Wednesday 23 April 2008

An Irishman's Diary covers planning ...

IN THESE exciting days for Dublin architecture, when every new building seems to make a bold visual statement, spare a thought for the Irish Yeast Company on College Street.

The rest of the city is throwing off all height restrictions and reaching for the sky. But there's the poor old Yeast Company - doomed, apparently forever, to occupy a four-storey building, with no hope of vertical extension. Its visual statement - insofar as it makes one - is a failed metaphor. The shop is the unleavened bread of modern Dublin's architectural banquet: the cake that didn't rise.

And even so, I find its contradictions strangely reassuring. Yes, it was exciting when they erected the Spire on nearby O'Connell Street, with the message to Dubliners that, from now on, the only way was up. And yes, it's exciting now to see developers taking the hint, by way of plans to recreate the Hanging Gardens of Babylon over Moore Street, or to rebuild the Clarence Hotel with a spaceship on the roof, or to create any number of other upward-thrusting landmarks But as I pass it regularly on the way to and from the office, it is all the more of relief these days to find the Yeast Company still there, holding out stolidly against the inflationary pressures.

I never fail to be calmed by the sight of its pleasantly squat frontal elevation and by its modest ground floor window full of baking accessories. Often I pause to look in, regretting that I have no reason to buy something. Then I continue on my way, always feeling more serene. The shop is like a little anchor in the stormy seas of change.

Mind you, even the term "anchor" is not what it used to be. At any rate, I see that the developers of the Carlton site have used that very word, without apparent irony, to describe the effect on O'Connell Street of their proposed "sky park" - the same one that will climb by a 22-degree slope to an observation deck towering hundreds of feet above the city centre, and accessible by funicular.

Clearly, the new generation of architect-designed anchors are designed to drag things up rather than down. I don't know where balloons fit in any more.

PRESUMABLY the spaceship on the Clarence - if it ever gets off the ground - will offer similar anchorage to Temple Bar. But should Norman Foster's design survive the planning process, the building has already secured its nickname. The "Flying Saucer" it surely has to be, even if the project's supporters would argue that the little green men (ie small-minded conservationists) are, by definition, not on board.

With the Clarence already sorted, therefore, the immediate challenge for Dubliners is to find an alternative name for the sky park over Moore Street. It will be only an interim nickname, of course, subject to application for retention in the event of the plan going ahead. But here goes anyway.

I like to think we're mature enough now not to need one of those rhyming nicknames, of which there are far too many already. Which is why I think "Gorse Hill" would be a nice name for the new park. It doesn't rhyme. It is boldly contemporary. And it might even appeal to the developers - since, for anyone who followed the recent High Court case, it immediately suggests "Anchorage".

Failing that, and taking a completely different tack, I propose naming the development "MacArthur Park" after the famously obscure song with which Richard Harris once had a hit.

The song's lyrics have always baffled scientists. But bearing in mind the sky-park's "hyrdoponic" sloping garden, and continuing our baking metaphor from earlier, consider the chorus: "MacArthur Park is melting in the dark/ All the sweet, green icing flowing down". Bear in mind also that the architects envisage a roof over the new streets that their development would create, but that they have not seen fit to extend this to the sky-park. Then remember the hydroponic nature of Irish weather, and the consequent risk of flooding. And consider another line from the song: "Someone left the cake out in the rain."

On the other hand, after the interminable delays in redeveloping the Carlton site, the song's chorus also carries a heartfelt message from the developers to any planners who might be inclined to refuse the scheme permission: "I don't think that I can take it/ 'Cause it took so long to bake it/ And I'll never have that recipe again/ Oh, no!"

But the clincher, as I see it, is that the developers have credited the Guinness Storehouse, with its "sky-bar", as one of the inspirations behind their scheme. So perhaps if the sky park does rise over the old Carlton eventually, brewer's yeast will have played a part. Either way, the Son-of-Arthur's Park would seem to cover it.

The Irish Times

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