Cork Flood Defences - Option 3: The future of Morrison’s Island according to GKMP Architects

As Cork City Council and the Office of Public Works draw up plans to erect controversial flood defences in the city centre, the Irish Examiner brings you an alternative view. All this week, we highlight the shortlisted entries to the Save Cork City competition to unlock the potential of Morrisson’s Island in the heart of the city centre and reimagine what its future might hold. Some are brave. Some are bold. But all are designed to spark debate. The overall winner will be revealed in the Irish Examiner next Monday.

Cork Flood Defences - Option 3: The future of Morrison’s Island according to GKMP Architects

In the third part of our series featuring entries to the Morrison’s Island design competition, GKMP Architects outlines its plan for redesigning Cork city centre

The city of Cork is set in an extraordinary landscape encompassing the River Lee and harbour.

The proposed tidal barrier can open up the potential of these connections between land and water while limiting the threat of flooding.

Our project examines these connections at both large and small scales, searching for possible transformations. We are proposing a sequence of new public spaces accessed by new crossing points across the South Channel that strengthen existing north-south movement through the city.

Urban floor

Our project aims to realise the potential of Morrison’s Island to become a new civic place for the city.

What is sought is a kind of enigmatic emptiness, spaces that are waiting for something to happen.

To achieve this, our intention is to make a new paved surface, an ‘urban floor’, that unifies the quay edge and that can extend through the adjacent streets and spaces.

This new white concrete floor is placed at a datum of +2.7m and is overlaid with trees and benches to make an open and accessible public realm.

The strategy employed is anticipatory — it assumes change and expects to respond to future needs.

We imagine it as a series of catalytic interventions that gradually transform these underused public spaces, unify them and restore their latent potential to be civic places.

The objective is to breathe new life into the quayside by strategically celebrating the perimeter edge and therefore making the whole space into a single cultural entity, a horizontal place of communication for the city.

There is a deliberate resistance to nostalgic urban types to avoid making Morrison’s Island into a mere tourist stage set, freezing its temporal potential.

Instead, the project proposes an openness to unpredictable uses and opposes the idea of deterministic urban form fixed in time. The interventions — urban floor, balustrades, benches, bridges — are made as simply and directly as possible and are clearly expressed as new elements layered onto the historic context.

Constructed landscape

The project is a constructed landscape; it makes background rather than building-as-object, a continuous condition in which old and new elements and materials combine to underscore diverse individual and collective inhabitation.

It conjoins the scale of the individual experience and the life of the city.

Though specific in context, place and materials, the project is characterised by a positive uncertainty regarding use.

Its emptiness assumes change, across a season or a century.

Our proposal originates from considered flow studies and diagrams examining routes across the river. We are removing the degraded existing Trinity bridge and proposing two new bridge access routes at carefully considered strategic locations.

The first new bridge aligns with the front entrance of Holy Trinity Church and creates a north-south connection along Father Mathew St. The alignment recalls the Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo in Venice, where you cross the bridge on axis with the church and then sidestep to enter the campo.

The second bridge is located to align with the North-South axis connecting Union Quay through to the South Mall, strengthening the links to the city beyond.

The bridges are made as simply as possible, both with two gently arched steel beams that span the South Channel and rest on the quay walls.

These spaces, despite their indeterminacy regarding use, are characterised by a specificity of context, place and materials. The white concrete floor uses an exposed limestone aggregate and relates closely to the white limestone of the city.

The new quay edge is designed to step-back and preserve as well as celebrate the original quay wall and to emphasis a clear layering of old and new materials. A very light steel balustrade protects from the river edge while allowing for a visual connection to the water. The street furniture is made from a combination of steel and concrete, establishing a consistent and restrained palette that complement the historic materials.

Public space

Public space is critical to the functioning of a collective society, the essential space of appearance that enables an interweaving of human affairs and, ultimately, the exercise of democratic power.

In a time when public space is often conceived of ethereally rather than materially, and the collective is often confused with the commercial, this project aspires to a real, open, and sustainable public realm.

The resolution of this aspiration is sought in a combination of modesty and ambition.

It is ambitious in its aim to transform a series of spaces only by means of working with the ground and certain urban elements.

The significance given to this pavement is manifested in a modest approach that gives precedence both to the strength of the historical context and to the public use of the space; offering specific areas to walk, sit, gather, and assemble, places of civic interaction.

In this way, the project seeks to make urban spaces into public places.

READ MORE: Cork Flood Defences - Option 1: The future of Morrison’s Island according to the CRJA-IBI group

READ MORE: Cork Flood Defences - Option 2: The future of Morrison’s Island according to the PM Group

More in this section

News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up