Low-rise buildings and suburban sprawl


Sir, – Height must be a core component of our urban density ambition. It must be allowed in a manageable and sensible way. Yet the arguments put forward in a recent opinion piece by Frank McDonald (“Department declares an open season for tall buildings”, Opinion & Analysis, August 16th) are simply a justification of maintaining the status quo.

It is all too common for anti-height proponents to overlook the role building heights can have on density. Instead, they are too quick to chide skyscraper! Arbitrary caps on building heights imposed by local authorities generally lack common sense. They are inconsistent and incoherent. In Dublin city, for example, commercial buildings can be taller than apartments built on the same site.

Yes, Dublin is a low-rise city. The author correctly references Paris as low-rise and densely populated, which is true. However, he overlooks the fact that building heights in Dublin are approximately 30 per cent lower than in Paris and the other European cities that he says we should follow. This is why getting the proposed new Government guidelines on building heights implemented is so important.

Sadly, the piece disregards the role of good design within the context of place-making. Whether one likes it or not, our cities are evolving and growing. Height and density needs to be planned to improve quality of life within our cities. – Yours, etc,


Senior Public Sector

and Regulatory Executive,


Lower Baggot Street,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Frank McDonald criticises the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government’s new guidelines on urban development and building heights. He describes the department’s aim to break the cycle of suburban sprawl as laudable, but doesn’t give an alternative solution. The only way to fight urban sprawl is to increase population density.

He points out that Paris doesn’t need buildings of more than six or seven storeys to house far more people than Dublin in a smaller area. Has he considered the size of the average Parisian apartment?

The vast majority of buildings in Paris are six or seven storeys. If we were to start building six- and seven-storey buildings in Dublin, we would have to knock down and replace most of the buildings already present to get to a similar population density, or we could knock down a far smaller proportion and replace them with taller buildings.

Frank McDonald points out that high-rise Japanese cities such as Tokyo are heavily congested. They are also far higher up a recent list of most liveable cities. Tokyo is ranked 22 out of 140 whereas Dublin is 50th; interestingly the most liveable cities are mid-size ones, like Dublin, and Dublin is behind in the list to a city that epitomises low-density, low-rise urban sprawl, Los Angeles.

He then moves on to objecting to high-rise buildings on the grounds of the effect they will have on historic and protected structures. I have never understood the basis of the argument that being able to see a tall, modern building somehow takes away from one’s ability to appreciate a historic building.

The only possible argument I can see is that the presence of a tall building would shatter any attempt at imagining oneself present when the historic building was first constructed.

Surely a static, silent building is going to be far less intrusive to such a fantasy than buses, trams, mobile phones and every other fact of life in a modern city? If I have this wrong I would love to discover the reasoning.

High-rise urban centres will also lead them to be far more walkable and cycleable, which will be a significant boon to traffic given the slow pace of spending on public transport infrastructure by repeated governments. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 8.

A chara, – It is not the “elegant Georgian houses on Merrion Square” referred to by Christopher Mahon (August 18th), but the three-storey, two-storey and even one-storey Victorian and 20th-century buildings that are wasteful of valuable space in the city.

As an alternative to building towers, could some of these be rebuilt to double or treble their height? Houses on the Georgian squares are five storeys, including basement, and six with lofts; in other words, the happy medium height of European cities. Modern versions of these – apartments built around inner courtyards with open green squares – would do more for the city than panic-building of towers. – Is mise,



Co Wicklow.