AKC News // 2 Planned Towers Tell of the New Dublin and Ireland

By Eamon Quinn
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Source: International Herald Tribune

DUBLIN: On a February evening, with a cold wind funneling off the River Liffey and around the new construction lots of the Grand Canal Basin, shivering rock-music pilgrims from Spain sought out directions for Hanover Quay. They were searching the old Dublin dockyards for the recording studio of the Irish rock band U2.

U2 will be moving on in a few years. The band plans to relocate to the two top floors of a 35-story diamond- shaped residential tower that, if plans go well, will start to rise this year at the confluence of the Liffey, the River Dodder and the Grand Canal, on the southeastern perimeter of the docklands.

As part of a land swap involving its current studio site, the band will lend its name to the tower, which is expected to cost €100 million, or $132 million, and to reach 120 meters, or 393 feet. In turn, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, which is overseeing a commercial, social and cultural grand design across the docklands, will knock down the band's current nondescript studio to open public access to Hanover Quay. The docklands cover more than 1,300 acres, or 526 hectares.

The authority, which will be the developer of the U2 Tower, expects to announce its choice of builder in April or May.

There was no sign of rock stars on the quay on this cold evening. But as the fans finished their homage at the shuttered studio buildings, they were unaware that next door, in the 18th- century warehouse that has been converted into a home, Harry Crosbie, property developer, impresario and U2 friend, was unrolling the newest drafts of architectural plans for a second tower.

Crosbie's building, called the Watchtower and also 120 meters tall, is to rise on a northern docklands spot, a short distance across the Liffey from the U2 Tower.

The two towers are meant to form a kind of maritime gateway for the few who travel into the city by ship and to be the city's seaward border, luring Dubliners from the heart of the city around O'Connell Bridge into the long-ignored docklands.

Both towers will be primarily residential but will have some commercial spaces. They are expected to command the area's most expensive prices; prime residential apartment space in the docklands now sells for about €1,400 a square foot, or about €15,000 a square meter.

Around the Crosbie tower site, the development authority has approved construction of a shopping mall, a 250- bed hotel, an "entertainment village" and the refurbishment of Crosbie's existing Point Theater into a 15,000-seat amphitheater.

To one side of the area, where some excavation has started, Crosbie also plans a separate, seven-story building, to be called the U2 Experience, that he says will relate the history of rock music through the eyes of the U2 band members.

He estimates that the entire development will cost €800 million.

The creation of two landmark towers in a city whose core is 18th- and 19th-century low-rise structures is the story of the rapid development of Dublin's docklands.

It is also a story about Ireland in the midst of enormous change: In just 12 years, the Irish economy has gone from being the poorest in the European Union to being one of the richest in the world.

The evidence of growing prosperity is seen in the construction activity all across the docklands, which were left idle 40 years ago when the Dublin Port and its containerized traffic moved to deeper waters downriver.

"Living down here in those days was like living on the moon, people thought I was completely mad," Crosbie said about his home, which is protected by law as a historic site. "I really got to know U2 when they went into next door. They asked for the use of a warehouse and they moved from Windmill Lane about 14 years ago."

There has been good-natured ribbing between Crosbie and the band members over who will lie and claim to have the tallest tower, even though the development authority has said both structures must be the same height.

By world standards, the towers will not be all that tall; the shortest structure on any list of the world's 100 tallest skyscrapers is 253 meters, or more than twice the planned height of the towers.

Crosbie acknowledged that the design for his tower was plainer than the one for U2. "U2 would be making more of a statement than me," he said, but his will be "a little bit more adventurous."

At the development authority, its director of architecture, John McLaughlin, was also consulting dockland maps, pointing out historic buildings and new construction sites up and down the river from his Liffey-side office.

"When the ships moved downriver, they left behind all these industrial areas," McLaughlin said.

Referring to spots on the maps, he said: "There's symmetry to them: this one is 70 to 80 acres. That one is 120 acres.

"The North Lotts were so-called because after the North Wall was built in the 18th century, the grounds were in- filled and developed. The streets were called Sheriff and Mayor after the offices of the then-city corporation."

Captain William Bligh, of "Mutiny on the Bounty" notoriety, played a small part in Dublin dockland history, helping to map the port that was created more than 200 years ago when walls were constructed to keep out the sea.

McLaughlin also recounted some more recent history. Initially, the development authority would allow buildings to be no more than 60 meters high.

"Since I got involved, we have looked to build something taller to mark out an important perimeter of the city," he said.

"What we did was to amend the planning permission for a tower of 100-story plus," which allows the U2 and Crosbie towers at their full planned heights, McLaughlin said.

If a project corresponds to the authority's master plan for the docklands, a developer can expect to get approval for his project within six weeks of submitting an application, a speedy turnaround that just would not happen at any other planning authority in Ireland. "It's about providing certainty," McLaughlin said.

The authority is also laying out transport systems, including the planned extension of the new Luas trams of Dublin into the northern docklands. (Luas is the Irish word for speedy.)

Dan McLaughlin, the chief economist at the Bank of Ireland and no relation to John McLaughlin, has tracked what he described as the "tremendous" commercial property boom that has spread across the docklands.

"Since 1992, the returns on property investment for two years have been double-digit percentage gains," Dan McLaughlin said.

"It's a very buoyant economy and the office sector has had extremely strong demand and huge increase in capital values. But it's a very cyclical business and I believe we are past the peak."

Because of the huge capital increases, commercial property yields in Dublin have declined recently and now are below London levels. Despite the plans for the two tall towers, most other residential or commercial buildings in the docklands are being designed as low structures.

"Ireland has embraced apartment living, but the highest tend to stand only five stories tall," Dan McLaughlin said.

"There is a cultural reluctance to go higher."

From his office window, John McLaughlin can see the construction cranes hovering over new low buildings that will house thousands of jobs in the financial services sector. The buildings are rising alongside the existing homes of several Irish and U.S. banks, like Citibank, which first moved into the International Financial Services Center more than a decade ago, lured by Ireland's low corporate tax rate.

Other docklands projects include plans for a new home for the Abbey Theater, the national theater of Ireland and the National Conference Center. Construction already has begun on the Grand Canal Theater; its square has been designed by Martha Schwartz, creator of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Plaza in New York.

Downstream, close to the sites of the U2 and Crosbie towers, a new road bridge designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava will span the Liffey. The bridge, to be called the Samuel Beckett, will complement the new Sean O'Casey pedestrian bridge and Calatrava's first Dublin bridge, the James Joyce, outside the docklands area.

According to the development authority, all the riverside construction, including the two towers, will be built to withstand the worst storm projected in any 200-year period.

McLaughlin said that by law, any profit the development authority generates from selling or co-developing the sites it owns in the docklands, including the U2 Tower, must go to promote community projects and to developing affordable housing in the area.

The development authority, aware of the social friction that resulted when a business banking center first moved into the docklands area, also has inner-city specialists at Yale University advising about changes in the region.

Other developers may seek to build towers in the docklands in the future, but tourists on the quays, or even in the city center, will have no difficulty finding the home of U2's studios. Both the U2 Tower and the Watchtower are being designed to look at their tallest when viewed from downriver in the city center.

Date : 13-03-2007