• Saturday , 7 December 2019

An architectural fairy tale – the story of Dublin Port

The most radical architecture indulges imaginative fantasy while interpreting reality and aspiring to universality. This is an architectural fairy tale about Dublin Port that tackles real world issues through a lens of creativity. A fairy tale is a deeply personal study in how we relate to our surroundings and to stories of large-scale social dystopias. The fairy tale has the power to ignite meaningful conversations within a wider architectural community. The work represents a time when the world is struggling to distinguish between fact and fiction, and for this reason, storytelling can be used as a powerful tool to unlock universal truths and possibly rediscover what matters to Dublin Port in its state of being in-between community and city.

The year is 2109, and the world seems void of warmth, elegance, and space. The city of Dublin has extended beyond its limits; towers of silicon now replace the brickwork of the streets and the heavens that once seemed untouchable are being caressed by the urban skyline. Our story lies between the edge of this land and the edge of the city’s detached port.

Skies glisten and glow with an artificial decadence, the clouds are thick and the air sweats beads of saline humidity. Water rushes over and swallows the cemented bay with its dark murky edge. Nothing about this land is natural except for the mossy slime of the methane, pungent seaweed that climbs over this jungle of steel and concrete, acting as an inebriated infection of alien life.

The old and forlorn sing songs of the former port; it once was a place where seagulls flew over an infrastructure of slow social decay, a place where hordes of bulk carriers and cruise liners plied through the waters to the deep basins of the docks and warehouses.

But now the port has been split from the island, floating solemnly between the two. A decision – made due to the conflict of its location upon the capital – that eventually led to growth that the island could no longer handle; a fissure between expenditure and commercialism. The old songs resonate as a warning for what was to come; a city without a port and a port without a city, where human essence becomes rusted within the machines that rule this landing.

A female figure in robes, cascading with filigree and grace, lurks upon the port’s platform, an unusual contrast between the distant past and present. She looks upon her surroundings with unease and disappointment. This was not the vision that was meant for her Ireland and its people.

With a sigh of surrender, she climbs the countless heights of steel and concrete until reaching the top of a pipe in motion, rushing to sit upon its edge while looking out. A constant spread of growth, a living masterplan of dystopian architecture. A port is a place where machines meet people and people meet machines but now, society is controlled by technology, there is no place for man here anymore. It has become a self-metabolizing cell, growing at a rate to match the amount of imports and exports. The island acting as a factory of production.

Jumping from the swinging pipe, she approaches the old housing blocks that frame the edge of the bay; empty vessels that look onto the expanding port island within the horizon. But not many live here anymore, it’s a silent reminder of the time that passed. A culture that was unprotected and degrading, now disappeared and silent. The fight against social exclusion was lost to the greed for land and urban prosperity.

Suddenly, a deep blast of ship horns cuts through the metallic noise of the port. She stiffens and turns to see hordes of fleets approaching her. They come in their hundreds, a war-like motion of defiance and ownership of the dockland waters. Each tanker carries a chiliastic weight of sea-worn containers. She can almost see the water turn fouler and more glutinous as the ships descend their foreign goods. The automated cranes cascade down to the ships, and with speed and methodical motion each container is inserted ‘brick by brick’ into towering walls of coloured steel. The ships are then swiftly reloaded and without haste, turn back around to disembark upon the worlds beyond them. It all happens so fast; a complete act of theatrical commercialisation.

She was hoping to rediscover what matters to Dublin Port in its state of in-between, to take part in the redevelopment and keep alive – at least in memory – part of our culture. Dreams of a thriving dockland without boundaries between poor, old, or rich, where social exclusion will only be a term of the past. But instead she leaves with eyes closed, thinking of an old Irish proverb, ‘Bíonn súil le muir ach ní bhíonn súil le huaigh’; there is hope of coming back from the sea, but none of coming back from the dead.

The end.

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