Rethinking Dublin’s north inner city
A group of design students have taken a look at some unused historic buildings north of the Liffey, and imagined how they might be repurposed
Victoria Ueberegger’s reimagining of Our Lady of Lourdes as a community centre and exhibition space
Our Lady of Lourdes church as it stands on Seán MacDermott Street.
What causes an area to decline? And, more importantly for the future, what might cause it to rise again? Just Imagine, the work of final year Interior Architecture students from Griffith College, aims to rethink Dublin’s north eastern inner city, whose architectural gems and cultural history are often ignored.
The idea of repurposing buildings isn’t new: historic and industrial buildings become art galleries, Ireland’s great houses are turned into hotels, and churches are converted for various uses, such as McCullough Mulvin’s wonderful library in Rush, Co Dublin.
Equally, gentrification projects have seen entire areas redeveloped, with varying degrees of success.
The north inner city hasn’t been without focus either: its Georgian architecture is championed; the Five Lamps Festival is an annual event; and the Lab gallery on Foley Street, together with Flood and the Oonagh Young gallery on James Joyce Street, are all contributors. Fire Station Artists Studios have done excellent work over the years, from Inner Art, in 1997, to Leo Higgins’s Home, the memorial to all those who died as a result of drugs, which was unveiled by president McAleese in 2000.
But what do today’s future architects, designers and planners propose? John McDonald, course director at Griffith College was keen for each of the 23 students to get a sense of this part of the city. “Half come from abroad,” he says, “and previously we let them choose any building, anywhere, for their final year project. This time we wanted to give them a sense of Dublin.”
McDonald organised a walking tour of the area with local historian Terry Fagan, whose insights into its culture and history are unrivalled. Just a stone’s throw from the Custom House and O’Connell Street, this part of Dublin has been both famous and infamous. Monto (Montgomery Street), for example, was once the largest red-light district in Europe.
Then the students were tasked with rethinking buildings to create projects that would attract visitors and tourists, be a local amenity, and provide training and/or employment for the area.
Neglect and disrepair
A tour reveals stunning gems, as well as shocking neglect. There’s Mountjoy Square, with its near-perfect proportions, and also Aldborough House, which sits on Empress Place facing Portland Row. Begun in 1792, Aldborough House was the last of the great houses in Ireland, though it was never lived in by the Earls of Aldborough, who commissioned it.
Its current state of disrepair has been the subject of a series of haunting photographs by artist Martina Galvin, and it has done time as a school, a barracks, a post office stores, and HQ of the Irish Music Rights Organisation (Imro). For a while it served as artists’ studios.