Friday 12 September 2008

Skyscraper 'just a vanity project'

WITNESSES for businessman Dermot Desmond claimed yesterday that developer Sean Dunne's skyscraper plan was based on a need for him to stamp his mark on Dublin.

The financier did not attend yesterday's an Bord Pleanala hearing, but unleashed a team of world-renowned architects in his place.

Mr Dunne paid a record €380m for the seven-acre Jurys/Berkeley Court site in Ballsbridge in 2005. His ambitious €1bn development proposal includes the construction of a hotel, a shopping centre, 294 apartments, office space, an embassy building and a cultural centre.

His plan for a 37-storey tower has already been rejected. However, he is asking An Bord Pleanala to reinstate it.

Prominent Irish architect Shane O'Toole -- one of four architects on Mr Desmond's team -- claimed that Mr Dunne's skyscraper plan mirrored a recent trend where developers attempt to build symbolic buildings for the sake of world admiration.

He said that "starchitects" were being hired all over the globe "in a vain attempt" to replicate the titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

"The applicant is obviously in thrall to the power of iconic architecture as a means of city branding," he told the hearing at Croke Park.

He said that although the Guggenheim was "emblematic, it was not the key to Bilbao's sustained programme of renewal".

Mr O'Toole also hit out at the presentation of Mr Dunne's development plans, branding them "a gauche form of development plan box-ticking, a cross-dressing charade of switching patterns" of brick work.

Fellow Irish architect, Peter Cody showed little love for Mr Dunne's plans either.


He said it was the sheer magnitude of the tower that was the issue. "All towers are largely iconic or symbolic as they are not a particularly efficient urban form and are expensive to build," he said.

"In the case of the proposed tower: its height, scale and massing suggests a building that is disproportionate to the importance of the site and alludes to the rather inflated view that the proposed scheme has of its own relative importance and potential significance in the city."

Mr Cody also highlighted a number of design faults with the €1m apartments, including the fact that there were no plans for windows in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, Mr Desmond's legal representative, Michael O'Donnell, said his that client's concerns were rooted in his belief that "what's good for Dublin is good for the country" and vice versa.

He said Mr Desmond believed that the design of Dublin's development plans was critical to the Ireland's future success in attracting investment and improving tourism.

Another of the witnesses from Mr Desmond, the former President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, George Ferguson, supported Mr O'Donnell's stance. He said that Mr Dunne's skyscraper plan had "all the makings of soulless and sunless cavernous spaces which no amount of architectural illusion will be able to mend".

Dublin must stick to its European characteristics and resist the temptation to build upwards, he said.

The hearing continues.

Stephen O'Farrell
Irish Independent

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