New Central Bank to rise from Anglo ashes

The planned ‘green’ headquarters of the Central Bank will come with a colourful past as it was once destined to be the nerve centre of Anglo Irish Bank

Thu, Jan 30, 2014, 00:00

There was always something symmetrical about the idea that the one-time headquarters planned by Anglo Irish Bank in Dublin’s Docklands would end up instead as an integrated headquarters for the Central Bank of Ireland that had so spectacularly failed to regulate rogue elements in the banking system.

The bank needed a new headquarters as its various divisions had expanded and are now located not just in Dame Street but also Harcourt Road and Spencer Dock.

If they were all to be brought together under one roof the only ready-to-go office development that was viable was the concrete hulk on North Wall Quay.

This skeletal structure had become a much-featured symbol of Ireland’s descent into bankruptcy and there were some who said it should be preserved as a monument to the madness. But planning permission is now being sought for amendments to the original design by architects Traynor O’Toole for Liam Carroll.

The Central Bank’s new architects, Henry J Lyons and Partners, were chosen after a competition and they immediately set about upgrading the façade treatment, internal layout and energy system to create a bespoke office building for a very prestigious public client – rather than simply dressing up a speculatively-built office block.

What exercised HJL director Peter McGovern was “how to represent the Central Bank of Ireland now, given the iconic nature of its existing headquarters”– the tour de force by Sam Stephenson that was such a brutalist expression of power in its day. The power, as we know, has since shifted to the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

But even the ECB’s “Irish branch” needed to have a landmark quality appropriate to its setting on the river Liffey, where it will join other major public buildings such as the Custom House, the Four Courts and the Civic Offices at Wood Quay. The bank also saw it as “an opportunity to contribute to the city’s architectural landscape”.

In discussions with Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan, the architects concluded that what their clients needed was a building that would be “softer” than Stephenson’s tower, more open and transparent but also conveying a degree of strength, and with space open to the public just like the plaza in Dame Street.

There was also an emphasis on making the building as energy- efficient as possible (with an A2 rating) to minimise maintenance costs over time – something owner-occupiers are more likely to consider than speculative developers. Natural ventilation will be supplemented by heating/ cooling systems in winter and summer.

The south-facing front, superficially resembling the Titanic Belfast visitor centre, will be protected from solar glare and gain by a perforated pale bronze anodised aluminium screen, which the architects insist is “not gold” and say would be made from the same material as the internal screen in their Criminal Courts of Justice.

Composed of triangular elements, its sail-like forms – repeated in a more stripped-down fashion on the east and west façades – acknowledge the maritime setting, while the height (at seven storeys) is slightly taller than PwC’s offices just upriver and more appropriate for this broad stretch of the Liffey than the buildings opposite.


Open-plan office space
Unlike PwC, which has twin external service cores, the Central Bank’s lift shafts and toilets will be internal although the largely open-plan office space will have views out; in Dame Street circulation is at the edges, an arrangement also used by Grafton Architects for the Department of Finance on Merrion Row.

Anglo’s concrete hulk was found to be in “surprisingly good nick”, according to McGovern, even after being exposed to the elements for several years. To avoid major work the original atrium is not being brought down to ground level; instead, it springs from the second floor – a space for staff to mingle, at two removes from the public.

But the architects point out that the 5m height of the ground floor is generous and will be open to the public to walk through during business hours. It will rise from an “almost geological” limestone base, with the “veil” above angled outwards at its lower levels and cut away on the first floor to allow clear views from the canteen.

With a gross floor area of 32,000 sq m, including a double basement, this is a very large development. Its form remains the same, but the façade treatment is radically different and has received a positive response from city architect Ali Grehan and chief planning officer Dick Gleeson – without prejudice to the final planning decision, of course.

The entrance is raised above ground level by 4m to guard against flooding, storm surges and projected sea-level rise. And, naturally, the building will be plugged into geothermal water sources and will have a rainwater harvesting system to flush toilets. It will also be able to connect to any district heating scheme for Docklands.

At the rear a 7m projecting canopy will distinguish the Central Bank’s headquarters from surrounding buildings that have yet to be built under Dublin City Council’s draft master plan for Docklands.

In the meantime, on completion in early 2016, it will stand in splendid isolation as a fine addition to the Liffey’s riverscape.

No decision has been take about the future of the Central Bank’s current headquarters.

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