What do you do with an unfinished estate?
The architect of Elm Park development, Merritt Bucholz, says there are many different uses for the largely empty development
If the National Asset Management Agency wanted to realise some return from Bernard McNamara’s Elm Park development in Dublin 4, in the short term, they could do worse than hire it out as a film set.
More than one of the six long glass buildings reaching eight storeys high would make a convincing airport terminal. Suspended on stilts others could even be a believable ocean liner. The whole development, empty and almost silent, would work as the set of a dystopian, post-apocalyptic thriller.
Fanciful perhaps, but, the scheme’s architect Merritt Bucholz says the possibilities for what he describes as a “mini city” are boundless.
“A building has no idea what it is. Apartment, office, hospital, hotel these are just words we apply. Even a church doesn’t necessarily stay a church; it can become a nightclub.”
All of these, apart from the church/nightclub, were part of the original design of the scheme. The 14.5 acre site near the Tara Towers Hotel on the Merrion Road was bought in early 2001 from the Religious Sisters of Charity for about £36 million.
The massive development, more than 102,193 sq m of space, included more than 300 apartments, in two blocks at the back of the development, divided by a swimming pool and leisure centre; 30,658 sq m of offices in three linear blocks in the centre of the site; and an eight-storey hotel and private hospital at the front.
In June 2008 the development won a Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland award, but by September that year the apartments had been discounted by 20 per cent and the developer was offering interest-free loans of up to 30 per cent of the sale price.
Within two years the development had fallen into the control of the National Assets Management Agency (Nama) and subsequently its receivers. Now the hospital/hotel development which fronts onto Merrion Road lies empty, as do two of the office blocks. The middle block of offices is occupied by insurer Allianz.
Parts of the two apartment blocks are occupied. Although the building which was to contain the swimming pool was constructed, the pool was never installed and behind the wraparound plastic image of happy swimmers can be seen bags of cement and builders’ equipment.
Earlier this year the possibility of a new lease of life for the estate emerged. Nama offered it as a possible site for the new children’s hospital. While this offer was not taken up, it emerged last May that negotiations were ongoing to transfer the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street in Dublin to the site. It appears this plan has also been shelved.