6 Dec 2008

Grafton Street is… well its okay. From an architect’s perspective you might say it’s a little unusual in Dublin terms – slightly twisty and narrow with a funny mix of pastichy old buildings and contemporary shopfronts, some of it good, some of it less successful. I think we all agree that its special character comes from the fact that it sees itself as quite upmarket, proud of the fact that it is one of the top ten most expensive streets to buy or rent in in the world. Which is fine.

However, as most of the buildings on the street were constructed or at least gut-renovated within my own lifetime, I found it curious that Dublin City Council decided to designate Grafton Street an Architectural Conservation Area (ACA). The designation of an ACA implies some genuine architectural quality (I’m thinking Merrion or Fitzwilliam Squares in Dublin or The Crescent in Limerick), or real historic significance (mmm…). My personal feeling is that if you take away the polished accents and Trinners scarves all you’re left with is something which could pass for your average English high street.

In order to justify its decision to designate Grafton Street as an ACA, Dublin City Council published a ‘written statement’ to make its case. It’s an extraordinary little document. Reading not at all like the technical report you’d expect but rather like a lifestyle commentary from the Weekend section of a snooty newspaper, the report informs us over and over again that Grafton Street is losing its ‘sense of style’. Gone are all the grand shops where the wealthy could once go and be measured up for handmade suits or to buy some exotic pipe tobaccos. The street, the statement tells us, is being taken over by lower-end, off-the-peg establishments, mobile phone shops and convenience stores. So, as part of the designation of Grafton Street as an ACA, the City Council is going to ban uses they feel are lowering the tone of the place (mobile phone shops, convenience stores and pharmacies) and have them replaced with ‘high order retail outlets’, ‘lifestyle stores’ and ‘specialist niche retailers’. 

I wonder how they’re going to achieve this? Under the legislation, the local authority has the power to ‘acquire’ properties which don’t conform to the objectives of the Conservation Area but with prices on Grafton Street so high these days, this is never going to happen. And how are they going to attract ‘specialist niche stores’ to take over from the convenience stores – subsidise their rents? Hardly.

The report on the Designation of the Grafton Street as an ACA is about as least technical a document you’ll find (if just thought of it - it feels like an episode of What Not To Wear). This is amazing given that this whole area of protection legislation has huge implications for building owners in terms of the value and use of their property.

In another part of the world, the public might have expected the council to have prepared a highly technical report with opinions from experts in the field, economists, legal minds and other relevant experts. After that, and given that it’s the most well known street in the country, we might have expected a very public meeting with a lot of press coverage and serious issues debated (like, for example, should the local authority be getting involved ‘lifestyle’ issues? What next – will they  be telling us what to wear?). 

You’ll find the report at:
http://www.dublincity.ie/Images/ACA%20July2006%20Final%20Final%20Report%20_tcm35-39430.pdf (2.5mb)

(Incidentally, check out section 5.7 where Vodaphone, Footlocker and Spar are singled out for being the worst offenders of having ‘Overly Strident/Garish Colour Schemes’. The most overly strident and garish thing you’ll find on Grafton Street is the Torremolinos style paving. It’s awful).

Thursday, 11 December 2008 20:09:28 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Your link is broken, but I think this is the same document: http://www.dublincity.ie/Planning/HeritageConservation/Conservation/Documents/Grafton%20Street%20and%20Environs%20ACA.pdf

Perhaps Dublin City Council and An Taisce (who objected to Lidl taking over the Habitat store on the corner of Stephen's Green) could mount joint foot patrols at either end of the street to keep out the riff-raff.
Paddy Matthews
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