Defining Dublin's Historic Core

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Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

Realising the Potential of the City Centre and its Georgian Squares for Citizens, Business and Visitors

A Report By

Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

“Within the next 25 to 30 years, Dublin will have an established international reputation as one of the most sustainable, dynamic and resourceful city regions in Europe. Dublin, through the shared

vision of its citizens and civic leaders, will be a beautiful, compact city, with a distinct character, a vibrant culture and a diverse, smart, green, innovation-based economy. It will be a socially

inclusive city of urban neighbourhoods, all connected by

an exemplary public transport, cycling and walking system and interwoven with a quality bio-diverse greenspace network. In short, the city where people will seek

vision is for a capital

to live, work and experience as matter of choice.” Vision for Dublin contained in Draft Dublin City Development Plan 2011—2017


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

FOREWORD This report was commissioned by Mr Tom Coffey, CEO of Dublin City Business Association and prepared by Dublin Civic Trust as a contribution to the shared vision for Dublin set out in the Draft City Development Plan 2011-2017. The report proposes that the revitalisation of the historic city core, as bounded by the five great Georgian squares, is an essential ingredient of the future development of Dublin as a thriving and sustainable city region. The historic core is the essence of Dublin: it is the centre of its civic, commercial and social life. The Georgian squares and their connecting streets have defined the city centre for over 200 years and the continued vibrancy and vitality of this area will be critical to the success of the city for many years to come. This report is an urban initiative by Dublin City Business Association and Dublin Civic Trust to provoke ideas for the continued success of the city centre as a destination for shopping and enjoyment and as a place to live and work, and to contribute to the development of a renewed vision for the city for the next six years. The centre drives the vitality and life of the whole city region.

March 2010

Dublin Civic Trust is an independent charitable organisation that works to recognise and protect the city’s architectural heritage.

The Dublin City Business Association is the democratic voice of all types of merchants in the City. It is the premier professional retail federation of Dublin City.

Authors: Stephen Coyne, Graham Hickey and Geraldine Walsh Principal Photography: © Graham Hickey Photomontages & Contributions: James Kelly, Architect Landscape Advisor: Rebecca Jeffares Mapping: Maurizio Coglia, Architect Townhouse Plans: Nuada MacEoin, Architect Additional Contributions: Kevin Duff

© Dublin Civic Trust 2010 3

Defining Dublin’s Historic Core



1 Introduction


- Introduction


- Defining the Historic Centre of the City


2 History & Attributes - Evolution of the City


- Development of Georgian Squares and Parks


3 Connectivity in the Centre -Connectivity in the Centre 4 Ceremonial & Civic Space -Ceremonial & Civic Spaces 5 The Public Realm

25 26 33 34 41

- The Importance of the Public Realm


- Some Problems in the Public Realm


- Improving the Public Realm


6 Getting About


- Accessing the City


- Dominance of Traffic


7 Revitalising the Squares


- Lack of Resident Population in the Centre


- Revitalising the Squares


- Potential of the Georgian Parks


- Case Study: Reinstating Parnell Square


8 Commercial & Civic Life


- Fostering Civic Values


- The ‘Beautiful Streets’ Initiative


- Lessons from Mainland Europe


- Conclusion






1 Introduction


Introduction Dublin in 2010 is at an important turning point. Over the past twenty years the city has undergone an intensive period of unprecedented physical, social and economic change which has in many ways left a lasting and enduring legacy. Dublin is now a richer, more diverse and more cosmopolitan city than at any time in its history, aspiring to the achievements of the great classical city of the 18th century. Dublin is finally emerging as a confident European capital city with international recognition. After two decades of change, the opportunity now exists to assess the progress of recent times and to set out a vision for how the city can build on its achievements into the future, and how it can address the urban issues which still remain unresolved

Vision At the core of the city lies the historic centre of Dublin bounded by its great Georgian squares, comprised of the civic, commercial and retail centre of the city, with the River Liffey, parks, public spaces and streets that so vividly define the essence of the capital. This report, commissioned by Dublin City Business Association (DCBA), puts forward a vision for how the core of Dublin - its commercial, retail, leisure and civic quarters as bounded by its Georgian squares north and south - can function and develop into the future, providing a city centre which fully realises its potential for the high expectations of citizens, business and visitors. The report traces the history and identifies the essential cultural attributes of the city centre, assessing connectivity between defined quarters, the provision of civic space, the presentation of the public realm, the revitalisation of the Georgian squares, the management of vehicular traffic, the uses of buildings, and the provision of civic and cultural attractions.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core In the study area as defined, the report analyses how the city core can continue to be the centre of economic activity, innovation and culture, reflected in a buoyant retail sector and high footfall. It calls for a renewed vision for the city centre with the revitalisation of the great squares at its heart. It calls for imaginative proposals to develop a world class destination for shopping, business and leisure; for fresh thinking to enhance the liveability of the city and increase the activity and vibrancy of the centre; and for engagement through partnership to support the social and cultural life of the city and to ensure its future economic competitiveness. It is critical that these objectives are brought to fruition in order to attract national and international investment to Dublin as the premier urban centre in the State.

Vista towards O’Connell Street from Westmoreland Street


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core


2 History & Attributes

History & Attributes

Defining the Historic Centre of the City For over 200 years the historic centre of Dublin has been principally defined by the network of streets and squares laid out in the 18th century. Today the Georgian core, as bounded by the squares on the north and south sides of the River Liffey, remains the densest part of the city, synonymous with rich architecture inherited from the past; an area that continues to embody the core activities of civic society - governmental, institutional, commercial and social - as represented by mercantile buildings and bustling retail streets. The study area of this report embraces the important confluence of trading streets, public spaces and institutional complexes. The area is characterised by an architectural homogeneity which has largely survived the intrusion of modern development, and as such represents a unique and important architectural heritage for the city, setting it apart from many of its international counterparts. It is this concentrated area that requires a cohesive policy from Government, Dublin City Council, private and cultural sectors if it is to achieve its optimum potential as the premier urban centre in the State.

Map of study area in wider city context


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

Map of Dublin city centre showing the five Georgian squares and the principal commercial streets.


History & Attributes

Evolution of the City Dublin is a capital steeped in history with evidence of habitation stretching back to prehistoric times. Although the city has its origins as a Viking settlement, the layout and grain of the city centre as it exists today is principally the legacy of the 18th century. The famous shopping streets, the major commercial thoroughfares, and the parks and squares which populate both sides of the Liffey, comprise in essence a Georgian city layered over a medieval urban plan. This can be seen in the mixture of gently curving organic routes and areas like Grafton Street, Fishamble Street, Temple Bar and South Great George’s Street, contrasted with the ordered classical symmetry of 18th century quarters like Mountjoy Square, Merrion Square and O’Connell Street. It is the buildings of these streets, populated with gracious townhouses and public edifices of the Georgian period, combined with picturesque commercial, retail and religious interventions of the 19th century, that endows Dublin with its unique charm and makes it so attractive for residents and visitors alike.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core Origins There was settlement on the banks of the Liffey since early Christian times, however it was not until the arrival of the Vikings to Ireland in 841 AD that Dublin developed into an urban centre. The Vikings established their successful town and trading post at the mouth of the River Poddle, with fluctuating periods of power, until the Norman invasion in 1169. It is from this latter period that Dublin received some of its earliest buildings which still stand today, including Christ Church Cathedral, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, surviving fragments of medieval Dublin Castle and many sections of the City Walls.

John Speed’s map of Dublin, 1610, showing expanding walled city

Charles Brooking’s map of Dublin, 1728, showing extensive early Georgian expansion

Medieval Expansion Throughout the medieval period under English rule, the city expanded outside its walled confines, principally to the south and west with new suburbs or ‘liberties’ in areas such as Thomas Street and Francis Street, and later the fashionable suburb of Aungier Street. The development of Trinity College at the end of Dame Street encouraged new residential housing along this route and further development to the east, culminating in the laying out of St. Stephen’s Green in the 1660s. At the same time, fashionable new suburbs were developing on the north side of the Liffey, some on the confiscated lands of the former St. Mary’s Abbey, instigated by developers and landowners such as Sir Humphrey Jervis and the Earls of Drogheda, resulting in Capel Street, Henry Street and the early beginnings of O’Connell Street. The Duke of Ormond, meanwhile, had a role in developing the western quays, encouraging others to build facing the river in the continental fashion, while Phoenix Park was also laid out and developed under his term as Viceroy. While many of these buildings of the late 17th century no longer remain, the streets, building plots, and often substantial fragments of these houses still survive from this initial boom period, forming the backbone of Dublin city centre as it exists today. Some of Dublin’s most well-trodden retail streets and the buildings that line them, such as Capel Street on the north side, are the direct result of such early property development.


History & Attributes Georgian Dublin The 18th century saw the growth and expansion of Dublin to the extent that it became the second city of the British Empire and one of the largest and prestigious capitals in Europe. With an economy based on merchant trading, the sale of native agricultural produce, and property development and speculation, the physical legacy of this boom period are the great streets and squares of Georgian Dublin on the north and south sides of the city. Some of the earliest Georgian development resulted in the creation of what are now the most fashionable streets in Dublin, such as Molesworth Street, Kildare Street and Dawson Street, laid out by enterprising speculators. Much larger areas were developed as estates by wealthy families such as the Gardiners and Fitzwilliams, who leased their extensive lands in plots to builders on which to build, subject to certain design restrictions. This resulted in the grandeur of the icons of Georgian Dublin: the gracious terraces and gardens of Merrion Square and Mountjoy Square with radiating residential streets of grand townhouses. These homes were resided in by the aristocracy, peers and wealthy merchants of the era.

The Wide Streets Commissioners, the planning body in the city, were also instrumental in shaping the city centre we know today. They purchased and cleared property, and laid out imposing new streets in the classical style, such as Parliament Street, Westmoreland Street, D’Olier Street and Lower O’Connell Street. These were amongst the first planned retail streets anywhere in Europe, ambitiously lined with shop units to the ground floor with living and service accommodation overhead. The Commissioners also widened existing streets like Dame Street and Grafton Street. It is the building stock of this period, with its tall brick buildings with regularly placed windows, doorcases and shop fronts, that permeates nearly every street in central Dublin and gives the city its distinctive appearance.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core Victorian Dublin The development of Dublin in the 19th century occurred principally outside the boundaries of the city centre in extensive new Victorian suburbs of middle class housing beyond the canals. It was not until the 1850s and 1860s that the city centre began to take on a different appearance to that of the classical Georgian city, with many grand stone-fronted banks, commercial premises, railway stations and public buildings erected at this time, representing Victorian industrial and commercial strength.

The once residential Georgian thoroughfares of Aungier Street, Dawson Street, Abbey Street and Upper O’Connell Street took on a new lease of life as commercial streets, with many of their townhouses converted into shops or entire terraces swept away to make way for grander premises, hotels and department stores. Some of the most famous retail institutions in Dublin emerged at this time, including Delaney’s New Mart ‘monster store’ - later to become Clerys Arnotts, Brown Thomas and the South City Markets, while well-known hotels such as The Gresham, The Shelbourne and The Hibernian also emerged. Many older buildings underwent substantial remodelling for retailing purposes, resulting in the distinctive Dublin building style of a Georgian house with an elaborate Victorian shop front at street level. Combined with new-build Victorian premises, as seen on the streets off Grafton Street and Henry Street, Dublin city centre began to exhibit an eclectic mix of styles and street characters which survives to this day.


History & Attributes 20th Century The early part of the 20th century experienced upheaval with the decimation of large quarters of the north inner city as a result of the 1916 Rising and the Civil War of 1922. Three-quarters of O’Connell Street were completely levelled, while large tracts of Henry Street and Abbey Street were also destroyed. In the aftermath, the opportunity was taken to rebuild these streets in a manner which would better accommodate retailing and modern services, while also exuding a dignified civic design statement. The result is a network of grand commercial streets of a more regular character on the north side of the Liffey than is evident in the south retail core, with sturdy terraces of stone and brick-faced buildings designed in the neoclassical fashion of the 1910s and 1920s – Clerys department store being the finest.

The secondary streets off Grafton Street also witnessed some rebuilding in the early 20th century, but otherwise it was not until the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s that development took off again on a large scale in the city centre, with the construction of office blocks and shopping centres like the Ilac Centre and the St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre. Many developments necessitated the destruction of large swathes of historic buildings and sometimes whole streets in favour of monolithic and often insensitively designed structures. In more recent years, some of these buildings have been replaced or refaced in a manner more sympathetic to their surroundings.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core Dublin in the 21st Century

Today the city is a vibrant mix of old and new, with multiple layers of its varied history exhibited in the rich streetscapes of its historic core. In spite of this diverse range of buildings and streets, Dublin displays a remarkable coherence of form, with common building types and materials, and many quarters of distinctive architectural homogeneity. The Georgian squares and their surrounding streets continue to form a visually unique and essential part of Dublin’s cityscape. They unite architecture, street plan and ornamental open space while creating their own distinctive patterns. They are punctuation points within the city and are integral to the setting of significant buildings. The squares should not be seen in isolation to the core, but as important planned set pieces within the pattern and development of the city. They flank the adjacent bustling commercial streets such as O’Connell Street, Grafton Street and Dawson Street; so essential to the lifeblood of the city. These in turn feed off distinctive networks of smaller streets, ranging from Temple Bar, the ‘red retail zone’ surrounding South City Markets, and the Italian Quarter on the north bank of the Liffey. These areas are identifiable, successful and thriving sectors of the city principally on account of their unique street patterns and the quality of their architecture, as both inherited from the past and through good modern intervention.

O’Connell Street at night


History & Attributes

Development of Georgian Squares & Parks The Georgian period began in 1714 with the succession of George I of Hanover to the throne, ending over a century later with the death of George IV in 1830. During this time, Britain saw an explosion in the scale of its cities and the grandeur of its architecture, with Ireland closely following suit. John Wood’s Queen Square in Bath was begun in 1729; Dublin’s first Georgian square, Parnell Square, emerged in the early 1750s. Merrion Square was initiated as Dublin’s first formally laid out square in 1762; Bedford Square in London was started in 1775. Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square was started in 1792; Mountjoy Square in Dublin followed a year later in 1793. What was emerging on the streets of Dublin was truly part of an international trend. Dublin’s squares were the first major urban development on the edge of the old city, often taking up to 30 years to complete as in the case of Fitzwilliam Square. With urban growth in the 18th century requiring a density of development, the terrace was the perfect answer, enabling a critical mass of settlement and a controlled degree of individual expression, while creating a unified civic design statement of remarkable architectural completeness. The type of building which most characterises the Georgian period is the townhouse, joined end to end to create terraces, as seen all over Dublin.

It is the marching urban terrace and its various derivatives that is the Georgian period’s greatest contribution to the street architecture of Dublin. Often designed to last only the length of a lease of 99 years, with wall depths of little more than a brick and a half deep, it is remarkable that so many of these houses have survived into the 21st century and have retained their appeal as the most desirable period residences in the city. The domestic terrace was not a Georgian invention - Inigo Jones had introduced terraced brick and stone houses to Covent Garden as early as 1630 - however it was only in the years after 1714 that the visual and structural possibilities of the classical terrace were properly exploited. The Grand Tour through Europe also exposed the most influential class in Ireland and Britain to classical traditions of architecture and design, in turn leading to the development of city squares and terraces based on the classical ideal. Speculative builders conducted much of this work on plots leased from wealthy estate landlords, in accordance with strict lease covenants, building tall houses in elegant, uniform rows on streets or surrounding a garden in a square. The distinctive, repeating house module of mellowed brick, airy sash windows, heavy panelled door and delicately glazed semicircular fanlight has become characteristic of Dublin. The green spaces to the centre of the squares were consciously designed to complement the buildings around their edges, intended as places of tranquillity and relaxation, suitable to perambulate and mix with likeminded high society. In essence, they comprised the epitome of refined living and civilised taste.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core St. Stephen’s Green The most famous and best loved of Dublin’s squares, St. Stephen’s Green is also the city’s oldest, having its origins as a citizens’ common used to graze horses, cattle and sheep as far back as the 13th century. It was also as a place of execution and punishment, with a gallows, pillory and stocks erected for displays of public humiliation. However as the city’s population grew in the late middle ages, the necessity of public open space became apparent. Generally it was thought that open spaces prevented disease and congestion, and bestowed health benefits on inhabitants. So it was in 1635 that the City Assembly declared that: “St. Stephen’s Green....maybe wholie kept for the use of the citizens and others to walke and take the open air by reason this cittie is at present very populous.” Later it resolved that the Green “...may be set ...for the reputation, advantage, ornament and pleasure of the cittie”.

The modern-day scale and form of the Green has its origins in the decision by the Corporation of Dublin in 1663 to survey the common and divide the lands flanking the central area into building plots. This would generate revenue for the Corporation and encourage the building of grand mansions, thus promoting the betterment and prestige of the city. Development was slow and piecemeal, taking the best part of a century for all plots to be filled. While hundreds of sheep still grazed the marshy grounds and animal pens were erected, this practice was gradually discouraged, and the Green soon became a fashionable resort for the populace. By the middle of the 18th century, the Beaux Walk and the other external paths around the perimeter of the Green had become a favourite place of promenade, with the travel writer Richard Lewis noting that the walks were “finer gravelled than the Mall at St. James’s Park... were a great resort of company and the scene of elegance and taste”. Today the Green displays an eclectic mix of architectural styles as a result of waves of rebuilding in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The earliest houses survive on the south side, with a number of formerly gabled ‘Dutch Billy’ houses scattered along its length; these are amongst the oldest houses surviving in Dublin. The east side displays a handsome array of mostly 18th century Georgian mansions, while the west side is dominated by the grand classical facade of the Royal College of Surgeons dating to 1825. The northern side’s proximity to fashionable Grafton Street and Dawson Street resulted in some of the largest mansions being constructed here, as well as imposing Victorian commercial additions and alterations in the form of retail premises, members’ clubs and The Shelbourne Hotel, famously established in 1824. Under an Act of 1814, Commissioners were appointed to improve the open space and enclose it with railings, with access given to residents of the square only. In 1877 Sir Arthur Edward Guinness financed a redesign of the Green, adding an artificial lake and returning it to a public park with attractive walks, parterres and flower beds which survive to this day. St. Stephen’s Green is owned and operated by the Office of Public Works for the citizens of Dublin and remains a popular place of public resort and leisure in the heart of the city. 19

History & Attributes Parnell Square At the northern end of O’Connell Street lies Dublin’s almost forgotten Georgian square. Once the leisure grounds of the most fashionable in society, and host to elegant garden parties and musical events, Parnell Square stands as a shadow of its former self in spite of the strong architectural and landscaped garden legacy that remains to this day. Intended by Luke Gardiner as a grand termination to the same family’s ambitious Sackville Mall development (now O’Connell Street), Parnell Square was laid out in the 1750s as a series of three streets surrounding a central garden, the whole dominated by the signature public building of the Rotunda Lying-In Hospital as the grandiose focal point of the ensemble. The fashion of promenading in this area, ‘to see and be seen’, was an important part of Dublin’s social scene, with Sackville Mall acting as a public Promenoir similar in style to the Cours-la-Reine in Paris; the Dublin Satirist commenting on the “beauty and elegance displayed by the fair... every Sunday evening in Sackville Street”. Observing the popularity of the Mall and the huge numbers that flocked there probably stimulated the creative imagination of Dr Bartholomew Mosse to develop the first purpose built, charitable maternity hospital in the British Isles on Gardiner’s lands. The plans for the hospital were furnished by the most prominent architect of the day, Richard Castle, the result of which is the grand Palladian public edifice with curved wings that addresses Parnell Street. Inside, Mosse commissioned Bartholomew Cramillion, a leading stuccodore, to flamboyantly decorate the hospital’s chapel, which wealthy patrons attended. The Rotunda chapel remains one of the most spectacular interiors in Dublin.

Mosse’s gardener, Robert Stevenson, designed the layout of the hospital gardens as a fashionable resort which would finance the hospital. Opened to a fee paying public by 1750, the gardens often echoed to the sound of music, illuminated by lights and fireworks equivalent to the Vauxhall Gardens in London. A centre path from the upper terrace known as ‘The Orchestra’ divided the shrubbery on two sides, each containing serpentine paths and planted ‘salons’, while a tree-lined walk encircled the central rectangular grassed space. Van Nost statues of classical figures graced the paths and a coffee house for refreshments was included in the design. Sedan porters could rest at either of the two shelters which were designed as Tuscan temples. In 1767 the Marquis of Kildare attended a magnificent breakfast in the gardens where it is recorded over two thousand bottles of wine were drunk. This complex of leisure was further enhanced with the addition of the great round room or Rotunda, which gave the hospital its name, as a grand public room hosting charitable events (the former Ambassador cinema), and the construction of the new Assembly Rooms, complete with fine public interiors, in 1784 to the designs of Richard Johnston (now the Gate Theatre). During the 20th century the Rotunda extended its buildings over part of the gardens, while the Garden of Remembrance was built on a large area of the original land of the gardens, parts of which still survive to the centre of the square. Shortly after the square was completed in the 1780s, the New Gardens and surrounding streets were renamed Rutland Square after the popular Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Rutland. The fine townhouses which flank both sides of the square form the foil to the grand set piece of Charlemont House on Palace Row, designed by the illustrious architect, William Chambers for James Caulfield in 1763 (now the Dublin City Gallery). In 1966 the square was re-named in honour of Charles Stewart Parnell. 20

Defining Dublin’s Historic Core Mountjoy Square Mountjoy Square on Dublin’s north side is widely considered the most ordered and best planned of Dublin’s Georgian squares. Built between 1793 and 1818 on an elevated site overlooking the newly completed Custom House, its four terraces form a perfect square, each side measuring 140 metres in length, punctuated by eight approach roads. It was originally intended that a unified palatial frontage be applied to the houses in the manner of terraces of Bath and Edinburgh, but this proved too costly and the established Dublin idiom of plain red brick facades prevailed. The square is unique in the city in displaying a remarkable uniformity in house styles and plot widths, the result of strict building covenants set down in building leases, with marching ranks of slender windows and fanlighted doorcases creating a pleasing repeating rhythm along the streetscape. Upon completion, the square was thus described by historians Warburton, Whitelaw and Walsh in their History of Dublin: “The square which is now completely finished is neat simple and elegant, its situation elevated and healthy... the elevation of the houses, the breath of the streets, so harmonise together, as to give pleasure to the eye of the spectator, and add to the neatness, simplicity, and regularity everywhere visible, entitling this square to rank high among the finest in Europe.”

A plan for the central garden was drawn up by the respected landscape designer, John Sutherland. Work began in 1802 with levelling of the ground, laying of footpaths, erection of perimeter railings, entrance gates, tree and shrub planting, grassing and gravelling of paths. Whitelaw and his contemporaries commented that “the interior square, which contains about four English acres, is laid out with taste and judgement... and forms a fine lawn, perfectly level, always neatly mown”. The garden at first was enjoyed by the key-holding residents only, who were largely derived from the ranks of the legal, military and clerical professions. It was gradually opened to the public and is now owned by Dublin City Council. The economic depression which followed the Act of Union in 1801, and the growing fashionability of the south side of the city, resulted in distinguished owners moving out from the square, and houses falling into multi-occupancy use. The lowest point in the square’s history occurred in the mid-20th century when nearly two whole sides were demolished for speculative development. These houses have since been rebuilt in facsimile and the enclosure of the square restored.


History & Attributes Merrion Square Flanking the grounds of Leinster House, Merrion Square is the largest planned Georgian square in Dublin. Its development occurred on foot of the desire of the Fitzwilliam Estate to realise the value of their lands that were located in an increasingly fashionable part of Dublin, adjacent to St. Stephen's Green and the Earl of Kildare’s city mansion. Merrion Square was laid out in 1762 adjoining the existing development of Merrion Street. Although house construction initially began with the houses on the north side of the square, work continued well into the early 19th century before all terraces were fully complete. The square contains amongst the largest and grandest townhouses in the city, which encapsulate through their facades and highly embellished interiors the evolution of architectural and decorative styles over the second half of the 18th century. Its marching cliff faces of red brick, mellowed granite and ranks of white fenestration are one of the enduring legacies of 18th century Dublin, creating an outstanding urban scene of international significance. By an Act of Parliament the central garden was enclosed, with Hely Dutton writing in 1802: “instead of keeping the grass constantly rolled and neatly mown, it is like the ground of some poor charitable institution”. By 1812 the garden was laid out with trees and shrubberies. Designed in a natural style with a grassed centre space, it had a gentle curved serpentine perimeter path adorned by informal and theatrical plantings of trees and ornamental shrubs. Bulbs and summer perennials would have been planted in gaps between the shrubs. The square’s planting scheme was deliberately made light and transparent, with glimpses afforded of the square’s fine houses and sightlines preserved from side to side. Today, the original layout is overlain with Victorian and dense 20th century alterations and planting, and its natural gravel paths have been replaced with tarmacadam. The only original sculpture in the square is the magnificent Rutland Fountain, a memorial erected in 1792 facing Leinster House following the untimely death of the Duke of Rutland. It has recently been restored.

Merrion Square has been the home of many famous residents, from Daniel O’ Connell to William Wilde and his son Oscar Wilde, to William Butler Yeats. In James Joyce’s Ulysses, Farrell walking along Merrion Square witnesses the Viceroy’s entourage on its way to Dún Laoghaire and listens to the tapping of the blind stripling’s cane on the footpath and wall. Buck Mulligan meets Alec Bannon and accompanies him to Holles Street hospital. Here too, outside No. 1 Merrion Square, James Joyce waited in disappointment for Nora Barnacle on June 14th 1904. Today the square is managed by Dublin City Council on lease from the Catholic Church who own the gardens, having intended to construct a national cathedral on the site in the 1930s. Now flanked by the National Gallery of Ireland, the Natural History Museum and Government Buildings, Merrion Square has taken on a new role as an important amenity space in the cultural and ceremonial heart of the capital. 22

Defining Dublin’s Historic Core Fitzwilliam Square The laying out of Fitzwilliam Square first came to public attention in 1791, when the Dublin Evening Post announced that: “A new square is planned at the rere of Baggot Street, in which lots are rapidly taken and the buildings are to be immediately commenced. The design is not without elegance and the execution is believed, will be correspondent.” Developed by Richard Fitzwilliam, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam, Fitzwilliam Square was the last of the Georgian squares to be built in the city, completed in 1828 after numerous bouts of interruption caused by the outbreak of the French wars. A pocket-sized square, it is the smallest in the city, but also the most intimate, with sturdily built houses attractively arranged around a small communal garden. Many of the houses display the more advanced trappings of the Industrial Revolution absent from the earlier squares, including high quality red brick facings, decorative cast iron railings and elaborate mass produced interior plasterwork. The mews lanes to the rear of the square also retain the highest proportion of gardens, carriage arches and coach houses of any square in Dublin.

In 1813 an Act for enclosing, lighting and improving the garden was passed, stating that: “No cattle shall be put on said ground and that the said ground to be laid out as a pleasure ground only and ornamented in such a way as the majority of the tenants shall approve.” As was the fashion of the time, the central area of the garden was grassed, while inner and outer perimeter paths were planted with trees and shrubs. In the 1840s, Edward Nolan was appointed gardener and green keeper, with a suit made for him in green cloth making use of twelve gold Fitzwilliam buttons. Invoices show that the garden was planted with evergreen oaks, laurels, mahonia, holly and escallonia, while crocus, narcissus, tulips and lilies provided colour in spring. The estate eventually passed from the Fitzwilliams to the Pembrokes, with the management of the garden space remaining under a committee administered by the residents. In 1879 the Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club held the Irish tennis championships in the square, the first such event in the world. The 19th century saw the first arrival of commercial uses into the square with physicians and legal practitioners hosting their practices there. In spite of this, Fitzwilliam Square remained a principally residential enclave much longer than Dublin’s other Georgian squares, this use only diminishing substantially in the 20th century with the moving of professionals and their practices to the south inner suburbs and the selling on of generational family homes. Today, the square retains a quiet residential air in spite of the commercial operations underway behind many of the stoical facades.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core


3 Connectivity in the Centre

Connectivity in the Centre

Connectivity in the Centre In its simplest form, connectivity in the public realm is concerned with how we get from one point to another. However in the historic city, with all its richness, diversity and attractions, connectivity becomes much more than this. It is about the experience of moving from one part of the city to another, about inviting people to go in alternate directions, about providing citizens and visitors with route information, about facilitating quick passage between places, while also enriching slower, more leisurely walks, allowing engagement with the diverse architecture and grain of the city. This report identified three key north-south and three key east-west routes across the historic centre. These connect the main commercial, retail, cultural and residential areas of the city centre with the Georgian squares, and encompass many of the important attractions in the city. It was found that in spite of the direct nature of the routes, a number of situations prevent a free flow of connectivity from starting point to destination which can create an unpleasant pedestrian experience. The blight, dereliction and unpleasant public domain often encountered on these routes leads to a fragmentation of the wider historic city core. Connectivity Issues: 1.

Dublin’s historic centre is dominated by traffic. Streets appear to be seen only as conduits for cars, buses and taxis, while pedestrians are afforded very little consideration.


Pavements are excessively narrow in places, even along the most intensively used pedestrian routes.


Key pedestrian crossings are often poorly designed and sequenced, providing greater priority to vehicles than to people.


Street clutter, poor maintenance and poor co-ordination detract from the attractiveness of the public realm.


Signage and information lacks coherence, is often poorly sited and has become somewhat of a free-for-all, without any overarching design or management. Information signage in Dublin rarely informs!


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core Significant Routes and Nodal Points in Dublin City Centre

Mountjoy Square

Parnell Square

O’Connell Bridge

Christ Church Cathedral

College Green

Merrion Square

St. Stephen’s Green

Fitzwilliam Square


Connectivity in the Centre ROUTE 1 - O’Connell Street to St. Stephen’s Green forms the main north-south route through the historic city centre, linking the retail districts of Henry Street and Grafton Street, recognised as the ‘ceremonial heart’ of the city. The route offers numerous examples of the range of problems which affect the overall public perception of the city.

The Rotunda Hospital, dating to the 1750s, is one of the great public buildings on the north side of the city. Its status is almost entirely lost in a sea of tarmacadam, parked cars and poorly located planting.

Parnell Square West is dominated by a remorseless expanse of roadway, parked cars and normally a cliff face of buses stationed along the pavement. These detract from the form and setting of this planned Georgian square.

Westmoreland Street, formerly one of the most gracious boulevards in the city, laid out by the Wide Streets Commissioners in 1800, has descended into a parade of low grade uses, vacant units and dead or closed up frontages. The street is dominated by five lanes traffic. It is the most prominent and visible stretch of blighted streetscape in the historic city centre.


O’Connell Bridge is the most important crossing point in the city. Its fine attributes such as original lamp standards and captivating views of the Liffey are compromised by harsh expanses of roadway, tarmaced surfaces and fast through-traffic.

Defining Dublin’s Historic Core ROUTE 1 (Continued) - O’Connell Street to St. Stephen’s Green

The outstanding vista of James Gandon’s portico and entrance front to the former House of Lords as viewed along College Street is obscured by poorly located trees, public lavatories and an accumulation of municipal clutter. An architectural jewel is lost to the city.

College Green, as the pre-eminent urban ensemble in the State, remains unrecognisable from the grand civic space it was intended to be. Inappropriately sited and overgrown trees, swathes of signage and traffic signals, poor quality paving and crude engineering works carried out as part of the ‘Bus Gate’ project, degrade the setting of the most important public buildings in the city.

The quality of Grafton Street, as the most prestigious commercial address in the city, is significantly degraded by its tired and dilapidated public domain, poorly presented shop fronts, signage and clutter. The southern end of the street, the climax of the route from Parnell Square is a depressing urban space dominated by random clutter which detracts from the vista towards Fusiliers Arch.

Lower Grafton Street is an important transitional space linking College Green to the pedestrian area of Grafton Street and its environs. It should ‘announce’ the beginning of the south city retail district, but its urban form is poorly expressed by narrow pavements, ugly lighting, set down areas for buses and taxis and cluttered shop frontages. Congested and visually chaotic, this stretch forms a low grade introduction to Grafton Street.


Connectivity in the Centre ROUTE 2 — Christ Church Cathedral to Merrion Square forms the grandest route through the heart of the city taking in cathedrals and churches, Dublin Castle, City Hall, the Bank of Ireland, imposing commercial buildings, Trinity College and various civic spaces.

Christ Church Cathedral forms the culmination of a ceremonial civic route which stretches all the way from Parnell Square. However the cathedral itself appears lost among the surrounding traffic. Visitors are frequently confused and disorientated by this area. The cathedral requires a more impressive curtilage and a greater connection to the other churches and attractions in the vicinity.

Tiny Palace Street currently presents a chaotic and underwhelming first impression of Dublin Castle and its environs. The Castle itself is a premier attraction for the city and a site of ceremonial significance. The small restaurant with al fresco dining offers a hint of what could be a much more appealing urban space.

The corner of Dame Street and South Great George’s Street has remained an unresolved wasteland since the 1930s, when the end house was demolished to accommodate the tramline. An attractively landscaped pocket park linked into Dame Lane would provide a useful amenity at this important junction. 30

Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

Suffolk Street forms the main connection between the busy Nassau Street area and the retail zone around Exchequer Street. One of the most attractive secondary streets in the city, its narrow width is constantly consumed by a hostile rank of buses in spite of its importance as a busy pedestrian route.

The heavy flow of traffic onto the confluence of Lincoln Place and South Leinster Street creates a disorientating pedestrian environment, breaking the link to Merrion Square. It also detracts from the setting of the Millenium Wing of the National Gallery of Ireland. - the flagship public building in the area. A wasted opportunity for an attractive civic space.


Connectivity in the Centre ROUTE 3 — Marlborough Street, Gardiner Street and Parnell Street are important elements of the north city retail and business area which suffer greatly from underinvestment and an absence of vision and ambition.

The eastern end of Parnell Street is vibrant and bursting with life, increasingly recognised for its ethnic restaurants and shops. The quality of its 18th and 19th century architecture has been overlooked and its potential unrealised, while the poor quality public domain detracts from the setting of the buildings.

Gardiner Street was once one of the city’s finest addresses, laid out as a street of grand Georgian houses linking the Custom House with Mountjoy Square. Despite the ravages of time, one still cannot fail to be impressed by the grand sweep of the terraces and its terminating vista of the Custom House dome. The loss of much historic building stock has diminished the architectural coherence of the streetscape, however the street would benefit greatly from a unifying theme such as a formal tree planting scheme, transforming the street into an attractive boulevard. The proliferation of signage on B&Bs and hotels also needs to be addressed.

Marlborough Street is one of the most charming streets in Dublin, its character and potential greatly underestimated. It still retains early and mid 18th century houses and two of the most important institutional buildings in the city: the Pro-Cathedral and Tyrone House, as well as the Abbey Theatre. In addition, the street forms a natural link from Parnell Street to the river. The area fronting the ProCathedral could be transformed into an impressive public piazza, framing the setting of these important set pieces. It would also open up a new route through the Department of Education & Science complex to Gardiner Street. Cathedral Street would thus garner a new significance linking through to O’Connell Street.


The lower end of Marlborough Street is disconnected from surrounding streets, and remains unresolved in terms of function and treatment of the public realm. This could become a pedestrianised piazza space directly addressing the Abbey Theatre. If the Abbey is to move, an attractive public park or landscaped area is still desirable at this point flanking the river.

4 Ceremonial & Civic Space

Ceremonial & Civic Space

Ceremonial & Civic Spaces Central to the physical expression of a city is its provision of public space, both grandiose and humble. We identify a city by these areas, each with their own distinct purpose and local form. Ceremonial spaces provide the setting for great events like festivals and commemorations, while civic spaces are the focus for everyday life, places to meet or relax or pass time. Both share the common theme of being open to all, collectively shared urban rooms in a world where private interests increasingly close in on what were once deemed as ‘commons’. Dublin’s city core presently plays host to a number of public spaces, however few of these are maximised to their full potential, while other spaces remain unrecognised as important lungs woven into the fabric of the city’s streets. Out of the three ceremonial centres in Dublin, as defined by their set piece public buildings and prominent urban form, only the GPO Plaza is realised, while College Green and Christchurch Place remain consumed by traffic and the setting of their signature historic buildings compromised.

Christchurch Place

Meeting City Hall

South Great George’s Street Corner

Foster Place

College Green

St. Stephen’s Green/ Grafton Street


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

The image below shows the array of ceremonial and civic spaces in the historic city core, both existing and potential. If this scenario was fully realised, Dublin city centre would be linked by a network of breathing spaces and points of focus scattered amongst the busy life of its streets. These would lead to the creation of a more attractive city environment, making for pleasant pedestrian spaces, improving the setting of significant buildings, and leading to a more coherent and legible historic core.

Ceremonial Spaces

Civic Spaces

Parnell Square

Cathal Brugha Street

ghouse Square

GPO Plaza Liffey Boardwalk

Pro-Cathedral/Marlborough Street

O’Connell Bridge

House of Lords/College Street

The Styne


Ceremonial & Civic Space COLLEGE GREEN “A grand and exhilarating public space framed by the classical facades of Parliament House and Trinity College, and dramatized by rhetorical bronze statues of national political and literary heroes� is how Christine Casey appropriately describes College Green in her seminal The Buildings of Ireland - Dublin. The ceremonial heart of the city for centuries, College Green has served as a stage for great events of State and public celebration. It is rightly regarded as the crossroads of the city: a place to meet and be seen, a bustling intersection of Dublin life.

The grandiose sense of space in College Green is vividly portrayed in 18th and 19th century perspectives. A conscious absence of street clutter and furnishings resulted in a pure and stately expression of its two signature public buildings: the former Parliament House of the 1720s and the great West Front of Trinity College dating to the 1750s. Combined to form a powerful enclosure, these buildings created an outstanding urban scene that placed Dublin firmly on the international stage.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core College Green Today Much of the architectural significance of College Green has been lost through the accretion of uncoordinated street clutter and tree planting, a dominance of vehicular traffic and a chaotic public realm. The recent Bus Gate engineering works have also resulted in damage to the outstanding antique granite pavements flanking the two focal buildings. Proposal As espoused by Dublin City Council’s proposed Public Realm Strategy, College Green must regain its status as the central focal point and destination of Dublin. As the pre-eminent urban ensemble in the State, nothing less than the highest quality treatment of the public realm is required, encompassing:

Pedestrianisation of the majority of the space

The removal of all current trees and municipal furniture

Central civic piazza space paved to the highest quality

Specifically designed suite of street furniture

Prohibition of overhead power lines proposed as part of Luas Line BDX in this highly sensitive location

The image below demonstrates the scale of the ‘urban room’ that comprises College Green, extending northwards to encompass College Street and westwards towards Foster Place and Dame Street. Denuded of its current clutter and traffic, the purity and grandiosity of the space can be clearly seen as having the potential to transform the image of Dublin on an international level.

It must be a central objective of Dublin City Council to initiate a public improvement works scheme on College Green as part of the new City Development Plan. It is strongly recommended that an international design competition be held based on well defined terms of reference set out by Dublin City Council and relevant stakeholders. 37

Ceremonial & Civic Space CHRISTCHURCH PLACE Christ Church Cathedral, sited on a promontory overlooking the River Liffey, marks an important nodal point in the layout of the city, straddling the divide between the modern commercial heart to the east and the Liberties area to the west. As one of the most significant historic ecclesiastical buildings in Dublin, dating to the late 1100s, Christ Church is also an important landmark in its own right and denotes the historic centre of the Viking and early Norman city. The original setting of the cathedral has long since been eroded through successive bouts of demolition over the centuries, the most recent and destructive being in the mid-20th century when the terraces of Christchurch Place, High Street and Winetavern Street were knocked down for road widening and the construction of the Civic Offices.

Christchurch Place Today Christ Church Cathedral and its Synod Hall have become little more than a picturesque traffic island, surrounded on nearly all sides by heavy through-traffic - the railed garden acting as a buffer from passing vehicles. The major street junctions at this location confuse and disorientate the pedestrian, while the setting of these internationally significant buildings is substantially degraded. In recent years it has become a popular ceremonial centre for New Year’s Eve celebrations. Proposal Christchurch Place demands a cohesive public realm strategy that dramatically reduces the amount of traffic passing through the area, while returning a dignified setting to the cathedral. This would involve a reduction in the number of carriageways of adjacent roads and an increase in the amount of pedestrianised space, possibly including the extension of the existing cathedral close into the surrounding public realm. A high quality suite of street furniture is also required to give distinction to the area. The lost link between Christ Church and the Liffey needs to be re-established through the resolution of the barren open space to the rear of the cathedral. Careful consideration must be given to the retention of the dominant position of the cathedral on the streetscape and its visible connection with the river front, in the context of the increased massing of buildings on Wood Quay over the past 30 years. 38

Defining Dublin’s Historic Core CIVIC SPACES There are a number of unrealised public spaces in Dublin city centre which have the potential to serve as attractive amenity spaces for citizens and visitors. In the identification of such places, it is important that their function is clearly defined and directly related to the character of the area. These uses can be as varied as a pocket park with a simple seat as a place of rest, to a small paved piazza that accommodates al fresco dining. Such spaces can also be urban sanctuaries for nature and provide an amenity for children. Shown below are some of the city’s civic spaces as indicated on the map on Page 35, as well as international examples of how these places can be treated.

Cathal Brugha Street with the diminutive 1930s Church of St. Thomas. Strategic new tree placement and an inventive treatment of the public realm would restore the vista of the church and free up space for civic use.

Equivalent space in the city of Bath, England. Note the use of soft landscaping around the base of the tree and traditional, flexible sett surface.

Bank of Ireland portico concealed by trees on College Street Successful treatment of setting of GPO on O’Connell Street

Wasted public space at corner of Dame Street & Dame Lane Attractive public pocket park of similar size in Antwerp 39

Defining Dublin’s Historic Core


5 The Public Realm

The Public Realm

The Importance of the Public Realm The quality and ambience of the city's historic centre as a place to live is often undermined by a lack of attention to the public realm. The public realm encompasses everything from paving, street furniture, lighting, trees and planting, shop fronts and building facades, statues and ornaments. Dublin abounds with a rich array of architectural features and curios along its streets, often unnoticed by the passerby. Historic granite paving flags, the distinctive cast iron lamps, monuments and fountains: these features enhance the urban environment and enrich the experience of citizens and visitors alike. For Dubliners, the enjoyment of a high quality and attractive public domain equal to those we find in other comparable European cities such as Copenhagen or Amsterdam should be a source of pride to the city. Cohesion and quality in the public realm also reinforces identity, whether of the city generally, or of particular areas within the city. Like other great cities, Dublin is a “city of distinctive districts, yet one should know where one is by the general character of the surrounding area. A thematic vividness is typically associated with formlessness or confusing arrangement. Yet most districts need to be given structural clarity as well as distinctive character.� (Kevin Lynch, Urbanist) For example, the relationship of brick and stone buildings and historic granite paving in the Georgian cores of the city form a disciplined unity and cohesion on the streetscape. Other areas such as Temple Bar have successfully created a distinctive character through the choice and use of a selected palette of materials including paving, granite setts, lighting, etc. Likewise, the newly refurbished historic Cornmarket, crisply repaved in a contemporary manner, demonstrates how smaller areas can be transformed using quality design and materials. When used correctly and properly maintained, these elements work in harmony with each other to reinforce the identity of an area and aid legibility. Dublin City Council has identified various Character Areas and neighbourhoods of the city in its City Development Plan 2011-2017 and in the Legible Dublin study (2004). The distinctive qualities of these Character Areas can be further realised through an attention to detail of the various elements of the public realm.

Extract from Legible Dublin showing Character Areas


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

Some Problems in the Public Realm 1. Paving

The curse of tarmac! The city’s pavements are regularly subjected to poor quality workmanship by Dublin City Council, utility companies and developers, creating an ugly and discordant aspect on many city streets. Low grade materials such as poured concrete paving and tarmac surfaces, although cheap to lay, do not suggest a high quality urban scene. Often the effect of expensive new paving schemes is soon lost through poor practice when carrying out utility servicing and a lack of a coherent strategy for reinstating works on behalf of the local authority. Where works are necessary, careful lifting and relaying ofexpensive natural stone flags should be standard practice.This would surely prove much more cost effective and sustainable, and would ultimately deliver a consistently higher quality public domain, such as that seen on Essex Street West or O’Connell Street. While the quality and type of materials used will vary, flagstones and kerbing should be considered as the standard paving format for use on all streets throughout the city centre. Careful consideration needs to be given to the durability and aesthetic of new materials used, while paving styles should reinforce the character of specific areas. Historic Paving Historic granite flagstones, kerbs and setts are valuable assets which need more effective protection and sensitive treatment. These are an irreplaceable resource which often form the setting of some of the city’s most important historic buildings and streets. The uncoordinated replacement of historic granite paving and kerbing with modern, non local white granite has resulted in visual disunity in sensitive areas, while poorly bedded surfaces and the poor practice of cement strap pointing, has led to damage and deterioration. The recommendations of Dublin City Council’s Historic Street Surfaces in Dublin (2009) must be fully implemented if the character and quality of the public domain in the centre is to be protected.


The Public Realm 2. Street Furniture

Street furniture chosen with consideration and sensitivity can help to build the identity of a city area and enhance the attractiveness of individual streets. However in Dublin, it is all too often chosen randomly and placed on the street without consideration, leading to a ‘mish-mash’ of forms and styles, ranging from attractive to brutal.

Bollards, for example, are often applied liberally to the city's streets without any identifiable function or reason. On heavily trafficked streets they become obstacles to pedestrians, while on narrow secondary streets they simply clutter the streetscape.

Photo: Kevin Duff

The benefits of an uncluttered streetscape are clear to see in the image of Strasbourg city centre below. By contrast, the Dublin vista presented to the right of marching parallel ranks of bollards is untidy and faintly bizarre in appearance. Branding ‘Dublin’: Cities such as London and Amsterdam use bollards with purpose and identity which serve to reinforce the city’s brand. In Amsterdam they have become a tourist attraction in themselves and feature on t-shirts and souvenirs.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core 3. Street Lighting

The wide variety of street lamps in Dublin city centre, some of outstanding quality

The standard and types of public lampposts across Dublin vary enormously. Even the most recent modern additions come in a variety of styles, few of which seem to express a recognisable ‘Dublin’ quality, in the way the decorative cast iron lamps of Merrion Square and elsewhere do. Even in distinctive character areas such as South King Street (seen above, right), styles vary between bespoke contemporary lighting, to heritage standards, to cheap suburban replacement lamp heads, creating incoherence in the streetscape. Reproduction lamps in Dublin are also often of a poor quality, such as those used on St. Stephen's Green and the Ha’penny Bridge – by contrast, a superb reproduction design was recently employed in the restoration of the lamps on O’Connell Bridge and Grattan Bridge. Traditionally, street lamp design in Dublin varied from area to area. Continuing this theme, a distinctive and durable mix of street lamp styles for the city is now required, suitable to different quarters, This would also fulfil objectives in the Development Plan to reinforce character areas through tailored street furniture design. Successful examples of lighting in the city can be seen along the campshires in Docklands where a coordinated design approach is in place, while the charming reproduction lamps used on Kildare Place employ an accurate historic design, injecting a sense of harmony into the space. Dublin has demonstrated that it can excel in the street lighting design, and it must strive for better. 4. Other Street Elements Demand for space in the public realm is considerable. Care and consideration must be given to the location of additional elements on the street in order to avoid clutter. Redundant elements, such as phone boxes (which have seen a dramatic reduction in use) and signage poles, remain on Dublin streets long after their use has expired. Signal boxes and telecom cabinets have an intrusive impact on the street and are difficult to disguise, no matter how imaginative the scheme. The liberalisation of bus services has seen a corresponding proliferation in public and private bus stop signage, of varying quality, when a more coordinated response would better serve the city’s thoroughfares. Action should be taken to reduce visual clutter by the hosting of multiple signs on single poles and rationalising the amount of signage required—the same also applies to traffic signals. On-street cabinets should be sunk underground on all principal streets, and where required to be placed on-street, should have a coordinated design. All proposals for additional utilities should be referred directly to the Public Realm Team in Dublin City Council.


The Public Realm 5. Signage Signage is an essential informative tool in helping people to get around a city, whether for traffic or pedestrians. However in Dublin, it appears to have become a free for all on the part of Dublin City Council, numerous agencies and individual businesses, creating a visually cluttered cityscape. Road signage is inconsistent and excessive: provision is often made beyond the needs of road users and the proliferation of galvanised steel poles around the city is largely due to this requirement. Directional signage and maps for pedestrians almost uniformly lack clarity of purpose, coherence of design and consistency, leaving citizen and visitor alike bamboozled. The recent signal box maps provided by Dublin City BID are a clever but temporary solution. A comprehensive way-finding system is required to aid legibility and permeability.

Dublin Docklands shows the way! With a suite of clear, well designed and thoughtfully located directional signage and maps, it is easy to find out where you are and where you want to go in Dublin Docklands. In addition, places of interest around the Docklands are identified with small plaques and information boards adding to the richness of the urban experience in the area. The clean, contemporary design is reflected in other street furniture in the area, creating harmony and adding to the legibility of the entire quarter. Management by public domain officers is a requirement to keep the signage relevant and pointing the correct way and to remove unwanted additions. An extension of this scheme was envisaged for the rest of the city as part of the Dublin Bikes project but the signage has still not been delivered. 46

Defining Dublin’s Historic Core 6. Shop fronts A successful business depends on how it presents its facade to the public. In turn, the success of a street depends on a harmonious relationship between its shop fronts and their buildings, as the appearance, form and authenticity of retail frontages injects vitality and interest into the shopping experience. The importance of attention to detail with doors, windows, ironmongery and materials used, is essential when replacing or refurbishing. The encroachment of the standardised high street shop front and poorly designed reproduction fronts, which are often out of proportion to the facade of a building with oversized facia boards and brash corporate colours, reduces the overall character and quality of a street.

Dublin City Council in its current Development Plan states its commitment to enforcing compliance with the planning requirements in the area of shop front and signage development. However, the lack of enforcement in the past decade has given a free hand to high street multiples and convenience store operators to install, over a weekend, their standard kit uniform shop front with their own distinctive brand model, which is often out of harmony with the period of the host street and out of context with the architecture of the building. The result is a bland, unattractive and dull streetscape, where the discerning shopper and visitor declines to go and where the local indigenous retailer is victimised by lack of footfall. While official shop front guidelines are in place, they often appear to be ignored. This issue requires a more radical approach from Dublin City Council in partnership with business groups. As espoused by the proposed Public Realm Strategy, Dublin’s distinctiveness can be further expressed in the public realm, creating an opportunity to strengthen the city’s identity in a world that is becoming more uniform.

Extraneous signage, banners and on-street clutter degrade the public’s perception of the quality of shops and even whole streets


The Public Realm The benefits of investment in buildings and the provision of good quality shop fronts are clearly evident in the images from Dublin and elsewhere below.

Examples of quality shop front design from Dublin and abroad. Clockwise from top left: Trinity Street, Dublin 2; Central Paris; Chelsea, London; South William Street, Dublin 2; Bath, England; Cathedral Street, Dublin 1


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core 7. Blight, Dereliction and Vacancies A blighted streetscape is very often the biggest factor in causing people to turn back or avoid an area. Dereliction and vacancies, particularly where units are boarded up and become poorly maintained, must be aggressively tackled, especially on the most important city centre streets. Within in the study area, two significant routes connecting the Georgian squares, Westmoreland Street and Marlborough Street, whose public realm was constructed to a high standard in the 18th and 19th centuries, has been eroded away in the past fifty years. Their decline is outlined below. The civic grandeur of Westmoreland Street (c. 1860s, left) has vanished in recent years by its role as a main traffic route through the city centre and by the absence of a high quality public realm. Today the street is seeing increasing levels of vacancies and a profusion of fast food outlets and convenience stores, which ironically Dublin City Council has sought to control and reduce on O’Connell Street. The uncertainty over Luas BDX and Metro North have only added to the sense of stagnation. The street is urgently in need of refurbishment and a planning enforcement crackdown to undo the urban blight which has accrued in recent years.

The combined effects of site assembly and bus parking have all but destroyed the southern section of Marlborough Street. While some businesses remain, including the National Theatre, boarded-up shops, barred windows and a complete absence of investment are all too evident. By contrast, the northern end, with the Pro-Cathedral, Tyrone House and a fine terrace of 18th century townhouses, offers a glimpse of how the entire street could be returned to its former grandeur. The plaza of the Department of Education could be extended to embrace the Pro-Cathedral, creating the first move towards the rehabilitation of the street (see page 54). Streets such as Marlborough Street and Parnell Street further north must be tackled as part of any meaningful strategy for the historic city centre.


The Public Realm

Improving the Public Realm Dublin’s public realm needs a plan! Dublin City Council and other stakeholders need to undertake a systemic and wholesale reinvention of the city’s public realm if Dublin is to maintain its competitiveness and attractiveness with citizens, business and visitors alike, and to realise its full potential as a great European capital city. A strategy for the public realm must be imaginative and visionary; it must encompass Dublin City Council, stakeholders and Dublin’s citizens working together to achieve a world class civic domain; and it must deliver a durable, accessible and beautiful city centre of which we can all be proud. The preparation of a Public Realm Strategy by Dublin City Council as part of the review of the City Development Plan is a very welcome initiative which can prompt a radical transformation of the visual presentation of the city.

“excellence in the



Defining Dublin’s Historic Core Quality Open Space

Good quality open space is a vital element in creating a relaxed and beautiful city centre and providing a desirable place to live. Dublin is blessed with a wider range of spaces ranging from the great ceremonial spaces of College Green and O’Connell Street, to the set-piece Georgian squares, to more incidental spaces such Temple Bar Square and Foster Place. A clear hierarchy of spaces can be identified within the city and each space can often be visualised for a specific type of use. Greater integration of these spaces into the wider city needs to be encouraged while the potential for creating attractive new incidental spaces should be actively explored. Open space also offers enormous potential to ‘green’ the city and provide for improved biodiversity. See successful quality open spaces below that act as lungs in the city.

The use of open space should reflect the character of an area. These images show a variety of successful spaces in the city centre, some of which could be further enhanced, such as the area flanking the Pro-Cathedral, where a linkage through to Tyrone House should be established through the creation of a plaza.


The Public Realm Reimagining Spaces 1: O’Connell Bridge O’Connell Bridge is one of the busiest places in the city, the primary connecting point for pedestrians and vehicles from north to south. Built in 1880 as a perfect square at the epicentre of the city, it holds prime position as a gracious crossing point on the Liffey, but fails to fully achieve this potential. Dominated by heavy flows of throughtraffic, the bridge gives priority to vehicles with multiple carriageways, designated bus stops and a taxi rank, which all generate confusion. The pedestrian crossing points are hostile and poorly laid out, with pedestrian signals synchronised in favour of traffic. The windswept space, which is left barren and unforgiving when devoid of traffic, remains undefined and fails to express an identity or sense of place. The value of reapportioning public space on the bridge in favour of pedestrians and introducing new landscaping can be seen in the images below.

Above: Proposal for O’Connell Bridge showing widened median and footpaths and a suggested introduction of planting. Area within red circle denotes proposed position of traffic freeze in front of Lafayette House and expansion of triangular pedestrian island.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

An example of successful handling of busy vehicular and pedestrian traffic in central London - the so-called Japanesestyle crossing. A vehicular traffic freeze on all sides via traffic lights allows pedestrians to cross diagonally at ease, creating a much more efficient intersection.


The Public Realm Reimagining Streets 2: Marlborough Street & Civic Spaces Marlborough Street offers the greatest potential on the north side of the Liffey as the premier north-south axis between Mountjoy Square and the Liffey. It acts as an ‘accessory route’ running parallel to O’Connell Street, with its own distinctive character, hosting a number of spaces with considerable amenity potential. It also serves as an important access point to the north Georgian core through North Great George’s Street. As seen in the images, the quality of the remaining 18th century structures on the street is greatly underestimated. If restored in tandem with the open spaces suggested below, Marlborough Street could be transformed into a premier secondary street. Identified below are four possible areas for civic amenity improvement. These include:

Area surrounding Church of St. Thomas at junction with Cathal Brugha Street

Civic plaza addressing Pro-Cathedral incorporating grounds of Department of Education and Science

Marlborough Place adjacent to Irish Life Centre

Area addressing Abbey Theatre

Link through Deverill Place and Model School into grounds of Department of Education and Science


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

Above: Cathal Brugha Street and Church of St. Thomas

Below: Fine mid-18th century terrace of townhouses on Marlborough Street


The Public Realm Reimagining Spaces 3: Palace Street, Entrance to Dublin Castle Palace Street is the primary pedestrian entrance to Dublin Castle, the most important ceremonial complex in the State. The grandiose street name is betrayed by the decidedly underwhelming and chaotic first impression of the Castle. The recent paving of City Hall Plaza should have provided the perfect opportunity to acknowledge the importance and character of the entrance to the Castle complex, but unfortunately more mundane concerns, such as the ‘need’ to provide car parking spaces and accompanying signage clutter, took precedence. The contrast with the beautifully presented entrance to a similar complex in The Hague, the seat of the national parliament which includes the Prime Minister’s residence, is telling.

Dublin City Council’s 2009 survey Historic Street Surfaces in Dublin includes as a main recommendation that an area within the city centre be paved in accordance with best practice as a showcase example for how historic street surfaces should be treated across the city. Palace Street, as a highly significant ceremonial entrance space with existing historic paving surfaces, should become this flagship model, lending dignity and status to the entrance of the Castle while also leading by example. It is recommended that the existing historic granite pavements be widened using additional historic granite, flanking a carriageway laid in tightly knitted historic setts leading up to the Castle entrance gates. In this small historic enclave it is also suggested that historically accurate lamp standards and furnishing be reinstated at this sensitive location. Nothing but the highest design quality is demanded of this important space.

Right: Palace Street in the 1840s, as depicted by Michael Anglo Hayes Left: Recent improvement works by the OPW to the gates of Dublin Castle indicate what can be achieved



Dublin city centre needs a long term, strategic vision for its public realm which encompasses all the relevant departments in Dublin City Council and other stakeholders such as DCBA and Dublin City BID working together to deliver a world class city centre environment.

Dublin City Council should develop a ‘Manual for Streets’ to inform the development and maintenance of the public realm in the city. The Manual should clearly illustrate the city’s street typologies and describe how the public realm can reinforce the form and function of the street. The Manual should include an approved palette of materials, including paving types, street furniture, lighting and other elements for the city centre. Where appropriate, best conservation practice for maintaining historic streetscapes, such as cobble setts and historic granite slabs should be outlined. The Manual should be the reference document for all Dublin City Council departments and third party agencies or utilities undertaking works to the public realm and should be incorporated into the Development Management process to ensure that new developments are sympathetic to their street and areas.

Dublin City Council should seek to promote the distinctive Character Areas across the city and use public realm improvements to highlight and reinforce their particular cultural, architectural and land use qualities.

Dublin City Council should continue to promote a distinctive ‘Dublin’ branding with its street furniture and incorporate the city crest into the design of public lighting, bollards and bins.

Dublin City Council should undertake a programme to restore previously removed historic paving and street furniture to appropriate locations in the city in accordance with the recommendations of the 2009 Historic Street Surfaces Study. Best conservation practice should also be employed in the maintenance of same.

Dublin City Council should undertake an audit of signage poles and redundant street furniture across the city centre and instigate a programme to ‘declutter’ city streets.

Dublin City Council Parks Department should instigate formal tree planting schemes in appropriate streets. City trees should be managed and pruned when required.

Dublin City Council and the city business community should immediately pursue the refurbishment of Grafton Street and its environs to protect the quality and vibrancy of this important retail district.

Given the significance of College Green, Dublin City Council and the city business community should prioritise its upgrading as the pre-eminent ceremonial space in the city, as well as O’Connell Bridge, Westmoreland Street and D’Olier Street as key civic thoroughfares, and seek to promote a higher quality public realm and higher quality uses in character with these important areas.

Dublin City Council should devise an ongoing programme of open and civic space improvements targeting undervalued areas for the development of pocket parks and public spaces.

Dublin City Council should at planning assessment stage should enforce high quality design in shop fronts as recommended in their Shop Front Design Guidelines, including the taking account of the character of the street and the period of the building.

The major issue in achieving the above is the implementation of policy and a high level of monitoring and enforcement. The objectives of existing Architectural Conservation Areas and Areas of Special Planning Control must be rigorously enforced.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core


6 Getting About

Getting About

Accessing the City Dublin is the product of layers of historical development which have shaped and defined the city we know today. Many of the city’s thoroughfares reflect Dublin’s medieval past: historic streets and lanes with evocative names such as Fishamble Street and Cow’s Lane. Other streets display the classical attributes of the great Georgian period of city development: the squares and the boulevards of the city centre such as O’Connell Street and Westmoreland Street. As with all historic city centres, the street layout was not envisaged for motor traffic and thus presents huge challenges. The loss of quality in Dublin’s townscape through the impact of vehicular traffic and its management up until recently was significant. This has resulted in a clogged, polluted and hostile experience for pedestrians. Public transport is therefore a key player in providing fast and efficient access to Dublin city centre. In recent years, the introduction of Luas and improvements in the quality of bus services has significantly improved the accessibility of the city centre, and show us the potential for rebalancing the amount of road space given over to private cars towards other modes of transport. Under the Transport 21 Programme, significant improvements are proposed to the city’s public transport infrastructure including:

An extension of Luas Green Line from St. Stephen’s Green to Broadstone integrating with the existing Luas Red Line at Lower Abbey Street and finally providing a linked system

The development of Dart Underground connecting Heuston Station with Docklands and integrating the city’s rail lines with the national network

Metro North linking St. Stephen’s Green with Dublin Airport and Swords

Extract from Draft Dublin City Development Plan 2011 - 2017 showing emerging public transport network


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core A public transport system for Dublin is essential to the success of the city and its region. The proposals under Transport 21 to decongest the city and provide convenient access will enhance the quality of living and shopping in the historic centre. This cannot come soon enough. In particular, the connecting Luas line (known as BDX) is urgently required to effectively connect north and south of the Liffey and provide enhanced accessibility for commuters and visitors alike. The proposals for new public transport infrastructure are national projects to be delivered by central government and the National Transport Authority. However, Dublin City Council, actively working with this and other agencies can ensure the least possible impact on the city’s streets while work is being carried out, and ensure that proposed policies contained in the Public Realm Strategy lead to a more easy to navigate and enjoyable city centre, whether accessed by foot or by bike.


Dublin City Council can work towards providing a world class public realm in the city centre, with improved streetscapes, increased pedestrian space and calmer traffic. Copenhagen (above) has long been regarded for its high quality of life and its historic city centre which embraces pedestrians and cyclists while still facilitating cars and public transport.


Directional signage for traffic is not very clear or comprehensive. A variety of formats is used, not always effectively. The Orbital Route Scheme should have stimulated further improvements and the replacement of dated formats into a cohesive directional scheme.


Dublin City Council can build on the success of Dublin Bikes to create a cycle-friendly city centre and encourage a modal shift from car to bike. One important step is to allow for contra-flow lanes to ensure that cyclists can avail of more direct routes around the city.


Dublin City Council should pursue the integration of city transport services as soon as possible. Integrated ticketing needs to be delivered. We have ‘real time’ information for Luas and DART; the proposed system for Dublin Bus services must be rolled out as early as possible. Different transport modes should physically integrate better: the Luas terminus at St. Stephen’s Green (above) does not benefit from any connecting bus services going to other parts of the city centre. 61

Getting About

Dominance of Traffic Traffic, traffic everywhere! The degree to which Dublin’s historic centre is given over to traffic is often the primary comment of visitors to the city. Excessive traffic turns people away from streets and limits opportunities for other uses such as outdoor cafés or window browsing. The extent of traffic congestion in the city centre, a problem which has been largely tackled by most successful European cities, combined with a poor public transport infrastructure, are serious weaknesses for Dublin and for the success of the historic city centre as a place to live, visit and shop. Contrary to common perception, the sheer number of public transport vehicles is very often the problem. Swathes of taxi ranks inhibit areas with enormous potential, such as St. Stephen’s Green North, from developing, while activity on certain streets such as Marlborough Street and Fleet Street has almost completely disappeared due to the dominance of bus parking. While on-street car parking is an important source of revenue to the city, it means almost every city centre street is given over to some degree to visually degrading parking, and often comes at the cost of reduced activity and reduced business opportunities on streets.

Too Many Taxis? The city centre streets, particularly in evening time, are turning in to one never-ending procession of taxis (as seen above). Taxi drivers protest that the issuing of an excess of plates means there is not enough work to go around. Meanwhile, city users suffer the polluted air, noise and low comfort levels of vehicle-filled streets. Wider efforts to curb motor traffic impact in the city centre are being negated as it is so overwhelmed by taxis. Though categorised as public transport, taxis share the same adverse environmental and civic effects as the private car. Managing the city’s taxis is of vital importance to the quality of the historic city centre. 62

Defining Dublin’s Historic Core Buses clearly dominate many of Dublin’s streets, particularly along the main ‘ceremonial route’ from Parnell Square to College Green to Christchurch Place. One only has to stand on Westmoreland Street at any time of the day to appreciate the degree of bus traffic along this busy corridor. The fact that this street, one of Dublin’s widest boulevards, comprises five lanes of traffic, plus on-street parking, while pedestrians crush along narrow crowded pavements, is indicative of the problem of traffic dominance in the historic city centre. An additional problem is the practice of ’laying over’ of out of service buses in premier streets and squares like Mountjoy Square and the Quays. This has an adverse impact on the quality of environment and sociability of place, and often leads to an intimidating atmosphere after dark.

Pedestrians on Westmoreland Street are poorly served; whether corralled onto narrow, poor quality pavements or forced to negotiate heavy traffic. The key crossing point at Fleet Street, the entrance to the Temple Bar quarter, has no pedestrian crossing, leading to jaywalking between buses. With little encouragement for pedestrians to ramble along Westmoreland Street, business has suffered and many units along the street are vacant or are reserved for lower quality uses. In other places, bus idling has meant that streets such as Marlborough Street, Hawkins Street, Fleet Street and whole stretches of the Quays have gradually lost any significant form of use and suffer from low levels of activity and dereliction. City centre bus idling is an extraordinary feature of Dublin streets; a practice almost never seen in successful European cities. Buses should not be permitted to lay over on city streets.

Dereliction and disuse on Marlborough Street (above left) are primarily driven by the hostile environment created by bus idling. The impression of this street, running parallel to O’Connell Street, is that no other uses are welcome here, and as a result very few businesses survive. An unattractive public realm, with narrow concrete pavements and ugly street lighting compounds the problem. Dereliction and land banking have long ago taken hold of a once attractive street. Elsewhere, a wall of buses idling along Eden Quay (above right) negates the benefits of the Liffey Boardwalk but provides plenty of cover for anti-social behaviour. 63

Getting About


Dublin City Council should prepare a robust and workable traffic management plan for the city which commits the Council and other stakeholders groups to a 10 year strategic vision for the city.

Two major infrastructural projects are essential to improving access to the city centre—Luas BDX from St. Stephen’s Green to Broadstone, connecting the existing Luas services, and DART Underground, the interconnector from Inchicore to Docklands. Together, these two initiatives will create a fully integrated Dublin Transport System.

The proposed Luas BDX line should strongly consider the powering model employed in Bordeaux, which avoids the use of overhead cables in favour of a third electrified track. This model would minimise the serious visual impact of wirescapes and supporting posts in the highly sensitive locations of College Green, O’Connell Bridge and O’Connell Bridge, as well as the primary streets through which the line passes.

Certain key infrastructural improvements for the city are urgently required including the delivery of Integrated Ticketing, the provision of Real-time Bus Information, and the development of a clear and concise road signage programme. Integration between different transport modes such as Luas and Bus should be facilitated.

Dublin City Council should explore the creation of underground traffic routes in the city centre. Underground routes have the potential to reduce congestion at key locations while maintaining accessibility to the city and facilitate a more pleasant pedestrian environment for areas such as College Green and O’Connell Bridge.

Dublin City Council should build on the success of Dublin Bikes and continue to promote cycling in the city centre. The Dublin Bikes scheme should be significantly expanded.

Dublin City Council should provide for the continued enhancement of pedestrian facilities across the city.

Recent traffic mitigation measures have been enacted, such as the College Green Bus Gate, the 30kmph speed limit in the city centre and the opening of the Samuel Beckett Bridge. While the success of these measures in directing through-traffic and commuter traffic away from the historic core is subject to further review, traffic management must ensure that the main shopping areas remain accessible to shoppers with cars, and that the city continues to be accessible for residents and those with legitimate business interests.

Antwerp city centre with vehicular traffic underpass freeing up streets of the historic core, allowing for tram and local car access for parking in adjoining streets.


7 Revitalising the Squares

Revitalising the Squares

Lack of Resident Population in the Centre The development of the city over the past 20 years has seen an increase in the vitality of the historic core. Many parts of it are now characterised by apartment buildings and new residential districts. In particular the big social change of the past 10 years has been inward migration, which has shown the value of a vibrant and diverse inner city population. Shops and restaurants have been the greatest beneficiary of this growth, while the cultural and social life of the city has also benefited enormously. Equally, however, the recent downturn and the resulting return of many immigrants to their home countries has shown that this vibrant city community is fragile and needs to be nurtured. In just a short space of time the increase of vacancies in the city centre, both of apartments and business premises, has provided a salutary lesson that these new communities can leave as quickly as they arrive. The future for Dublin city centre therefore depends on creating and sustaining communities which families, as well as the young and single, are part of. This requires a change in planning policy and new thinking, the first signs of which have become apparent in recent times. In particular, the over supply of one bedroom apartments in new developments, marketed at young and single people, must change in favour of larger apartments, with multiple living units: these have started to be built in the city. These family sized units will retain a population in situ and can compete with suburban houses for spaciousness and comfort. The city too needs to change: streets need to provide facilities and services for city living, the quality of the public realm must improve, the city needs more open spaces and places to stop and relax and play, while safety and public order must also be improved. The great Georgian squares should become the focus for a renaissance in city living. The squares were developed as residential estates and display all the attributes of high quality areas for living and recreation: spacious houses, quality architecture and attractive open spaces.

“the square which is now completely finished is neat simple and elegant, its situation elevated and healthy‌ ...the elevation of the houses, the breath of the streets, so harmonise together, as to give pleasure to the eye of the spectator, and add to the neatness, simplicity, and regularity everywhere visible, entitling this square to rank high among the finest in Europe.â€? Warburton on the completion of Mountjoy Square, 1818


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

Revitalising the Georgian Squares The more one becomes acquainted with Dublin’s great Georgian squares, the more they reveal their secrets: beautiful handcrafted granite steps, a surviving lamp holder, a wonderfully scrolled balcony, an ornate bootscaper. On a winter’s evening, the thrill of a glimpse of the first floor room of these houses revealing the delicate intricacies of stucco ceilings, is matched by adjoining houses who continue to present a constant variety of exquisite work. The completeness of Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square presents a delight, day and night, of self confidence, the recipient of global admiration from all who are familiar with them. Parnell Square and Mountjoy Square though equally rich, have suffered the scorn and indignation of time, but remain largely intact and offer enormous potential to the city.

Merrion Square with its central park surrounded by handsome terraces of townhouses, flanking the great institutions of State and culture

The squares were devised in the 18th century as classically planned suburbs of the city. The regular rows of terraced houses provided high quality housing to the burgeoning upper middle class and aristocracy in close proximity to the city centre. The population of the squares and their surrounding streets sustained the city ensuring that commerce and civic engagement thrived in Georgian Dublin. With the decline of the city in the 19th century, the squares and adjoining streets lost much of their prestige, with many houses turning to slums while others were converted to commercial use as offices, particularly in the 20th century. This trend has not been reversed in the past two decades of prosperity, where the confidence and engagement of the citizen has been lacking to return these buildings to their former glory and function as commodious and prestigious city residences.


Revitalising the Squares Population of the Squares Area

2002 Census

2006 Census

Mountjoy A Ward



Mountyjoy B Ward*





Mansion House B Ward**

* MountJoy B ward includes Mountjoy and Parnell Squares and surrounding streets.

It is unfortunate that with the growth of city living over the past 20 years, the squares have been largely overlooked. The 2006 Census of Population for example shows that Mansion House B Ward, which encompasses the three south side squares—St Stephen’s Green, Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square—registered only 869 persons in 2006. In fact, the population of this area decreased over 12% from the previous census in 2002. This would appear to be an extraordinary waste of a valuable asset for the city.

** Mansion House B ward includes all three south side squares

VALUE OF THE SQUARES Dublin’s Georgian squares, designed over two hundred years ago, are as vital to the modern city as they were when first built. They bestow many benefits upon the city which should be promoted:

The squares contribute to the quality of the city, and boast many of its most significant buildings and early urban designed landscapes.

Economically, the squares enhance the residential environment and form prestigious settings for the surrounding properties and streets which must be better linked through a quality public domain.

Their visual contribution to the public realm is a unique and essential part of the cityscape, whereby architecture, street plan and green space are united. They illustrate subtlety of ordering and spaciousness. They were originally designed to provide prestigious settings for city residences, which today can be hotels, offices and private homes.

In a social and cultural context, through their design the squares promote community spirit while providing a safe environment for children, away from traffic and pollution. The gardens can also be the venue for exhibitions, plays, concerts and festivals.

Where properties are used commercially, the gardens provide an oasis for office workers to relax and talk. This has proved to encourage a good working environment in other countries. Research in the United States, England and Sweden confirms that the way we design and plant our open spaces is important to our health (Pratt, Macera and Wang 2000, Sundquist 2009, Philadelphia Costs and Benefits Study, 2007).

In environmental terms, the squares contribute to the biodiversity of the city, providing sanctuaries for wildlife and form part of an important link in the ecological chain between local parks, open spaces, nearby canals and gardens.

The squares are testimony to the work of major architects, landscape designers, stonemasons and skilled craftsmen whose work was continued into the surrounding streets. This link should be made more visible through a coherent approach to retaining existing buildings and encouraging suitably designed infill.

Many famous writers, poets, magistrates, politicians and distinguished citizens lived in one or more of the squares. The city needs to capitalise on the global significance and cultural legacy these people have left us through walking tours and small private museums.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core New Models for Living Within the city core most of the urban fabric is over 200 years old. Yet if properly maintained and put to good adaptive reuse, these structures will last indefinitely in a manner that is cost effective and sustainable. The terraced houses in our squares and surrounding streets can allow people to live comfortably at high density. The spaces within are very adaptable and preferred by many people as private and personable contemporary flat complexes. Terraced houses also provide an ideal template for sustainable urban living, combining mixed uses and high densities with street life, community and a sense of place. The Dublin City Council publication Lower Rathmines Road: Conservation and Urban Regeneration Study (2005) offers some very practical guidance as to how high density residential use can be facilitated in Georgian buildings. These suggestions can easily be adapted for buildings on the Georgian squares. While from a conservation stance, single family use is the most desirable outcome for these buildings as it limits the amount of adaptation the structures must undergo, practical solutions for multi-tenancy apartments in period structures which preserve and respect the historic character of the buildings can be devised.

Extract from Dublin City Council’s Lower Rathmines Road: Conservation and Urban Regeneration Study (2005) showing indicative floor plans for multi-tenancy apartments within Georgian buildings.


Revitalising the Squares Plan of top floor of a Georgian townhouse on Mountjoy Square prior to conversion, with modern partition walls subdividing part of the space


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core Top floor after conversion to a self-contained apartment, with spacious modern facilities and attractive living space running the full width of the property overlooking the square’s park


Revitalising the Squares Mews and Laneways All of Dublin’s Georgian squares and major adjoining streets are served by laneways, with a carriage arch and mews house forming part of the ancillary accommodation of each house. These lanes are still in use, with many of the mews houses replaced by new homes and commercial premises. There is considerable scope to transform these laneways into attractive, intimate residential streets as commonly seen in Mayfair and Kensington in London, thus boosting the density and resident population of the city centre. Currently, when new homes are built in Dublin’s mews lanes, the public domain is generally poorly reinstated, offering residents a poor amenity value, as seen below in Fitzwilliam Lane behind Merrion Square. Public policy must aim to revitalise laneways such as these as pleasant places to live.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core


Revitalising the Squares

Potential of the Georgian Parks The squares were always envisaged as parkland for the surrounding houses, reflecting the classical city’s love affair with open space and recreational areas. While 21st century residential development strives to provide areas of useable open space but often fail to promote community life, the 18th century squares provide a template for high quality residential amenity. Yet the original vision of some of the parks and their relationship with their surrounding terraces is increasingly lost due to over planting and disconnection from the street, as in the case of Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square, and a loss of architectural integrity and internal connection as with Parnell Square.

This drawing shows the original layout of Merrion Square with an open parkland to the centre surrounded by serpentine paths and transparent tree and shrub planting to the perimeter. This scheme could be restored to its former glory, creating a major parkland attraction directly addressing the parliament and cultural complexes on Merrion Street.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

Mountjoy Square garden, as first laid out in the early 1800s, has lost its former attractiveness through the uncoordinated addition of planting, community facilities and playing grounds during the 20th century. The original layout as seen below, comprised of elegant curved pathways interspersed with shrubberies and trees, created a leafy ambience though which views of the fine terraces of houses could be glimpsed. Dublin City Council’s proposed Public Realm Strategy supports the idea of returning one of Dublin’s squares to its original period landscape design. Mountjoy Square is the perfect candidate for such a restoration scheme, yielding benefits for the square and Dublin’s wider Georgian heritage. The strategy also proposes to improve the perimeter railings and public pavements around all of the city’s Georgian squares to their original design intent. This must be carried out if Georgian Dublin and its literary connections is to meet the requirements of the city’s bid to become a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site.

Original layout of Mountjoy Square garden


Revitalising the Squares

Case Study: Reinstating Parnell Square Of all of Dublin’s Georgian squares, Parnell Square has lost its original definition to the extent that its legibility as a square has almost vanished. The incremental encroachment of the buildings of the Rotunda Hospital has consumed much of the space once occupied by the New Gardens of the mid-18th century, while the surrounding houses have been compromised by poor quality uses and inappropriate alterations, particularly along Granby Row. The surrounding roadways constitute a roundabout for all manner of vehicles, while Cavendish Row has become a conduit for heavy through-traffic, with Granby Row little more than a bus depot. However all is not lost. It is possible and desirable to transform the existing cultural complex on Palace Row at the northern end of the square into a much wider cultural and civic hub—Dublin’s answer to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The buildings of Coláiste Mhuire, in State ownership, offer this chance, with its substantial townhouses and back land areas directly flanking the existing Dublin City Gallery. The large theatre of the former school also offers potential for successful reuse. To re-establish O’Connell Street as a major shopping destination, a permanent residential population both in Parnell Square and Mountjoy Square and their back land areas, would make a significant contribution to an increase in the vibrancy and footfall on the city’s principal thoroughfare. It would also afford an opportunity to revitalise the north Georgian core on a much wider level, whose housing stock requires a return to family occupancy to sustain the area. The long term future of the Rotunda Hospital and its commitment to the site needs to be clarified in the interests of the future success and reinstatement of Parnell Square. The Parnell Square Framework Plan of 2005 made a number of admirable recommendations, however the central concept of enclosing the gardens with hospital buildings is a proposal that cannot be pursued if the integrity of the square is to be protected and respected. The image below demonstrates the potential north-south and east-west axes of the square that could be opened up. The north-south route in particular, with public access granted to one of the city’s flagship historic buildings, would generate a new attraction at the northern end of O’Connell Street, drawing the visitor through the square towards the Dublin City Gallery and proposed cultural quarter along Palace Row.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

Above: Palace Row (Parnell Square North) reinvented as a cultural hub making use of the Dublin City Gallery and adjacent buildings Below: Proposed areas of civic landscaping to the forecourt of Charlemont House


Revitalising the Squares

Above: Parnell Square today, its gardens largely covered by ancillary buildings of the Rotunda Hospital Below: Parnell Square restored to its former glory, with grassed areas and tree lined walks



Dublin City Council should set as an objective the re-integration of the five great Georgian squares into the wider urban fabric of the city as desirable residential areas. Consideration will need to be given to the following: •

Agreement and understanding for the way forward is required between owners, residents, commercial occupiers, Dublin City Council and other key players.

An integrated holistic vision for the future amelioration and management of all aspects of the squares, embracing their buildings, footpaths, entrances, carriageways, mews lanes and gardens into a unified whole.

Encouragement of the return to original use of townhouses as single family dwellings, or sensitive subdivision of houses into generous period apartments as is the practice in Paris, Amsterdam and other continental cities, should be pursued. Dublin City Council should develop and publish clear design guidance to achieve this.

Examination of traffic layouts around the squares and discussion with Dublin City Council Roads Department of its policies for the wider environmental setting of the squares should be pursued, with reference to the locating of traffic islands, obtrusive street signage, street markings, noise, dust and atmospheric pollution.

Encourage the linkages which integrate the squares into the wider urban and architectural landscape of the city. Key routes such as Nassau Street, St. Stephen’s Green North, Westmoreland Street, Marlborough Street and Gardiner Street should be reinforced.

The landscape significance of the designed gardens within the squares has gone largely unrecognised to date. Professional assessment is required to establish what remains of the original planting schemes, and how the current landscape arrangements reflect the period in which the respective gardens were laid out. The Parks Department should seek to improve views and vistas both into and out of the squares, making the gardens more transparent and visible to the passerby. It is also important to remove or redesign elements which have spoilt the character of the squares.

The tourist potential of Dublin’s squares needs to be realised as an economic resource. They should be presented as a unified group of squares of great architectural merit and significance. In particular, the historical evolution of our squares and their relationship with London and Paris should be highlighted. This will create potential for tourism through establishing the significance of these spaces. The wealth of cultural attraction on the squares should be clearly mapped and marketed.

The reinstatement of the Rotunda Gardens as espoused by the Parnell Square Framework Plan 2005 as a cultural destination at the top of O’Connell Street and a focus for the development of a north-side cultural hub, should be pursued during the period of the new City Development Plan.

As an incentive to owners to restore townhouses while adhering to professionally considered advice, it is recommended that Dublin City Council should wave development levies for Protected Structures provided that owners conduct professionally verifiable works to a best standard of practice.

Presently it is scheduled in 2005 – 2011 Development Plan that 40% of Georgian townhouses in areas such as on Mountjoy Square should be residential in usage. This policy should continue into the new Plan.


Revitalising the Squares


8 Commercial & Civic Life

Commercial & Civic Life

Fostering Civic Values It is important to recognise that Dublin is a successful city. Despite its many challenges, the city holds immense potential and already possesses a wealth of attractive areas, vibrant streetscapes and a diversity of indigenous and international retail outlets. The ingredients to creating a world-class urban environment in the historic centre already exists across the city. The city's key challenge for the next two decades is sustaining the benefits accrued in the last 20 years. Sustainability is more than about physical resources. It is about community, culture, commerce, all of which combine to create the social capital that makes a city work. Familiar neighbourhoods and landmarks provide a sense of place that makes living comfortable and removes possibilities of hostility. Attractive, uncluttered streetscapes offer a welcoming environment in the city core. Buildings which respond creatively to their context and start from a commitment to high quality enrich and enliven the public realm. Well designed commercial buildings and shop fronts, and better transport infrastructure can revitalise an historic environment such as Dublin city centre. High-rise, glass fronted structures and motorways are seen to bring about economic success, but not in the heart of the city, as we have witnessed in Dublin. Instead good public transport, good communications, a vibrant retail sector, rule of law and cultural diversity are the factors that prosperity is built on. Successful cities are civilised cities, offering quality districts for working and living in. Economic success follows these civic values.

The principal streets of the study area both connect and traverse the Georgian squares of the north and south sides. High streets are suffering under the present recession but a decline in trade had already started due to building out-of-town shopping centres, ‘leisure shopping’. The challenge of internet shopping and a changing consumer choice pattern must be recognised, while rental costs are often too high and tenure uncertain. A solution exists in that high street offers a unique sense of place and has inherent advantages, such as distinctiveness and diversity of architecture, the attractiveness and safety of the public domain, the shopping experience, the provision and variety of merchandise and personal services that only a high street can give. All of these can be maximised on. 82

Defining Dublin’s Historic Core


Commercial & Civic Life A Long Term Vision The study tours to Amsterdam and Copenhagen, undertaken as part of this report, highlight the need for a long term and progressive vision for how a city should look, combined with active and concerted efforts by city government, agencies, businesses and citizens to achieve that vision. The over-riding impression of Copenhagen is one of a city with a distinctive identity – formed by a cohesive and intact network of historic streets and social spaces, maintained with dignity and a sense of civic pride. A favouring of shared public space, with development and improvements conducted with the public interest at the top of the agenda, permeates every aspect of how the city sustains itself. In transport, the public realm, the ownership of land, the maintenance of the historic core, and controls over development - the common good can be seen to be not only facilitated, but given priority in so many aspects of life in Copenhagen. Copenhagen has worked hard to create a high quality city centre environment based around safe and attractive streets and public spaces. However the city began to prioritise for pedestrians in the 1960s well before car traffic became such a dominant features of our streets. Today, the city is characterised by its high level of cycle usage and well managed traffic. The attractiveness of the city centre as a place to live means that shops and businesses thrive while the city also boasts a lively and varied cultural life. As seen above and on following pages, the city boasts the best of past and contemporary architecture. Amsterdam’s city centre, covering approximately the same areas as Dublin’s historic and retail core, is far more cohesive in terms of the range of goods and services provided, and in terms of their ease of access relative to each other. The large local population coupled with a concentration of tourists allows for a dense array of service and retail providers of varying quality and type. This diversity generates the very best that urban living has to offer, while also acting as a major attraction for visitors. Aside from a few notable third-class streets, the presentation of Amsterdam’s buildings – the very face of the city – is almost universally of a high standard. Canal houses, the Dutch equivalent of the Georgian townhouse, are all impeccably maintained, with an apparent rigorous enforcement of controls regarding window, door and roof replacement, repainting, ironwork, signage and associated curtilage. The same applies to the upper floors of most of its retail streets, so often neglected in Dublin. This level of attention to detail and commitment to the built heritage exudes a quality which attracts visitors again and again. The public domain of Amsterdam is similarly treated, with carefully selected and designed period street furnishings, excellent use of contemporary design and materials where appropriate, high quality masonry work in paving, and a wider sense of civic pride in the appearance of the city’s streets and public spaces.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

The ‘Beautiful Streets’ Initiative The ‘Beautiful Streets’ Initiative is an idea for a renewed partnership between business and Dublin City Council to deliver a high quality public domain in the historic heart of Dublin. The Initiative proposes that businesses, the Council and other interested parties work together to deliver a shared vision for streets or areas in the city. Capital investment on a street or area undertaken by Dublin City Council, such as new paving, street lamps, or tree planting, is reciprocated by businesses in that area with investment in their own properties such as improved shop fronts, renovation of disused upper floors or shared investment in a new art piece or floral displays. The idea can be targeted or expanded to fit anything from a small parade of shops, to a street to a whole quarter or district and could be included as a delivery mechanism for the City Council’s proposed Public Realm Strategy.

Some ideas…

Example 1: Store Street - A few targeted measures such as complementary shop fronts, awnings and decorative box trees could transform this attractive little parade of shops. Some joined-up thinking and shared effort could deliver a lovely enclave of intimate cafes or boutique shops with reduced on street parking and a calmer pedestrian route connecting to Busáras and its new plaza area.

Example 2: Nassau Street - A wider pavement, with a formal line of street trees and smart modern street lighting would transform the environment along this street. Distinctive contemporary shop fronts would set the street apart from others, similar to the pictured example from Copenhagen. The street becomes an impressive new walking route to Merrion Square. 85

Commercial & Civic Life

Lessons from Mainland Europe How Our European Neighbours are Reinventing Themselves and What Lessons Can We Learn Dublin must be viewed in the context of its European neighbours: against a number of important cities across the continent which compete with Dublin for jobs, investment and tourism. Could you live there, and would live there, are two of the most common questions colleagues ask themselves at the end of a business trip. The affirmative usually means trading their current place for somewhere that promises better housing, work life, transport, schools restaurants, shopping and weekend pursuits. The inaugural winner of Monocle’s “world’s most liveable city” award in 2007 was Munich, which was high in all the mentioned categories. In 2008 it was beaten by Copenhagen due to the Danish capital’s strong environmental efforts, subway network expansion and diverse neighbourhoods. It is described by the Financial Times (FT) as clean, green, cultural and crime free. This year, 2009 the award went to Zurich, why? For its outstanding public transport system, including an expanding tram system and main rail station, ample leisure activities, including 50 museums, excellent restaurants, the setting of new emission targets and a good business culture, with local authorities offering both advice and low cost office space and its airport offering 170 destinations. Of the top 25 countries in the most liveable league, Dublin did not feature.

Lesson from Paris The journalist Simon Kuper bought a flat cheaply, on the rue Paul Bert, an ordinary little street of Haussmannian buildings in Paris’s unfashionable east. In a short few years this unknown street has become “the most gastronomic street in Paris” and is mentioned in magazines all over the world. On the street the restaurateurs treat you well as a client, while an Argentine opened a deli reflecting an ethnic flavour, while another of his countrymen started a foodcum-bookshop heaven. Last year a resident turned a vacant lot behind the Bistort into a gorgeous pocket park. The street booms and so it has become a destination. One proprietor of a Bistort says of his customers, one third are local, one third are from the surrounding district and the remainder are foreign. It is all about hard work, good service and imagination.

Traditional shop fronts on a residential street in central Paris


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core Lesson from Vienna Vienna, also high on the list of best places to live, has a population of 1.6 million with two million in the metropolitan area. It takes 20 minutes to get from one end of the city to the other. Reasons for this status is affordability of living: a clever public housing policy acts as a brake on prices. Most apartments are rent-controlled and the city adds to the supply by subsidising the construction of flats in attractive buildings in the centre for middle class families, effectively creating a cap on high price dwellings. Speculators therefore stay away from the city‘s real estate and so the market did not see the boom and bust cycle of other cities in recent times. Also mentioned is a good social environment, culture, cleanliness, and excellent infrastructure and efficient transport.

A Viennese Vista

Public square in Vienna with central focal statue

Lesson from Milan Another great city which is reinventing itself is Milan. Despite its economic industrial reputation, it remains saddled with a surfeit of ugly and obsolete architecture, scarce greenery, intractably tangled traffic and polluted atmosphere. It is now preparing for a €13 billion makeover for the Universal Exposition, 2015. It aims to create dense, vertical, highly serviced well connected centres embedded in a system of pedestrian walks and belted by parks. Milan’s head of development summed up the plan: “the city is experiencing a magical moment. It is re-conceiving itself, rethinking the development of the city, something which has not happened since the 1950s”.

Lesson from Madrid Madrid also took itself in hand some years ago as it was losing its position to Barcelona. The objectives it set itself were top retail shop design, establishment of clusters of small museums, now numbering over forty, as well as top quality restaurants. The result is that it has become the number one destination for short stay breaks and is on the top preference list for conferences. A lesson in all these cities for Dublin is we have it all, and we can do it also, but it must be a collective approach with an open and transparent set of objectives.

Contemporary museum in Madrid


Commercial & Civic Life Copenhagen – Dublin: A Comparison What is perhaps most surprising about Copenhagen is the degree to which Dublin far outweighs it in terms of attractions, building stock and natural topography. Copenhagen has few of the great institutional complexes that Dublin is endowed with, such as the National Museum/Library/Gallery/Natural History complex, Trinity College, the Royal Hospital and Collins Barracks. Nor does it have a great ecclesiastical legacy, with few churches or abbeys of note. Likewise, its standard building stock is relatively plain and unvaried, while it has none of the memorable grandeur of a river as dominant as the Liffey, nor an amenity as significant as Dublin Bay. And yet, the integrity of Copenhagen as an historic urban core is considerably more evident. Why is this so?

There is a respect for authenticity of building typologies and the materials from which they are built. All buildings feature their original style of fenestration – also the dominant architectural feature in Dublin – and are extremely well maintained. Facades employ original lime render coatings, and natural paint and limewash finishes. Therefore the streets are coherent, attractive, and exude a distinctive and memorable identity. Similar practices need to be applied in Dublin to ensure that historic buildings are well presented and appropriately repaired on all of the city’s primary and secondary streets.

There is a harmony in Copenhagen between buildings and the public realm, where good quality design, materials and craftsmanship runs from roof level, through upper facades, to shop fronts, and down to pavement and road level. It is this consistency of character that makes a street comfortable to live in and to frequent as a visitor. This is unrecognised in Dublin through poor public realms and poor enforcement of planning controls.

There is a consistent height in the city. In spite of the occasional tower block, even 1960s and 1970s development maintained a six-storey level, reinforcing the historic core’s distinctive human scale. There are lessons to be learned from this in Dublin, where an incremental rise to 8-10 storeys plus in recent years with incongruous ‘top-up’ storeys has eroded the coherence of parts of the city.

Inner-city living is the dominant characteristic of Copenhagen. The upper floors of most buildings are inhabited, creating an active local population during the day while also keeping streets alive after dark. This is a characteristic Dublin demands if is to become a real living city. Historic buildings, the dominant building type in both cities’ cores, require sensitive conversion of their upper floors for residential use. This needs to be incentivised.

Inner city living and working is facilitated through a host of amenities and services, ranging from pocket parks, squares and civic plazas, schools and crèches, small-scale independent shops and service providers, cafés, restaurants and on-street dining. These, coupled with the dominant cycling and walking culture, an absence of hostile traffic, and the provision of dedicated facilities such as cycle lanes, makes the city a suitable place in which to rear a family or spend leisure time.

A sense of achievement and civic pride was evident when talking to officials and citizens. This sense of confidence is reflected in the quality of the city they work for and live in. The high environmental quality of the city appears to influence the behaviour and attitudes of citizens, and is something that should be borne in mind in respect of Dublin.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

Scenes from Copenhagen demonstrating the harmony of place and attention to detail, including the city’s acclaimed new waterside opera house. 89

Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

Conclusion Having reviewed the essential character of Dublin’s historic core, its virtues, its problems, its challenges for the future, the conclusion to be drawn is that it is critically important to connect physically and functionally the historic urban landscape with the high streets of the city. We have seen that the relationship of brick and stone buildings and historic granite paving comprise a disciplined unity and cohesion on the streetscape. This is also formed through the retention of the historic skyline, where mountains close vistas and help to reinforce the character of areas, and where spires and domes punctuate the streets, respecting the uniform height of the Georgian terraces and commercial thoroughfares. The consistent massing of buildings, retaining the original building line and proportionality, gives that unique character to the central streets of the city. This must be considered when applications for larger retail floor plates in existing quality retail units are proposed. We have also seen that well-designed contemporary architecture and interventions in the public realm are successful where they respond appropriately to context. An area’s character - its sense of place – can strongly influence shoppers’ decisions about when, why and how they visit a shopping street. Research has shown that maximising on the inherent advantages of heritage features and natural surroundings, in addition to an appropriate retail mix, both in diversity of store and choice of retailer, is essential for any main street. Therefore Dublin must recognise the inherent cultural and economic value of its built and natural heritage if visitor numbers and high footfall is to be retained in the city core.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core


Modern-day aerial view of Dublin showing density of city centre and the Georgian squares


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

Top: John Speed’s Map of Dublin, 1610 Bottom: Moll’s Map of Dublin showing the importance of St. Stephen’s Green


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

Nodal points and principal routes in Dublin city centre


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

Sackville Street and Carlisle Bridge, now O’Connell Street and O’Connell Bridge, as they were in the mid-19th century. One of the earliest photographs taken of a Dublin street, it shows the original, narrow humpbacked bridge leading into the broad thoroughfare approaching Nelson’s Pillar. The bridge is busy with traffic, one of the reasons that led to its eventual rebuilding in 1880.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

The grand expanse of O’Connell Bridge shortly after completion in the 1880s

O’Connell Bridge with trams c. 1910. The iconic Dublin Bread Company Building dominates Lower Sackville Street.


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

Top: Existing traffic lane and pavement arrangement on O’Connell Bridge Bottom: Revised layout showing widened pavements and reduced traffic lanes


Defining Dublin’s Historic Core

Diagrams showing the proliferation of bus stops on the principal thoroughfares of the city centre (Source: Dublin Bus)