architecturally and socially?
Precisely what this area needs is an iconic landmark building of architectural excellence and this seems precisely what the architects Henning Larsen are proposing. A construction along the lines of many of the existing modern office buildings in the area would be grotesque but what is proposed seems elegant and enhancing.
Of course high rise buildings along the quays up to the East Link bridge would be inappropriate and would spoil the architectural symmetry of the city centre (such as it is). But a 37 storey construction some miles away from the quays is something different entirely. A conglomeration of such high rise edifices in Ballsbridge would also be inappropriate but that is not what is proposed and the “slippery slope” argument has no traction.
Oddly, the decision of the city planners to allow the 18 storey contraptions – for that seems a fair characterisation from the plans – offers the worst possible outcome: a clutter of ugly high rise buildings without the architectural elegance of the tower.
But what a regeneration of this architecturally ramshackle area the new development would offer and the vitality it would bring to the south side of the city would be invigorating – thousands of new inner city dwellers. Yes this might do damage to some other shopping centres in and around the city but isn't competition the Zeitgeist of the era?
After decades of hideous creations, stretching from the awfulness of the new offices along the Blackrock by-pass, St Vincent's Hospital, the Merion Centre, the Ballsbridge monstrosities and then the tunnel of repulsiveness that is Lower Mount St, a commanding, graceful, exciting creation at the southside entrance to the city centre would be a joy.
But please, please, do not leave us just with the eight 18 storey conglomerations: a new city of dreadfulness.