It is tempting, if dangerous, to say that any development on the vast site stretching between Upper O’Connell Street and Moore Street in Dublin would be better than what is there at the moment. Parts of the almost six-acre plot were reduced to rubble and left vacant more than 40 years ago, and most of the site has deteriorated to an almost ruinous state during the various changes of ownership and dashed hopes of development over the last 20 years. This part of the city has endured the blight of horrendously ill-conceived development. Most notably the neighbouring Ilac centre, the construction of which in the late 1970s saw the obliteration of a network of small streets and laneways, and contributes nothing of merit to the surrounding streetscape.
Which is why it is good that earlier plans for the site, all variously seeking another large shopping centre, fell away. What UK property firm Hammerson has applied for in recent days is largely an office development, with 44,000sq m of "work space", 210 hotel rooms, 94 apartments and just 8,000sq m of shops, restaurants and cafes. This may sound disappointing and even misguided, given the talk about the dwindling demand for city offices. However, from the point of view of the person in the street, the mix of uses in the new development is less important than how those uses are constituted.
This is where the Hammerson design could make a significant contribution to this part of the city. Rather than a large enclosed complex, the company has designed a scheme which makes use of the small laneways between O’Connell Street and Moore Street, and creates a new street and two new squares running between the two. The shops, cafes and restaurants will be at street level bringing life to the area, with the offices and hotel/residential above, and the public will be largely unaware of what’s going on from first floor upwards.
If it is successful, the area could have a similar feel to the small streets around Grafton Street. Hopefully, if this new scheme is approved, it will actually be built.