Printworks, Dublin — Part 1
Despite recent efforts to boost its standing, 20th-century architecture in Dublin cannot compete for meaningfulness with the quality and invention of its writers. While there are as yet no iconic architects, fans can enjoy the portraits of Joyce or Behan or Beckett on their T-shirts or beer mugs as representatives and constructors of a strong and variegated civic spirit.
Joyce, the wanderer who left Dublin at a young age, famously reconstructed the city through his personal mutation of Classical structures and indigenous memory, of historical tropes and local incident.
Might it also be possible, in architecture, to merge constant form with the unpredictability of street life, to propose an architecture which is simultaneously comprehensible to all and particular to its context?
In November 1974, The Architectural Review (AR) ran a special issue on Dublin entitled "Cuairt an AR ar Bhaile, Atha Cliath." Irish for "The AR's Visit to Dublin," this title — if a little arcane — was undoubtedly a gesture of affection.
By the early 1970s, Ireland had enjoyed a remarkable decade of economic boom, a boom marked by the 50th anniversary of independence and the first generation of post civil war leadership. With national aspirations largely American in tone, the '60s boom was represented architecturally by some fine Modernist buildings (mostly by the Miesian firm of Scott Tallon Walker) but also by gaping holes in the historic fabric of the City.
A bureaucratic and business elite did sponsor some interesting individual buildings but the body politic had little if any concern for the communal or for the fabric that stitched the city together. It was as if architects and clients were somehow ashamed of their own urban heritage and were looking elsewhere for inspiration.
Sensibly, The Architectural Review warned of blight and social segregation, of eyesores and traffic pollution. Cognizant of charm, the pleasures of adaptation within an urban system, it noticed that "discontinuity is the chief mark of modern intervention in Dublin... whatever merit they [modern buildings] may have in themselves, they do not fit: they and their neighbors do not add up to an intelligible whole."
Instead, perhaps inevitably at that period, the AR proposed Townscape; and overlaid photographs or sketches of the city with striped awnings, vivacious trees and sauntering girls in their summer clothes. The situation turned out to be even bleaker than the AR had feared, with further decay through the 1970s and few if any architectural strategies being implemented.
Now with a resurgent economy and an almost giddily confident cultural ambience, has the mentality changed so that one can identify a New Irish Urbanism?
The Most Important Building
The Printworks in Dublin's Temple Bar may be the most important building built in contemporary Ireland. Other buildings (such as the Tallaght Hospital, the adjacent shopping center, or one of the suburban high-tech computer facilities) are currently more influential in terms of programmatic specification or of economic turnover or of immediate social value.
Other works, more beautiful or photogenic, may have received wider notice in the national and foreign media. But the Printworks has within it the seed for many further projects of the greatest urban importance. The Printworks offers a methodology for rebuilding our complex cities which both respects context and suggests new possibilities for communal structure. You may not even notice it.
From the street, in the crowded design-conscious world of Temple Bar, it is almost an act of camouflage. It is simultaneously one building and many different buildings. Remarkable as an example of assemblage, it is a modest composition of easily identifiable, three-dimensional fragments which is also a believable proposal for urban living.
In this, it is both didactic and practical, a methodological exercise for the public good. The first major building realized by architect and urbanist Derek Tynan, the Printworks has resulted from his own personal journey from Ireland to the Cornell University studio of Colin Rowe and back to engage the reality of Ireland's politics and construction industry. It has developed the lessons of Collage City by applying them to the local situation.
I shall attempt to analyze this important work for the Irish capital in light of that intellectual pedigree, to understand and evaluate the Printworks in terms of urban continuity and a methodology of assemblage.
The Irish Marais
Fifteen years ago, Dublin was an economically and environmentally depressed city. The adolescent boom of the 1960s, in many ways a mimicry of Irish immigrant success in the United States, had collapsed to leave endemic unemployment, gashes in the urban fabric (due to spite, greed, neglect), and a psychological crisis for the 60-year-old state and its inherited capital.
Against the resulting tides of emigration, a young group of architects returned from London, from the Continent (now to be referred to as mainland Europe) and, in the case of Derek Tynan, from America's East Coast.
They began to teach at University College Dublin and to make architectural proposals with a new appreciation of place, a spirit at once rational and romantic which looked at urban context and fabric with informed eyes.
Their heroes, and in many cases mentors, were James Stirling, Josef Paul Kleihues, Leon Krier, Aldo Rossi and Colin Rowe.
This is the generation of Group 91, which included Shay Cleary, Grafton Architects (Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara), Paul Keogh Architects, Michael McGarry and Siobhan Ni Eanaigh, Valerie Mulvin and Niall McCullough, Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey, Shane O'Toole, Derek Tynan.
Assembled as a loose coterie of eight small practices during Dublin's reign as European City of Culture in 1991, Group 91 convincingly won the competition (for which Barcelona-based David Mackay was chief foreign assessor) to design a framework plan for the up-and-coming area of Temple Bar.
The phenomenon of Temple Bar dates from the proposal by the state transport company (CIE) to shoehorn an enormous bus interchange onto a site between Dame Street and the river Liffey and its subsequent difficulties.
The Irish clients and their American architects (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) proposed to erase a large section of the inner city close to Trinity College and the original Houses of Parliament, and to erect a series of gargantuan vehicle decks with a luxury hotel above.
In this part of the city; behind the formal front of Dame Sheet and backing onto — if not into — the river, the texture is made up of many small lots which CIE needed (not unlike Peter Palumbo with his Mies design for London) to purchase in their entirety.
As an interim measure, some of these rather ramshackle houses and factories were leased to short-term tenants such as rock studios and ethnic restaurants. And as that ambience caught the public's attention, the obscure street (named after the Temple family in the seventeenth century) suddenly became the name of a new Bohemian quarter.
This story will continue in future issues of ArchitectureWeek.
Raymund Ryan is an architect teaching at University College Dublin. He edited the Round Table Discussion of The Havana Project (Prestel, Munich, 1996) and acted as design consultant for the refurbishment of Berlaymont, the European Commission's headquarters in Brussels.
This article originally appeared in arq (Architectural Research Quarterly), Vol. 3, No. 1, 1999, published by Cambridge University Press and is reproduced here with the consent of the Editors. For arq subscription information, contact Cambridge University Press, 40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011-4211, 914-937-9600, 914-937-4712.