DUBLIN IS to get a new public park with floating gardens, pavilions, playgrounds, cafes, cycle path, sports pitches and boating activities.
Plans for the Royal Canal Linear Park have just been unveiled by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA), and show details of a three-phase project that will eventually run from the Liffey, beside the new National Conference Centre, northwards for 1.4km to North Strand Road.
The design, by French landscape and urban design company Agence Ter, was chosen from among 64 entrants to a competition judged by community representatives, Dublin City Council, Spencer Dock Development Company (which owned some of the land), the RIAI (Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland) and the DDDA.
With such a diversity of judges, John McLaughlin, director of architecture at the Docklands authority, wondered whether they would all agree, but the decision was unanimous, he said. "Their approach was unique. The site comprises a 30m wide body of water with 20-odd metres either side of bank - so it is divided.
"Everybody came up with a linear arrangement but Agence Ter overcame that by blurring the separation between the banks and the canal," he said.
Olivier Philippe, who set up Agence Ter with two other landscape designers in 1986, said: "We decided to consider the area as a whole by putting floating gardens into the water and putting water into the banks."
The scheme has become known as the Harlequin garden because it comprises a patchwork of various elements such as semi-transparent pavilions, trees and those floating gardens on pontoons that will be up to 17m long.
Both the water and land-based sections will be on the same level and park users will be close to the water, said Mr Philippe.
"When you walk along the Liffey you are never close to the water - which is understandable because of the tide and the boats - but the canal is a very quiet place so the idea is to have floating gardens very low in the water." Although they are looking at safety issues, Mr Philippe said there is no barrier between Dublin's existing canal banks and the water. "We will try and avoid railings," he said.
The reason for this new space is that "Dublin needs a new park", said Mr McLaughlin, and also because it is part of a tradition of canal parks in the city. There was no park on the Docklands site previously because barge and rail freight used to be taken from the Liffey here (from the early 1800s).
Dublin's other canal parks feel more like walking routes except for the odd sitting spot such as the Patrick Kavanagh bench, dedicated to the poet who asked, "Oh commemorate me where there is water, canal water preferably . . . just a canal-bank seat for the passer by."
Ireland is used to public parks such as St Stephen's Green having traditional planting, but that won't be the case here. "We do not want to erase that past," said Mr Philippe, "but just to bring a new layer. We need to keep an identity so the trees - except in one pontoon in the next phase - will be native species, such as oak and white willow, while the flower beds will be mostly planted with exotic plants, many of which you already find in Ireland. It will be very colourful and we are working on year-round blooming."
The lighting designer Yves Adrien, of Coup d'Eclat, will work with the plant colours in his scheme, offering red glows against crimson blooms, for instance. The lighting scheme will be kept on a human level: "We want to avoid all those masts [poles] which you see everywhere in public spaces" - and is designed to make the park feel safe at night.
Construction of phase one - from the river to Sheriff Street - is due to begin in January 2009 and finish in 2010. It will fit in around other construction in the area, including canal excavation and restoration at Spencer Dock, the National Conference Centre, a Luas canal bridge by Future Systems, and the Calatrava bridge on the Liffey, due to finish at the end of next year.
The design competition - with a construction budget of €15 million - was for the complete 1.4km park to ensure "an overarching vision", said Mr McLaughlin. The first phase is being built on land provided by CIÉ and the Spencer Dock Development Company. The land purchase in the second two phases has yet to be negotiated.
"The Royal Canal Linear Park has been designed to be used and appreciated by all of Dublin's citizens, whether they want to relax, be active or appreciate the greenery," said Mr McLaughlin.
Perhaps it will answer Patrick Kavanagh's wish, in Canal Bank Walk , to be captured "in a web/Of fabulous grass and eternal voices by a beech/Feed the gaping needs of my senses".
The Irish Times