Scaled-back plan addresses height issue


ANALYSIS: AFTER AN Bord Pleanála shocked nearly everyone – including the Government – by refusing planning permission for the proposed children’s hospital on the Mater site, architects O’Connell Mahon set about trying to see how its concerns about visual impact could be addressed.

What made it possible for the scheme to be reconfigured was the willingness of the Sisters of Mercy to hand over the original Mater hospital to the State – thereby increasing by 50 per cent the site area available to accommodate the children’s hospital and its associated facilities.

By relocating research and educational facilities in the 1861 building and making changes in layout, the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board’s architects were able to reduce the overall height of the new block from 16 storeys to nine, greatly reducing its visual impact.

They had to take into account not only that An Bord Pleanála had rejected the earlier scheme because its height and bulk would have a “profound negative impact” on Dublin’s skyline, but also the view of senior planning inspector Una Crosse that dropping a few floors would make no difference.

Thus, their primary design concept to accommodate children’s ward accommodation in a “floating block” rising well above the skyline had to go. The wards – now rearranged as three 24-bed units per floor, rather than two – would still be uppermost in the building, so views out would be retained.

The views would be less spectacular, but they would still be available as the main block would rise well above the parapet line of Eccles Street, just as the Mater’s new adult hospital, designed by Scott Tallon Walker – which is also nine storeys high – offers views out over the area’s low-rise housing.

With the issue of where to locate the children’s hospital under active review, the revised scheme has yet to be designed in detail. What the architects have presented to the review group headed by Dr Frank Dolphin is a “concept design” showing what could be done to address the controversial height issue.

Photo montages show that the new block would be barely seen from O’Connell Street and would “disappear” in views from North Great George’s Street, as it would no longer be so prominent on the city’s skyline. Closer to the site – seen from Hardwicke Place, for example – it would be more visible, but not as dominant.

The elevational treatment along Eccles Street has not been changed; it remains in scale with the Georgian houses on the street, with an expansive forecourt topped by a canopy marking the main entrance. As previously, the main block would be set back from the street to minimise its visual impact locally.

A mish-mash of temporary buildings within the 1861 building’s courtyard, including the Mater’s heart-lung transplant unit, would be cleared away to reinstate the central space; this would be more like the central square of Collins Barracks (though on a smaller scale) than any quadrangle in Trinity College.

The 1861 building had been allocated for use as an adult day surgery, but it is now believed that 50 per cent of this function could be accommodated in “slack space” in the new adult hospital, with the rest being reassigned to other parts of the Mater campus or off it (in the case of psychiatric services).

A five-year-old hostel building directly alongside the original building – used to provide short-term accommodation – would also be handed over by the Sisters of Mercy and could be used to provide rooms for parents of sick children, thus “stripping out” another use previously accommodated in the main block.

As previously, the proposed children’s hospital would be directly connected to the new adult hospital, enabling acute facilities to be shared. The site reserved for a future maternity hospital (to replace the Rotunda) under the Mater’s master plan would be unaffected.

The architects estimate that more than half of the design work already done for the children’s hospital, including its more complex facilities, can be recycled in the revised scheme. This would give it a head start over proposals for which detailed design work has yet to be done.