Wednesday 16 April 2008

Clarence 'a coup' for Dublin, says Edge

The demolition of the Clarence Hotel, Dublin, a protected structure, and its rebuilding to a design by British architect Norman Foster was "an incredible coup for Dublin city" U2 guitarist and one of the owners of the hotel The Edge has said.

He was speaking outside a Bord Pleanála appeal hearing against plans to demolish all but the facades of the hotel, its expansion form 49 to 140 rooms, and the addition of a metallic elliptical roof called the "sky catcher".

One of the appellants to the project conservationist Michael Smith yesterday described the proposed building as a "cannibalistic behemoth" and said the sky catcher looked like a spaceship which has landed in the middle of Temple Bar.

The hotel had done an "immense amount of good for the city", The Edge said, however it had run into financial difficulties in recent years and if it was to be sustained into the 21st century it needed to be redeveloped.

Although the hotel and surrounding buildings, which have been purchased for the €150 million extension and redevelopment, are listed on the Record of Protected Structures, it is proposed that they will be demolished and only their front facades retained.

The fact that the building had been designed by Foster who created the Swiss Re Tower in London, also known as "the Gherkin", was an incredible coup, and "outweighed the sacrifice of parts of ordinary period buildings", The Edge said.

The 34-metre five-star hotel with its "sky room floating above the city" would be "completely commensurate with the scale of that grand street - the River Liffey" Andy Bow of Foster and Partners told the planning hearing.

It would "soften the impact" of surrounding buildings such as the Central Bank and the Civic Offices on Wood Quay and would bring a "new vitality to the west end of Temple Bar". The demolition of the buildings and the back facade facing on to Essex Street would rid Essex Street of its current "prison-like" look, Mr Bow said.

An Taisce's Kevin Duff said the applicants had not demonstrated the exceptional circumstances which are legally required to permit the demolition of protected structures.

The design was a "unsatisfactory combination of facade retention and new build" he said and was the largest proposed demolition of protected structures since legislation was introduced in 1999. The loss of the facades on Essex Street was a serious loss for Temple Bar he said.

Architect James Kelly said given the capabilities of Foster his reverting to facadism was "very sad". The design was coming "perilously close to pastiche", he said.

Mr Smith said the design was "behind the times". "Ten years ago a scheme like this might have got planning permission, surely not now. If it gets permission we can wave goodbye to proper development in Dublin City."

The proposed roof "looks like a flying saucer" it was a "rag-bag, leviathan, a silly set piece" he said. The architects had shown no awareness of their surroundings.

"This building is in the wrong place - like a little black dress on your great aunt," Mr Smith said.

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