• Saturday , 22 September 2018

Urban Re-wiring – Dublin’s Silicon Docks

View of Google's office stock on Barrow Street overlooking the Grand Canal Basin (Photo credit: Brendan Spierin).

View of Google’s office stock on Barrow Street overlooking the Grand Canal Basin (Photo credit: Brendan Spierin).

Ireland has garnered a reputation internationally as an ideal location for multinational companies to get a foothold in Europe. One could scarcely imagine a decade ago, when the internet first arrived in our everyday lives, that the likes of Google, Intel, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon would eventually invest in this small island on the edge of Europe. This investment is most palpable in Dublin’s docklands quarter, which is teeming with multinational heavyweights.

In the 1960s and 70s when foreign investors first arrived in Dublin, there was a distinct reaction against the architecture created to accommodate these companies. Pete St. John’s 1970s ballad ‘Dublin in the rare ould times’ famously recalled the city that was being left behind. The singer describes how ‘the great unyielding concrete makes a city of my town’ and how he could not stay to ‘watch the new glass cages, that spring up along the quay’.1 With Dublin’s legacy as a literature capital of the world, people longed for the city described in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and often brought attention to Joyce’s quote on his motives for the book: ‘I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book’.2

Today however, there is less negativity surrounding glass cages for foreign investors. Cranes on the city’s skyline instil hope in Dubliners that the city is emerging from the depths of economic recession and that we may return to the prosperity of the Celtic Tiger. The Montevetro building in the Docklands, sold to Google in 2011 at the request of NAMA,3 has become one such example. Google’s policy of buying rather than renting has allowed them to develop a campus of buildings spreading across the Docklands.

These buildings are experienced by the vast majority of people on the outside only. The interiors cater only for the workforce and so public discussions about such developments are usually centred around the facade; how they address the city. They are also typically designed before a tenant is decided on,  and therefore need to be generic in a sense to provide for a wide variety of possible corporations. Heneghan Peng’s inventive fit-out for the Air BnB headquarters in Ringsend is an example of how very often the unassuming architecture of the exterior addressing the city can be completely at odds with the vibrant architecture of the interior workplace.

Permanence in corporate architecture as we once knew it has completely changed. Many office buildings in London are designed with a building lifespan as low as 30 years, with 100 years foundation lifespan. Expectations are that the buildings can only provide so much flexibility for changes in the future.

Irish architects have developed a resourcefulness at reworking and reinventing the existing. This is beginning to come to the attention of these companies. In January of this year, Google bought the refurbished 19th century dock mill on the Grand Canal Dock for €13 million. The Irish Times reported that Google also will be keeping a ‘close eye’ on plans to redevelop the neighbouring Bolands Mills.4 Elsewhere in Dublin more schemes are being announced to reuse existing built fabric rather than erase it, such as plans for the Iveagh markets in the Liberties. Re-inhabiting existing buildings could allow corporations to avoid the ‘shock factor’ of modern architecture’s often incongruous arrival in the city. That said, corporations are reluctant to lose the cutting-edge association of a modern, advanced headquarters.

With the costly demolition of much of the city’s purpose-built twentieth century offices becoming commonplace, the prospect of longer life-cycles and adaption of existing fabric will become a key theme in discussions on the city’s future.

 

[1] St. John, P. (c.1970) Dublin in the rare ould times

[2] Joyce, J. quoted in Budgen, F. (1960) James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses , Indiana UP  Edn., p.67; cited in  Norris, M. (1998) A Companion to James Joyce’s Ulysses, NY: Bedford Books, p. 1.

[3]Kelly, O. (2011November 02) Google goes to great lengths with plan for pool at Dublin HQ The Irish Times p. 1.

[4] Fagan, J. (2015) Google buys former warehouse at Grand Canal Dock retrieved from http://www.irishtimes.com/business/commercial-property/google-buys-former-warehouse-at-grand-canal-dock-1.2081392 08/02/2015

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