ESB competition for world-class redesign of HQ

 

THE ESB intends to use the opportunity provided by the redevelopment of its head office in Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin, which it announced last week, to create a “world-class example of sustainable and innovative headquarters”.

According to documentation issued last Friday by the ESB, one of the key criteria for a design contest for the new complex will be “the participants’ proposals for a solution to the aspect of the Lower Fitzwilliam Street facade”.

This facade was the most controversial element of the existing headquarters built in 1970 – following an earlier architectural competition won by the late Arthur Gibney and Sam Stephenson – because it meant demolishing 16 Georgian houses.

At the time, conservationists were appalled that Dublin’s longest Georgian facade, from Mount Street to Leeson Street, was to be broken by a modern building fronted by precast concrete window panels and set on a podium.

The ESB brought in Sir John Summerson, a leading English architectural historian, to give his opinion on the merit of the houses to be demolished.

Notoriously, he condemned them as “simply one damned house after another”.

Ten years ago, the ESB gave serious consideration to a plan by Sam Stephenson that would have involved refronting the office block with a Georgian facade as a Millennium project.

However, this proposal was deemed to be problematic due to the floor levels.

In the latest competition, architects are being told to assume that all existing buildings – except protected structures, including No 12 Lower Fitzwilliam Street – “will be demolished to allow the entire site to become available for redevelopment”.

Participants who are shortlisted following the initial qualification stage will be requested to present detailed design proposals for an exemplar sustainable headquarters in the centre of Dublin.

It will comprise a floor area of between 35,000 and 45,000sq metres.

“The proposed designs should demonstrate respect for the surrounding Georgian streetscape and protected structures,” states the contest documentation.

Three winning designs are to be selected.

The competition, which is being held independently of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI), is to be judged by a panel headed by ESB chairman Lochlann Quinn.

It will also include John Redmond, the company secretary and head of corporate affairs.

Others on the jury are Joe Maher, retired ESB director and former chief financial officer; Prof Owen Lewis, an architect and engineer who now heads Sustainable Energy Ireland; and an “international architect/urban designer” yet to be appointed.

The jury’s assessment of submissions will be assisted by a technical panel.

The weightings to be given to different aspects of each submission are 40 per cent for “commerciality and buildability”, including value for money; 40 per cent for “design and aesthetic qualities”; and 20 per cent for “compatibility . . . with [the] receiving environment”.

The top three competition entries will each be awarded a prize of €30,000, and the final decision on the award of “any follow-up contract” is be made by the ESB’s board on the recommendation of the jury.

This will follow negotiations with the shortlisted entrants.