'Dublin Docklands - An Urban Voyage’ is a work in progress, commissioned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, and due to be completed in the autumn of 2008. The following tale represents research I have undertaken for the project which may or may not be used in the final book.
Constructing a landscape of shimmering new high-rises undoubtedly regenerates the physical landscape of an area but it amounts to naught if the thousands of new workers and residents within have nowhere to play. Public spaces are vital to urban environments, particularly outdoor parklands and squares. They encourage creativity, stimulate the outdoor senses and boost the senses of freedom and friendship.
One of the greatest advantages of the Docklands Authority purchasing the old Gasworks site along Hanover Quay was that they could now have a proper shot at playing the role of developer. A major part of the Docklands Authority’s ethos concerns the social regeneration of the area within their remit. Constructing a landscape of shimmering new high-rises undoubtedly regenerates the physical landscape of an area but it amounts to naught if the thousands of new workers and residents within have nowhere to play. Public spaces are vital to urban environments, particularly outdoor parklands and squares. The main part of Grand Canal Square officially opened on June 17th 2007 with an open-air theatre performance by a collection of giant stilt walking butterflies. Due to be completed in 2009, the 2.54-acre Grand Canal Square has set a new standard for public squares in Ireland, with three landmark buildings and a striking sculpted landscape. The square is set to host many spectacular events in the coming decades.
In 2005, the Docklands Authority presented just over half an acre of
the former Gasworks site to Martha Schwartz Partners and gave them
the go-ahead to convert the space into a bright, creative and visually
inspiring public square. The Docklands Authority also took the unusual
step of allowing the landscape architects’ design to become the key
component in defining the whole area. The principal designer was
Shauna Gillies-Smith, based in Boston, Massachusetts. On-site drawings
and liaisons were carried out by Dublin-based Tiros Resources while
the project was managed by the Martha Schwartz studio in London.
Gillies-Smith chose a concept known as ‘Cracked Glass’, which basically
amounts to a seemingly random interplay of multi-dimensional lines.
Two swards of red and green criss-cross the site. The green is soft
and low, created by marshy grasses, rich perennials and flowering
bulbs. The red ‘carpet’ is cantilevered over the dock and up to the
entrance of the Libeskind theatre. This dramatic effect is created by
a combination of sparkling resin-bonded coloured glass and red pick-stick
lighting columns. The pick-sticks evoke childhood memories and appear
to have been scattered in a willy-nilly manner, whilst simultaneously
echoing and indeed embracing the towering candy-striped chimneys of Poolbeg. They also reflect the solitary relic of the Gasworks era, an old redbrick chimney standing nearby. By night, the Speirs and Major lighting elements conjure a par ticularly magical effect as the red and green LED clusters glow through the damp maritime air and dance with the glitter of the power station lights beyond.
The €8 million project was among the most innovative landscape design projects ever under taken in Ireland. There is good reason to believe that it has pioneered a new perception of landscape usage in Ireland, namely of using the actual landscape as art. Functionality is never far away either ; some benches double as ventilation ducts for the car park below. The coloured paving and lighting scheme is already recognizable the world over. Every day, hundreds of people sit and sprawl upon the solid granite blocks running along the water’s edge and the apple-green metal benches along the planters. Skate-boarders and roller-girls are perpetually whizzing across the red and green carpets. The Square lives and breathes. This was the location for the annual Analog Festival, an arts festival commissioned by the Docklands Authority. In July 2008, Grand Canal Square hosted the Analog with performances by Hal Willner’s Rogue’s Gallery, a surreal gathering of ‘brigands’, as well as the likes of Tim Robbins, Lou Reed, Shane McGowan, Neil Hannon, The High Llamas and novelist Jonathan Coe. In August 2008, the Square marked the start of the 900km Tour of Ireland for 93 international cyclists.
Grand Canal Square is enhanced by three outstanding new buildings,
two by big name international architects and one by the home-grown
team of Duffy Mitchell O’Donoghue. The latter cer tainly threw down
the gauntlet when they launched the ever-changing multi-coloured glass
block of No.1 Grand Canal Square as the first building completed on
the Square. Its glazing slowly changes colour as the day progresses, from
cold blue to deep orange.
On the northside is the chequered 5-star Giltedge hotel, designed
by Portuguese architect Manuel Aires Mateus, with interiors by
Galway-born designer Philip Treacy. The Mateus concept was that the
hotel would look like it had been ‘excavated from a seven storey rock’.
The east side running towards Misery Lane is commanded by the
imposing, glass-faced 2,200-seat Grand Canal Theatre, the performing
arts centre designed by acclaimed American architect Daniel Libeskind.
Developed by Chartered Land, the theatre is owned by property
developer Harry Crosbie and will be run by Live Nation. Broadcasters
Gay Byrne and Gerry Ryan, who are both trustees of the theatre, laid
its foundation stone on 20th June 2008. Libeskind’s portfolio includes
the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the Imperial War Museum in Manchester
and the ongoing reconstruction of the World Trade Centre site in New York.