Hotel design fails to meet original vision

Building modelled on ‘primordial rock landscape of Ireland’

The Marker Hotel, Grand Canal Square in Dublin, which opens next week. Archiseek describes the project as “another failed attempt to bring big-name architecture glamour to Grand Canal Square ... the finished product seems more plastic than hewn from rock”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The Marker Hotel, Grand Canal Square in Dublin, which opens next week. Archiseek describes the project as “another failed attempt to bring big-name architecture glamour to Grand Canal Square ... the finished product seems more plastic than hewn from rock”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

It was meant to be so much more dramatic, as if hewn from a single block of stone seven storeys high – something that would “put a champagne fizz back into architecture in Ireland”, in the words of architect and critic Shane O’Toole.

Writing in The Sunday Times in January 2004, he hailed Portuguese architect Manuel Aries Mateus ’s original vision for what has become the Marker Hotel – “a building that the world will sit up and take notice of when it opens in April 2006”.

The hotel took another six years to finish. We got used to seeing it as a black-and-white chequerboard hulk marooned at the edge of Grand Canal Square after the property crash. The white stone looked like plastic, and I remember tapping it to see if it was hollow.

Developer Terry Devey had commissioned Aries Mateus to design the project in the expectation that he would produce a spectacular work of architecture — just as he had engaged better-known “starchitect” Daniel Libeskind to design the Grand Canal Theatre.

Like so many other developers, Devey’s Heritage Properties ran into trouble. Although the hotel was valued at €60 million as a building project, it was eventually sold for half that sum in January 2012 to Swiss-based Midwest and Brehon Capital Partners.

Dublin-based McCauley Daye O’Connell were the executive architects – a role they also performed for the adjoining theatre – and had the task of “realising the unique conceptual intent and translating it into a hotel design suitable for the Irish context and climate”.

The key challenge, they say, was to achieve a “heavily sculpted, cantilevered dolmen aesthetic unlike any building seen before in Dublin”, with references to the “primordial rock landscape of Ireland”, as exemplified by the Giant’s Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher.

“This is best seen in the eroded spaces of the cavernous ground floor, which echo the action of water wearing down ancient rock formations to create a sequence of flowing public spaces from bar to reception to tea-lounge and restaurant, all facing ... Grand Canal Square.”

It certainly can’t be seen in the facade treatment, other than in purely abstract terms. Archiseek describes the project as “another failed attempt to bring big-name architecture glamour to Grand Canal Square ... the finished product seems more plastic than hewn from rock”.

The adjoining theatre was also compromised by the omission of a podium, dragging it down to ground level. This leaves the tinted glass office block on its west side, brilliantly designed by Dublin-based DMOD, as the only building on the square with real architectural integrity.