17 Jan 2008

Despite what Dublin people might say in light of recent experiences, one of the most exciting things a city can do is create a new part of itself. Cork will soon embark on such a project (if the economic conditions haven’t closed that window of opportunity) when the €1bn+ McFoster development for the South Docklands finally gets underway.

The proposed scheme is, apparently, based on the South Docklands Local Area Plan which was published middle of last year. I haven’t seen the Foster drawings, so I can’t comment on what’s actually proposed or how closely it conforms to the Local Area Plan on which it’s based. But I have read the Local Area Plan.

Now, I’ve worked on many’s the wordy, unlikely-to-see-the-light-of-day, committee-addled, rushed-to-the-printer-the-night-before-publication local plan in my time and I know what a frustrating experience it can be to put so much effort into something which has every chance of being ignored.

Clear thinking, good English and useful graphics are the first casualties in even the most well intentioned (goodness, I almost said ‘successful’!) Irish development plans. I could harp on about how often the Cork LAP uses the term ‘high quality’ before it finally defines ‘high quality’ as anything which has quality of a high nature in it.  (Let me have one tiny little snark: check out the ‘Interesting Views’ analysis diagram on page 43

for some reason its reminding me of the cunning plan Captain Mainwaring was constantly promising the boys would eventually defeat the Huns -

And I’m presuming those proposed ‘typical new street’ elevations which show up elsewhere are intended-Aldo-Rossi-retro and not just the photocopies of architecture student thesis drawings circa 1985? I shouldn’t laugh, I’ve been there… )

My problem is with the content. After trudging through page after page of alleged site analysis and hypnotically repeated assertions that the South Docklands will be a character-defined, history-respectful, sustainable development the bold plan is finally revealed to be… a basic grid iron (and not a good one) lined with standard Irish Times defined Mid Rise Buildings; there’s to be a smattering of strategically located Landmarks (incorrectly labelled, as you'll find out in the next article - according to the IT they’re not Landmark, merely High Rise), a light rail system, neighbourhoods-with-traditional-character, a spindly bridge, and so on. Throw in some ecology and you have it exactly. 

The Plan quotes precedent and includes a photograph of the Borneo Sporenborg in Amsterdam which is strangely cited for its ‘good design’ – the ground breaking thinking which went into creating this genuinely interesting urban experiment isn’t mentioned. Some of the other precedents cited look quite dodgy. 

Custom stupefies the senses. I’ve grown so used to reading bland Local Area Plans that I almost didn’t notice that this one wasn’t a justification for a new housing estate on the outskirts of some gateway town but a scheme to manage the REDEFINITION OF THE REAL CAPITAL OF THE REPUBLIC! It suddenly struck me: the Docklands project shoud be about kicking Cork City into the league of full-service-airline destinations not making it look like a typically dreary central European urban extension.  

The Plan is a catalogue of missed opportunities: there’s no real attempt to understand the fabric of the site, nor to interpret its history, nor to analyse its relationship with the existing city core nor (basically) to create an image of the future of Cork which relates to the aspirations of the people who live there. In its rush to hit the ‘sustainable, high quality, light rail’ bases as hard as possible it overlooked the fact that it was bland, bloodless, dispassionate and unconvincing.

But where are the people of Cork on all this? Don’t they care? Where are their elected representatives?

(Paudie. Give that fella across the room from you a good hard kick up the backside.
Or else I’ll review his book for him. Which he won’t want.) 

Check this out. http://www.ocsarchitects.com. This is a project carried out (at their own expense and for the love and passion of it) for Limerick city by O’Connor Shanahan Archs. It’s a sort of parallel to the official urban renewal project that the City Council has been engaged it. It’s the kind of thinking we need.

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