Plan shelved to protect Central Bank building

Dublin City Council defers protection of Sam Stephenson structure to help developer

Central Bank building on Dame Street: was bought last January by US real estate company Hines and Hong Kong investment firm Peterson Group in a deal worth €65m. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Central Bank building on Dame Street: was bought last January by US real estate company Hines and Hong Kong investment firm Peterson Group in a deal worth €65m. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

Dublin City Council has shelved plans to add the former Central Bank on Dame Street to the Record of Protected Structures to facilitate its new owners’ development scheme.

The building, designed by architect Sam Stephenson in the 1970s, was bought last January by US property company Hines and Hong Kong investment firm Peterson Group in a deal worth €67 million. Independent city councillor Mannix Flynn more than two years ago sought protection for the building which was completed in 1978, saying the bank and plaza had “won the hearts of many Dubliners” and were an important part of Stephenson’s legacy.

The golden ball

The council’s planning department recommended the bank and plaza, which includes Éamonn O’Doherty’s Crann an Óir sculpture, the golden ball towards the front of the plaza, should be added to the list.

In his assessment, senior planner Paraic Fallon said the bank was of “national importance having architectural, historical and technical significance”. The design and construction methods “displayed pioneering technical innovation” he said. Its eight storeys were built from the top down, with each floor suspended from two central shafts housing lifts and stairs., and Mr Fallon said it remained “the only suspended building in Ireland”.

However, local councillors this week decided to defer indefinitely the addition of the building to the protection list.

A spokesman for Hines said it did approach the council to ask the listing be postponed to allow it to engage with “stakeholders” including councillors and council officials, on its plans for the building. Councillors were given a tour of the building on Wednesday.

Fine Gael councillor Paddy McCartan, who chairs the South East Area Committee, which decided to defer the listing, said the decision had been an “agreed position” in the council. “There were concerns that if it did go on the RPS, that that would restrict or impede the development.”

Most councillors had never been inside the building he said and it was reasonable they would attend the presentation there before making any decision. He said the issue of listing the building had been deferred indefinitely.

Mr Flynn said he had originally proposed listing the building due to concerns it could be demolished after the bank moved out. “I have been reassured that the new owners are not going to interfere with the integrity of the building and will keep Sam Stephenson’s architectural gem intact.”

He added the fact that a recommendation for listing had been made would afford it protection: “The planners have to be mindful of that in making their decision on any planning application.”

Hines has yet to submit an application for the building, and says its designs remain at feasibility stage, but it has outlined proposals for a top-floor bar and restaurant, with offices on the lower floors and potentially a cafe at ground level.

Shane O’Toole of DoCoMoMo Ireland, an organisation dedicated to conserving modern architecture said the council should proceed with the listing.

“From an architectural point of view it’s pretty unique, there are probably not 20 buildings in the world built that way, and they are mostly pretty ugly brutes. But the Central Bank is, in my view, a beautiful building; really elegant and well-judged. No building should be frozen in time, but the solution is to find new uses within the spirit of its own DNA.”

Few 20th-century buildings have been added to the protected structures list, and those that have are mostly from the earlier part of the century.

Protected-structure status comes with an obligation to preserve all parts of the building, including interiors, land around it and any other structures on that land. However, the council has said the security railings added to the building in 1998 and the commercial buildings immediately to the east do not merit protection.