Soccer fields. White goal-poles. Vast horizons. Bare grass-lands. Horses on leashes, secured to small posts. A deteriorating Youth Centre. Forty-thousand people inhabiting endless ctrl-c / ctrl-v housing estates.
In the midst of an already poorly planned 1970s suburban area of Coolock, on a much-awaited 18 June, a not-so-distinguished shopping centre surfaced while gracefully wearing a swimming pool on its head.
Constructed circa 47 years ago, Northside Shopping Centre was one of the earliest examples of shopping centres in Ireland following Stillorgan. Originally designed by Stephenson Gibney & Associates, it was intended as an open-air centre with modest piazzas and projecting board-marked concrete balconies, in keeping with the brutalist fundamentals of the time. While the addition of the ‘roof-pool’ may have surely seemed an eminently innovative element to add to a shopping centre of the 70s, (which some might imagine in Abu Dhabi today per se) the result would become a disappointing accomplishment of an idea.
Today however, very little of Stephenson Gibney’s vision remains. Where once children waited petulantly on their parents outside the local cafes while chatting to neighbours or friends, nowadays major stores and stretched-out brand names take over the accustomed shiny tiled corridors that reflect ceiling spotlights on their every inch, confirming the all so familiar 21st century mall look-a-like. The swimming pool remains the only component visible from the original design but even this has been decorated a-top by more than fifty antennas and tv-plates, ill-thought and uncared for.
Northside Shopping Centre has been extended, enlarged and renovated several times since the 80s, with the final refurbishments being completed in late 2016. One can hardly imagine that the renowned architect of the Civic Offices, Wood Quay or Central Bank of Ireland on Dame St. is responsible for the very structure that currently stands bitterly covered up in plastic rainscreen panelling. The clichéd ‘greyish’ tones with a ‘bit-a-glazing’ here and there add to a trendy warehouse effect.
Whilst the recent á-la-mode resurrection of the shopping centre is debatable in terms of architectural rejuvenation, undoubtedly the community relishes it. Northside S.C. has brought about a considerable amount of new businesses and additional jobs. The locals enjoy being a part of it all. Additionally, just across the street is Beaumont Hospital and 3,000 employees are determined to get out at noon on daily basis to raid the ‘big names’.
With the progression of time, even the most provocative buildings can start to seem natural; they become recognised by the people, understood maybe, and even known in the community. One approach to recuperating our feelings of their unusual qualities could be to think back in time, to the initial introductions they made to our society. Which brings me to a point of comparison: also constructed in the 1970s at around the same time as Northside Shopping Centre, is Centrum Shopping Mall in Miskolc, Hungary. Two different settings, similar building periods, nonetheless distinctive styles.
From the 1960s onwards, in the era of socialist movements, ‘Centrum’ stores started popping up in each county in Hungary. These were all centres for retail: selling everything from groceries and knitwear to motorbikes and televisions, with many therefore becoming a focal point for each city or town. A building that has become iconic over the years while its surroundings haven’t changed much at all, if not declined. Contrastingly to Northside, Centrum was not a target of conceptual destruction or so called ‘area-development’, rather it was of reconstruction.
‘On 22 September 1968 Centrum’s doors or (what’s remained of it) stayed locked in front of its daily audience. At 3 o’clock in the morning, fire broke out in one of the retail exhibition halls built on the east side of the building. The strip of 8-10m length of suspended ceiling of the ground floor plummeted in one whole piece. By the time the firefighters arrived, the entire building was in flames. The cause of the fire remines unknown.’
In response to this destruction, entire blocks of the city were wiped out, including urban streets and people’s homes without thought or reconsideration. Nearby trickling streams were closed over, new streets opened up, and the Centrum department store rebuilt just in time for a post-modernist epoch.
With the addition of little towers, arbitrary roof heights, circular windows and fake bricks, the retailer was reborn. However, it was largely a case of attempting to heal with mascara and lipstick a wound that would have needed much medical attention. Such destruction in historic and even not-so-notable cities and suburbs can be very difficult to heal, if they heal at all.