Timely guide to Dublin design

Tommy Barker looks at a new Gandon Editions book on Dublin’s top modern builds by young Cork architect, Séan Antóin O Muirí.

Dubliners can be surprisingly nonchalant, ambivalent, or even downright dismissive about their city’s built environment, ready to pour scorn on almost anything built after the Georgian period in the city centre, or during the Victorian or Edwardian eras in the suburbs.

Mention ‘contemporary architecture’ to a Dub, and you might well be met with a sneer. Even the more generous citizens of the capital will be hard pressed to come up with a dozen exemplars of modern builds in the country’s capital.

Well, as a counter-balance to any prevailing notion that the last two decades saw nothing but demolition, density and the drably banal in a period marked more by development than by design, the timely book Dublin Architecture has put in the foot-slogging, and eye-peeling research to find 150-plus reasons to be cheerful, impressed, even inspired. And it encourages readers to visit these buildings for themselves.

Grouping the 150-plus featured projects into six city regions (one’s the 1990s-uplifted Temple Bar) it handily gives notes on access, and how to reach each featured project by Dart, bus, Luas and more.

This thoroughly handsome and quietly authoritative book by 31-year-old Cork-based architect Séan Antóin O Muirí, via Kinsale-based architectural publishers, Gandon Editions, rounds up that number of buildings, a few bridges, schools, studios, stadia, structures and public parks, designed and delivered in the two decades from 1990 to 2010: by that latter date, many of the practitioners rightly recognised here ended up working abroad, as the profession of architecture was decimated during the economic and property meltdown following the banking collapse. It’s an affirming reminder that not everything went pear- or gherkin-shaped, that talent got an airing, and the city got an injection of international-quality, contemporary architecture, worth a detour.

O Muirí — who’s now working on a second book on 200-plus contemporary designs outside Dublin — says he got the impetus for Dublin Architecture while in Zurich, seeking building by leading names in his profession, and realised that despite Ireland’s boom time “frenzy of mixed merit,” there were many great projects deserving of wider recognition in the Capital.

Séan Antóin O Muirí’s selection of 150 projects is impressively broad, and is a whole lot more than a quick pictorial overview of glassy buildings. Each project gets a brief description and background, notes on budget, size, site and scale, with quality photographic image(s), and drawings, just enough to whet an appetite to explore further.

It’s practically 20 years since the last comprehensive guide to Dublin’s evolving architecture was published, so a book like this is well overdue, and now most welcome. It’s significantly enhanced by knowledgeable essays from the likes of architect and leading critic Shane O’Toole, setting an impressive overview of Irish architecture and its leading proponents since the founding of the State in 1922, to its Millennium year in 1988, when he notes a new generation of Irish architects had reached adulthood. Also contributing a forward is architect Dermot Boyd, while an afterword comes from planner, architect, lecturer and former Green TD Ciaran Cuff.

* Dublin Architecture, 150+ Buildings from 1990-2010 by Seán Antóin Ó Muirí, Gandon Editions (2014) 320pp,€29 www.fuinneamh-workshop.com 


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