Grand designs – An Irishman’s Diary on Dublin’s unbuilt architectural plans

Raymond McGrath’s unbuilt design for the John F Kennedy Memorial Hall at Beggar’s Bush in Dublin. Courtesy of Archiseek.com

Raymond McGrath’s unbuilt design for the John F Kennedy Memorial Hall at Beggar’s Bush in Dublin. Courtesy of Archiseek.com

 

Many fine designs for buildings have been created in Dublin over the past two centuries, but there’s just one snag: they were never built. Dublin has inspired many grand architectural plans that never materialised.

Undoubtedly, the most striking example of a building that was designed but never built was the John F Kennedy Memorial Hall at Beggar’s Bush.

The very impressive architectural plans were published in 1965, showing a large hall capable of seating 2, 000 and a smaller 500-seat hall.

After nearly a decade of wrangling, the scheme was abandoned in 1974 in favour of the UCD Great Hall in Earlsfort Terrace being converted into what is now the National Concert Hall.

Grandiose plans that never amounted to anything went back as far as the late 18th century, when an ambitious design was published for the eastern side of Parliament Square at Trinity College Dublin, but it never came to anything.

In the next century, as railways started to develop, an extravagant plan was drawn up to link what are now Connolly and Heuston stations.

Bridges were envisaged, spanning D’Olier Street and Westmoreland Street, leading to a double-deck colonnade for the railway, along the southern quays.

Later on, in 1872, a design for a new grand central railway station in the Dame Street area came to nothing, the same fate as the plan for a new central bus station in Temple Bar, more than a century later.

The same outcome befell a Catholic university in Clonliffe, Drumcondra. The foundation stone was laid in 1862, but that was as far as the scheme got.

In 1884, a huge new theatre, the Lyceum, at the corner of what is now Pearse Street and Tara Street never came to anything.

One of the most spectacular designs that failed to materialise was that for the Lane Gallery spanning the River Liffey, in 1912. In 1915, there was an even more far fetched scheme, for a transatlantic liner terminal at Blacksod Bay, Co Mayo, designed to supplant Liverpool; it found its final resting place on the drawing board.

As the State came into being, the Abercrombie Plan was touted as the solution to the ills of Dublin city centre. Among the buildings proposed was a new Catholic cathedral in Bolton Street and a new national theatre at the top of Parnell Square. That plan hung around for the best part of 20 years before being shelved.

In much more recent decades, all kinds of lavish architectural plans came and went.

From the 1930s to the early 1970s, the Catholic Church was in favour of building a new cathedral for Dublin in the park it owned at Merrion Square, but nothing came of it. In the end, the church gave the park to the old Dublin Corporation, so that it could be opened up for public use.

Neither did anything come of the 1979 plans to build an official residence for the taoiseach and a State guest house in the Phoenix Park. Similarly, 20 years on from that debacle, a dazzling plan was drawn up to build a shimmering new headquarters, in Infirmary Road, close to the Phoenix Park, for what was then the Department of Arts, Heritage, the Gaeltacht and the Islands. This new dawn was yet another false promise.

So too were a 1998 plan to build a Millennium Mall, running all the way from Mary Street to the Carlton cinema in O’ Connell Street, a 2001 plan for covered kiosks in O’Connell Street, a 2003 plan for a huge office block on Carlisle Pier in Dún Laoghaire, and a 2004 scheme for a 100-metre-high tower on the site of the old Player-Wills factory on the South Circular Road.

One of the most recent designs that fizzled out was that for U2’s skyscraper, at the end of Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, turning onto Britain Quay. The apartment skyscraper, over 120 metres tall, was to be topped with a recording studio. The design was released in 2007, just before the big economic crash, and it was all due to have been completed by 2011, at a cost of €200 million. We’ re still waiting!

Not long before U2’ s plans had been announced, a great residential and office tower block for George’s Quay, overshadowing everything else in the city, got no further than an architect’s out-tray.

Many of these schemes planned, but never built, were chronicled by Paul Clerkin of archiseek. com where there are 36 very full pages devoted to ”unbuilt Dublin” . With a certain sense of irony, Paul Clerkin is now living and working in Winnipeg.

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