Plan to demolish Bord Fáilte building subject of Bord Pleanála hearing

‘Heritage loss’ claims made for Robin Walker structure deemed ‘poor’ piece of urban infill

Bord Fáilte building: “architecturally interesting” example from the early 1960s period or in  “very harsh” relationship with Baggot Street,  ignoring  the line of the Grand Canal.  Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Bord Fáilte building: “architecturally interesting” example from the early 1960s period or in “very harsh” relationship with Baggot Street, ignoring the line of the Grand Canal. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

A landmark of Dublin’s architectural heritage will be destroyed if the redevelopment the 1960s former Bord Fáilte headquarters at Baggot Street bridge goes ahead, a Bord Pleanála hearing has been told.

The building, designed by renowned Irish architect Robin Walker for Irish Life Assurance in 1961 and leased to Bord Fáilte, has been vacant for almost a decade.

Irish Life last June secured planning permission from Dublin City Council to demolish the five-storey concrete block and replace it with a with a six-storey granite clad building.

The council’s decision was appealed to An Bord Pleanála by DoCoMoMo Ireland, an organisation dedicated to conserving modern architecture, chaired by Walker’s son, Simon Walker.

The building was one of the first designed by the late Robin Walker following his return to Ireland in the late 1950s to work with fellow architect Michael Scott, and was an “architecturally interesting and rare example from the period”, Simon Walker told the hearing.

The building had “clear parallels in Georgian architecture” including its plain facade and raised entrance, and was “beautifully proportioned”.

‘Landmark building’

Despite several years of vacancy, it was in good structural condition and should be renovated as its “demolition was irreconcilable with sustainable development”, Mr Walker said.

“It is a landmark building which is part of our 20th-century architectural heritage. It is still in excellent condition externally but needs to be rescued internally,” he said. “We have very few buildings of that period that have retained their architectural integrity.”

Shane O’Toole, architectural critic, historian and co-founder of DoCoMoMo Ireland, said the demolition of the building would represent an “irreplaceable heritage loss”.

Only three buildings since 1945, not including the Bord Fáilte building, had been added to Dublin City Council’s Record of Protected Structures. This was “grossly deficient”, Mr O’Toole said.

Urban infill

Tony Reddy, the architect of the proposed replacement building, said the existing building was a “very poor” piece of urban infill architecture, had a “very harsh” relationship with Baggot Street, and “ignored the line” of the Grand Canal.

The floor-to-ceiling height was “phenomenally low” and this was one of the reasons it wasn’t possible to retain the building, Mr Reddy said.

“I believe Robin Walker was one of Ireland’s greatest architects of the 20th century. That doesn’t mean everything he has designed was a great building or even a good building.”

Garrett Hughes, a senior executive planner with Dublin City Council, said the existing building “did not make a sufficient positive contribution to the streetscape to require retention”.

The council was “very much cognisant of the major figure Robin Walker is in modern Irish architecture”, he said but this was not of “exemplar design quality” or reflective “of the standard of his later work”. The building was “generally not seen as some of his finest work”, Mr Hughes said.

Richard Coleman, an architectural heritage adviser to Irish Life, said the existing building did not contribute to the surrounding conservation area. “It is very difficult to love this building.”

The hearing continues.