OPW to pay £10m to `utterly change' Hawkins House

 

One of Dublin's ugliest office buildings, Hawkins House, at Poolbeg Street in the city centre, is to be refurbished at a cost of more than £10 million, according to its owners, the Office of Public Works (OPW).

Dating from the 1960s, the block has been in need of upgrading for a considerable time and the OPW plans to "utterly change" how the building looks, according to spokesman Sean Benton.

Hawkins House is located behind the former Irish Press headquarters on Poolbeg Street and until recently was one of the few high-rise developments in Dublin.

Its exterior of concrete and glazed panels rises 12 storeys high above a surface-level car-park, thought to be viewed as sacrosanct by the civil servants who use it.

Most of the 122,000 sq ft building is occupied by the Department of Health, but it also shares some of the space with the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Education.

The OPW will be looking at presentations from architects over the coming months and hopes that the plan chosen will make the old building unrecognisable.

The changes will involve recladding the outside of the building, but Mr Benton said he hoped the programme could be completed with the minimum amount of disruption to the staff working in the building.

Hawkins House was bought by the OPW in 1986, but within 10 years it was clear that a substantial sum of money would have to be spent on refurbishing it.

A report by architects Murray O Laoire found that the building was in serious decay and suggested a complete recladding as one of the possible options.

Many critics have viewed the building as the archetypal 1960s nightmare. When it was proposed, there had been high hopes over what the London-based architect Sir Thomas Bennet would produce, with the Irish Builder noting that Bennet might prove "a very good tutor for our native office designers".

The end product, finished in 1964, had few admirers, and the OPW is well aware of the shortcomings of the building.

There is also a sense of regret over the loss of the Theatre Royal, the building Hawkins House replaced. This art deco variety theatre was built in the style of New York's Radio City Music Hall and had more than 2,500 seats.

On the night of the last show on June 30th, 1962, one of the theatre's old-timers, Cecil Sheridan, diagnosed the reason for the demise of his workplace.

"It's not television that's done it you know. It's a matter of how much money you can make out of a square foot of property," he said.