A park to mark a future

 

THE IDEA of converting the concrete hulk on Dublin’s North Wall Quay – once destined to be a swanky new headquarters for Anglo Irish Bank – into a vertical park may seem quite zany to some people. But it deserves serious consideration, not least because of what this derelict structure represents: a monument to the recklessness of “the bank that broke Ireland”. It is also unlikely that the building will be finished in the forseeable future, so there is a compelling need to find an alternative use for it, at least until the property market recovers.

Radical transformations of the type proposed by Mahoney Architecture and its collaborators for the seven-acre North Wall Quay site are not as rare as might be supposed. The architects themselves have cited the High Line in Manhattan as an inspirational precedent. There, a disused elevated railway line that once served New York’s meat-packing district has been turned into a much-loved linear park that attracted two million visitors last year. Its enormous popularity has led to the project being extended northwards to include a long lawn for lounging around, under a shady canopy of magnolia trees. The effect on the area has been dramatic, with once derelict warehouses now converted into art galleries, chic restaurants and fashion outlets. In Berlin, the city authorities were left in a quandary about what to do with Templehof airport – a hive of activity during the legendary Berlin Airlift of 1948 – after it closed three years ago. They decided to use the old terminal building for trade fairs and convert the airfield into a city park; in less enlightened cities, such a prime site might have been sacrificed for a shopping centre. Laid out informally as a large meadow, with its wildlife habitats preserved, the new park has become a very welcome new amenity to the Kreuzberg district, which had less than its fair share of Berlin’s extensive green spaces. At weekends, in particular, people flock to Templehofer Feld to enjoy biking, kiting, skating, ball games or simple relaxation.

Dublin has some fine public parks, notably the Phoenix Park. But in the Docklands area there is a dearth of useful open spaces, other than the pocket-sized Chimney Park while plans for a linear park at Spencer Dock have been pigeonholed due to lack of funds. Thus, the proposal for an excitingly different vertical park, flanked by a neighbourhood park featuring the flora of Ireland and a “Hill 2016” arena would fulfil a real need for well-designed public spaces.