Cork builds a bridge between art and engineering


The Lee Tunnel, one of the State's biggest ever civil engineering projects, is making solid progress.

And now Cork Corporation is set to give the undertaking a more benign exterior. The idea is that art and engineering should meet to reflect the tunnel's importance to Cork but also to show that the city has a rich cultural heritage.

To this end, the corporation has organised a public art competition with a budget of £150,000. The artists who submit proposals will be asked to depict not only the city's culture but the scale of the tunnel project and its ambition. It will be open to them also to deal with issues such as the millennium.

Artists living in any country may enter the competition and a jury of eight people nominated by the city council will adjudicate.

The jury will shortlist a maximum of six proposals for development, and the successful artists will each receive £1,500 to bring models of their proposals before the jury. Where the eventual selected work will be sited will be subject to corporation approval, and while several sites have already been identified, the artists are not precluded from suggesting others.

The National Sculpture Factory in Cork will manage the imaginative project. All queries should be made to Ms Mary McCarthy there at (021) 314353. The closing date for submissions is September 24th at 4 p.m.

The jury will include the Cork city manager, Mr Jack Higgins, or his nominee; the city engineer, Mr Kevin Terry, or his nominee; the Lord Mayor of Cork; Ms Vivienne Lovell, director of the Public Art Commissioning Agency, Birmingham; an international artist; a member of the Arts Council; and Mr Sean O Laoire of Murray O Laoire, the Dublin firm of architects.

The tunnel should be finished before the end of this year. And if the predictions are proved correct and if Murphy's Law does not come into play (namely, that the volume of cars increases in direct proportion to the availability of new roads), the opening of the tunnel could be a boon for traffic-choked Cork.

The belief is that initially 20,000 vehicles will use the facility each day, but that over the following 20 years the figure will increase to 40,000.

If it all goes to plan, motorists crossing the city should save 15 minutes on their journey. The planners say this should lead to a hugely improved city-centre environment, more street landscaping and opportunities for further pedestrianisation.

As far back as 1978 it was recognised that a downstream crossing of the Lee would be necessary to cope with Cork's future traffic growth.

The sages got that bit right. Traffic has increased spectacularly.

The next thing to watch for will be the success or otherwise of the tunnel in restoring traffic calm. The tunnel was the subject of two public inquiries, in 1988 and 1990.

Eventually it was agreed that high, intermediate and low-level bridges were not an option and that prefabricated, immersed concrete tubes would provide the best answer.

The project has involved Irish and UK contractors and hundreds of highly-skilled workers. Their work is nearing completion, and the artists must now put flesh on ideas to give the tunnel something visually rewarding.

The local authority says the competition is one of the largest public art commissions offered in Ireland, and the hope is for a work of enduring excellence. Hope, because the local authorities in Cork have in the past commissioned pieces still on public display that have served only to confound.

Of the six finalists, one will be chosen to produce the finished work. But before that they will present models of their designs to the jury. In its own right the tunnel is a fabulous project.

The hope is that the chosen artist will fashion a work to match all its ambitions.