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People in Glasshouses shouldn’t Blow Loans

Writing.ie | Member Blog

Deirdre Conroy

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Dead in the water

Dublinlandlady, since becoming an accidental activist, made her first foray into Dublin demi-beau-monde on Friday. What with a gathering at CHQ to exhibit our three pieces from the 2012 Venice Biennale and Sotheby’s Irish art preview, two birds were flown with one kite. 

Brevity prevails and I won’t attempt to review, as you’ll find a plethora of words somewhere online. Though, I was particularly struck by Grafton Architects, silver lion winner, with contextualised images of Sceilig Michael and models expressing the development of their design for the University of Lima.  I know those 598 steps intimately; I had to descend each one by the seat of my pants.

Friday was my first time crossing the wondrous, sinuous harp bridge in a taxi (Samuel Beckett doesn’t really describe it), allowing me the pleasure of 360 degree observation. A strange, intense sunburst pierced the surface of the Liffey and animated the relentless rectilinear quayside corporate edifices, injecting an energy they normally lack in our predominantly grey climate.
There are glaring mistakes in the planning, or lack of, along that riverside, not least its complete inertia. Along the entire length of these quays there is nothing going on at ground level except a security man in a lobby. Though the DDDA Board travelled far and wide to look at best practice examples, in St Petersburg, New York at a very minimum, they only needed to go as far as Lisbon to observe a hugely successful marriage of working docklands, restaurants, office and residential, where even John Malkevich owns a restaurant. When design giant, Terence Conran came to look at CHQ to open a restaurant, he went back to the UK uninspired by the area and, no doubt, the rent.

What DDDA produced for Dublin is testimony to a cosy, unchecked, uncreative, coterie, a cabal of stagnant, sterile thinking, predicated on quick returns and self-promotion, culminating in the mind-blowing bid for the Irish Glass Bottle site. You would think somebody put an actual gun to the syndicate heads to arrive at the figure they spent on a plot of land that could never in any economic pipedream, yield a return in residential, retail and office sales, in a country with a population of 4 million, where the only growth is in Laois, made up of immigrants.

What is even more breathtaking is that DDDA board members have ended up as advisers to NAMA and An Bord Pleanala and one obvious one is awaiting trial on his banks wrong doings.

Ironically, it is the much pilloried Johnny Ronan who persevered with planning objections for his convention centre that has produced the most arresting architecture on the quays; architect Kevin Roche’s tilted can breaks the vertical repetition and plays with monumental form.

My interest is in the former Stack A, now CHQ, well known as a tobacco warehouse and venue for the banquet to honour soldiers returned from the Crimean War, and latterly, well known as a very expensive white elephant and now up for a Jumbo sale.

There’s a chance to do something wonderful there, jettison (and recycle) the expensive but boring mall fit-out so lazily designed to accommodate high street retail in a place where nobody shops; and create a real, living market place for Ireland’s talented and inventive food and craft artisans, a sustainable showcase for international buyers and a living, breathing hub for city dwellers.

Back over the river, Sotheby’s has a brace of wonderful Orpens and O’Conors on view and no doubt, they’ll have a successful Irish sale. There is always money about, even in a recession, just badly distributed. Parting with the family heirlooms was traditionally about diluting assets to pay for a leaking roof or death taxes. But as the Irish art market got more fuelled on tribunal and developer money, killings were made in the Tiger era and those prices won’t be seen again. The upside is that great works of art come into the public demesne, providing more appreciation, research, scholarship and publications.
I was grateful to the many elderly people who approached me on Friday evening and spoke with incredible sympathy about the D v Ireland case. Art, architecture and attitude, we must remain hopeful.
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