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I want to tear down the walls, that hold me inside

April 22, 2008

U2, The Clarence Hotel, and Protected Structures

I want to run
I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls
That hold me inside
I want to reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name

Now, this is not a political blog, and we don’t like to embroil ourselves in planning debates either (we like to remain impartial), but our interest was piqued in the proposed U2 led development of the Clarence Hotel by a debate on RTE’s Questions and Answers last night, and the clear and willful ignorance of our politicians on the issue of historic building conservation. In this case two politicians (and we feel fully justified in our criticism as they are from opposite sides of the political fence and yet demonstrate equally ill-informed opinions), Martin Cullen (FF) and Joan Bruton (Deputy Leader of the Labour Party) argued that the proposed façade retention/demolition of protected structures to facilitate the construction of a Norman Foster designed structure to increase the amount of rooms in Bono, the Edge and others’ small hotel in Dublin from 49 to 141-bedrooms (creating a five-star hotel and spa) was an ‘exceptional circumstance’ and justified the removal of the existing buildings. Cullen said he wanted to be consistent in regards to our heritage, whatever that means….. (then again, see this…. and this and this )

The reason for the brief debate on Q & A: the development is currently the subject of an oral hearing with an Bord Pleanala (ABP). On foot of the original planning application the council’s own conservation architect, Clare Hogan, had advised a refusal in her report – stating that the planned development did not meet legal requirements. She expressed concern that the band [and their business partners] was unable to provide “exceptional circumstances” to demolish four neighbouring listed buildings — as required under the Planning and Development Act 2000 (exceptional circumstances required, that is, not demolition).

As of today, the oral hearing into the proposal is ongoing. The DEHLG have also objected… Their objection, which also criticizes Dublin City Council for its interpretation of heritage preservation guidance, was lodged last Friday and follows a request from ABP for its views.

According to the Irish Times on Thursday last this also follows criticism of the hotel plan from Fáilte Ireland which last month told the planning appeals board that it was important the city’s “historic fabric be protected” and that the development “may set an unwelcome precedent for development in the Georgian heart of the city”.

The department’s submission expresses criticism of the council’s senior planner whom it said reported in January that architectural heritage protection guidelines are “negative about, but open to, façade retention”. The department concluded that the “exceptional circumstances that might warrant the grant of planning permission for the substantive demolition of protected structures have not been demonstrated in this application”.

As Tim O’Brien points out in the IT it is likely, given the structures are listed and in an ACA (Architectural Conservation Area) that the Planning and Development Act 2000, which emphasises the retention of whole buildings as opposed to their façades, may, in this case, have given the DEHLG extra teeth.

(According to Chapter 2 of Part IV of the Planning and Development Act 2000 an architectural conservation area is ‘a place, area, group of structures or townscape, taking account of building lines and heights, that is of special architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical interest or that contributes to the appreciation of a protected structure, and whose character it is an objective of a development plan to preserve’.)

The department said it believed “negative” did not reflect the entirety of its opposition to façade retention in the light of the 1999 and 2000 Planning and Development Acts.

According to a recent Irish Independent report, the council’s conservation architect stated that the Clarence Groups inability to follow procedure meant that the decision was “reminiscent of the climate of 1960’s speculative development”. The proposal is clearly in breach of national legislation and the city council’s own development plans.

Foster & Partners has said that, in order to turn the hotel into a rival of the greatest luxury hotels in the world, the plans have to be drastic. “If we were to keep the building as it is, we would have no scope to create the grandeur and interest that would be demanded for one that aspires to be the worlds best,” the spokesman added.

The proposed development entails the addition to the existing Clarence building of a “skycatcher” atrium topped by a glazed “skyroom” bar with a 360-degree panorama of Dublin. An elliptical canopy with a reflective surface – a “white hovering halo”, as senior partner Andy Bow described it – would oversail it (Irish Independent). The adjoining four-storey buildings, which date from the later period of the Wide Streets Commissioners, would have three-storey glazed extensions added on top, set back somewhat from their façades.

Here’s more from a Frank MacDonald article in the IT last year

Kenneth Browne, who edited the extensive, illustrated supplement, A Future for Dublin, published in 1974, was particularly eloquent about the Liffey Quays. “Without question,” he wrote, “it is the quays which give topographical coherence to Dublin. They are the frontispiece to the city and the nation.

“These riverside buildings are the essential Dublin . . . grand, yet human in scale, varied yet orderly, they present a picture of a satisfactory city community; it is as though two ranks of people were lined up, mildly varying in their gifts, appearance and fortune, but happily agreed on basic values.

“Individually unremarkable as works of architecture, collectively they are superb, and form a perfect foil to the special buildings such as the Four Courts and the Custom House.

“If they are allowed to disintegrate, to be replaced by unsympathetic new buildings, the most memorable aspect of the city will be lost.”

That’s why the Dublin City Development Plan designates the quays as a conservation area and says it’s the city council’s policy to “protect and reinforce [their] important civic design character” and ensure that infill development will “complement the character of the quays in terms of context, scale and design”.

An Taisce’s one-time chairman Michael Smith, who owns a house on Ormond Quay, has condemned the proposal as “execrable” and said “first-rate historic environments” such as Wellington Quay was “not Cape Canaveral [ and] should not be subsumed into one spaceship”.

It’s somewhat surprising, with ex-Minister of the Environment Martin Cullen in particular, that two prominent politicians should heartily disregard the raft of EU and Irish legislation put in place to protect our architectural heritage. From The Athens Conference of 1931 (which established basic principles for an international code of practice for conservation), The Venice Charter, which superseded it, the 1975 Declaration of Amsterdam (The importance of integrating conservation of the architectural heritage into the urban and regional planning process is identified as one of the most important factors) and the Granada Convention which lays down European standards for the protection of the architectural heritage and sets out a range of obligations which states parties undertake, as well as our own legislation, there is a plethora of regulations which need to be accounted for in consideration of a protected structure.

The Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe states that for the purpose of precise identification of monuments, groups of structures and sites to be protected, each member state will undertake to maintain inventories of that architectural heritage. Ireland’s undertaking under Article 2 of the Granada Convention is now enshrined in the Architectural Heritage (National Inventory) and Historic Monuments (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1999. Staff in the (Martin Cullen’s earlier Dept.) DEHLG and expert consultants compile these lists.

More on the debate at

http://www.bdonline.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=3097941&origin=BDweekly

and at Archiseek there’s a lively thread on the issue as well as a poll

http://www.archiseek.com/content/showthread.php?t=6427



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4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2008 5:11 pm

    living in london I’m not averse to a bit of modern and old but if you have a coherent set of buildings from a certain period keeping that set intact is best way forward. Leeds is a good example as the random destruction of many of the italianate victoria centre has left a horrible mis mash of styles. New can sit next to old but it’sa tricky delicate job. I’m not big fan of facadism either. Maybe they could do a deal with Bono and the lads maybe if they paid abit more tax in ireland they could have their planning application!

  2. April 26, 2008 12:01 pm

    Too right Chris.. For our non Irish or UK readers – U2 is now tax-resident in Holland, where they avail of virtually tax free status. Up until recently Ireland had an artists’ tax exemption which meant no tax was payable on royalties. The original purpose of the exemption (introduced in the 80’s) was to ensure that artists could survive on the little earning they had – not so that multi-million Euro business enterprises could live happily tax free on our Island. So, back in 2006 a € 250,000 cap on earnings was introduced, and U2 later moved their business to Holland….

  3. Southiesham permalink
    April 29, 2008 4:02 pm

    I think you are rather missing the point. Any proposal to demolish even a small part of Dublin should be encouraged. If anything I beleive that for the first time Bono is not being ambitious enough; what he should be aiming at is the total demolition of everything to the east of the M50. The area could then be used as a nature reserve, and tourists could come to see the donkeys that heretofore have been penned in by the Dail, roam free on the vast praire land that was once Dublin. The Serengati of the East if you will.

  4. April 29, 2008 10:11 pm

    SS – you do have a point. Careful on those icy roads now, hope they don’t delay you too much and keep you from important engagements!

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