• Saturday , 29 April 2017

North Side Story – Gandon House

01 - Facade Detail - Brendan Spierin Detail of main facade. Photo credit: Brendan Spierin.

In the 1970s a number of developers set their sights on Dublin’s north-side, aiming to follow in the success of RKD’s Irish Life Centre on Abbey Street. The Irish Times wrote in 1978: ‘thanks mainly to Irish life, the Northside city centre is becoming fashionable again as a property location’ [1].

Michael Scott’s confident modernist aesthetic in Busáras may also have influenced the decision for Moy properties to locate a modern office development, Gandon House, at the end of Amiens street in 1974.

Today, Gandon House is situated at the gateway to one of the city’s most deprived areas. Drugs, gang-violence and illegal dumping remain ongoing issues in the surrounding neighbourhood. However, Amiens Street’s proximity to the IFSC, and the location of transport hubs such as Connolly Station and the Busáras conspire to create a dynamic, bustling streetscape.

A five storey over basement brick office building, Gandon House was designed by Austin Murray and built by Crampton. Some find the naming of Gandon House ill-fitting, with the building having no apparent historical or symbolic connection to James Gandon, other than its proximity to the Custom House [2]. The building steps back from the street-line with a small public space to its front entrance. Five bands of red brick with recessed tinted glazing wrap around the building’s four elevations, with blank facades to the party walls.

Gandon House has escaped some of the scathing criticism that Austin Murray’s other additions to Dublin architecture have endured, such as Goldsmith House on Pearse Street, Clancourt and Clanwilliam Court on Mound Street [3]. Clanwilliam Court, finished in 1978, has a similar language to Gandon House, a series of horizontal brick and glazed bands bound by pre-cast lintels. However, the large scale of Clanwilliam Court sets it at odds with the character of the surrounding area. Murray’s original scheme was for a pre-cast concrete complex, which Dublin Corporation ordered to be constructed in brick.

The smaller scale of Gandon House makes Murray’s horizontal language of brick, concrete, tinted glass, and aluminium less monotonous. The manner in which the glazing turns the corner facing onto Talbot Place is a similar detail to the Institute of Advanced Studies on Burlington Road, finished in 1972 by Stephenson Gibney Architects, Murray’s former employers.

Talbot Place Elevation - Cormac Murray Talbot Place elevation. Photo credit: Cormac Murray.

The building has resurfaced in the media recently, when it emerged that anti-social metal rails were erected outside the building at ground level[4]. The wheelchair ramp outside the building is a common location for homeless people to sleep on. The move was greeted with a widespread negative reaction, with claims that the building’s tenants, The Department of Social Protection, were denying shelter to some of the most vulnerable members of society at a time of a homeless crisis. The Department denied direct responsibility for the devices, saying the landlord was responsible, and also that the devices were intended to oppose anti-social behaviour at the bus-stop in front of the building.

Gandon House anti-social devices. Photo credit: Cormac Murray. Gandon House anti-social devices. Photo credit: Cormac Murray.

With the metal rails remaining in place a number of months later, there have been calls on social media to follow the example of social activists in London last year, who, in opposition to ‘defensive architecture’, repurposed spikes by building mattresses and benches over them. The move to install the devices reflects a paranoia of public space in Dublin from both property owners and the city council, with areas such as Smithfield Square, The Liffey Boardwalk and  Central Bank Plaza hosting frequent anti-social behaviour.

Like many of its 1970s contemporaries, Gandon House will be no stranger to negative public sentiment. One hopes that in the future, inner-city areas can be redeveloped through long-term investment in necessary facilities and infrastructure, and architects can employ less of a cynical, defensive approach to public space.

 

[1] Jones, K. ed. (1978 March 03) ‘Dublin Docks Board May Buy Gandon House’ The Irish Times – Property Times, p. 21.

[2] McDonald, F. (1985) The Destruction of Dublin. Dublin, Gill & MacMillan.

[3] Archiseek: 1978 – Clancourt, Mount Street, Dublin. Retrieved 15 August from http://archiseek.com/2010/1978-clancourt-mount-street-dublin/.

[4] Holland, K. (20156) ‘Amiens Street ‘anti-homeless devices’ criticised’, in The Irish Times. Dublin: The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 August from http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/amiens-street-anti-homeless-devices-criticised-1.2511203.

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