They were supposed to symbolise the new Ireland, a collection of skyscrapers and internationally renowned buildings that would illustrate to the world the global hub that the country, and in particular Dublin, had become. In the end, they were never built, with some left firmly at ground level as the economy crashed and the myth of Ireland's national wealth was exposed. In other cases, the planners decided against high rise, while a combination of An Bord Pleanála and significant opposition from well-to-do residents of areas like Ballsbridge has seen other plans turned down.
This was Celtic Tiger Ireland and it was a new place, some of us said, with new ideas and a new way of looking of things. The housing boom had made most of us appear better off (even if it was entirely based on cheap credit) and there was a widely-held belief Dublin was ready for buildings to put it on the world map. Then when the PDs published a document in 2005 calling for the relocation of Dublin port and its replacement with high-rise buildings, it triggered a new debate on whether "mini-Manhattans" had a place in the capital.
As part of the team hired by financier Dermot Desmond to oppose Sean Dunne's skyscraper plan for Ballsbridge, architect Shane O'Toole told An Bord Pleanála that "starchitects" were being hired all over the globe "in a vain attempt" to replicate the titanium-clad Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain. The world's leading architects had become near-household names and with the property bubble making developers rich, at least on paper, those starchitects came to Dublin.
Foster + Partners moved into plush offices off Grafton Street, winning commissions for the U2 tower and the Clarence hotel. The curve-loving Zaha Hadid didn't see her entry win the U2 tower design competition, but Treasury Holdings, which commissioned it, has since raised the prospect of constructing the building on Dublin's north docks.
Other starchitects had more success in seeing their projects come to fruition. Daniel Libeskind's theatre in Grand Canal Square opens next year while Manuel Aires Mateus's five-star hotel is under construction next door. Convention Centre Dublin, designed by our own Kevin Roche, will also open its doors next year. Those projects though are low rise, sitting comfortably within Dublin's flat skyline.
In the end, despite the breathless announcements and the bitter debate that followed, no skyscrapers were built in the capital city. It was left to Cork to construct the Republic's new tallest building, the 17-storey Elysian tower. Even that has not been adverse to the downturn however; developer Michael O'Flynn told financial news service Bloomberg that 80% of the apartments were still on the market as of late April. "It's not the product, it's just the times we're in," O'Flynn said.
Elsewhere, some of the sites touted for high rise sit derelict or fenced off, the idle cranes a reminder of what might have been.
Manor Park Homebuilders acquired its site on Crane Street in the Digital Hub, Dublin 8, following a tender process that saw two sites in the area – the other was on Thomas Street and was acquired by P Elliott & Co – sold for a combined value of nearly €120m, part of which was to be paid in cash and part of which was to be provided in the form of new offices for the state.
However, when Manor Park unveiled plans for buildings of up to 53 storeys on its 2.5 acre site you could hear jaws hit the floor. The deBlacam and Meagher-designed scheme was turned down by the city council because "its unprecedented height would seriously impact on the identity, character and scale of the inner city" and it "would impact unacceptably on adjoining properties". An Bord Pleanála upheld that decision because of the "excessive height of the proposed buildings" and the "excessive scale of development" but it did praise "the high quality of design of the buildings".
Earlier this year Manor Park, which is owned by the Moran family, was granted planning permission for a much more modest office and retail scheme on a quarter of the site.
Launched in a blaze of publicity, the U2 tower is on ice after the DDDA announced that negotiations on the future of the plan will not recommence until October to allow for an "improvement in the current uncertainty surrounding the property and financial markets". Neither market has improved in any real sense so it remains to be seen if the tower will ever be built. U2 and developers Ballymore and Paddy McKillen, through a company called Geranger, won the right to develop the site using a design by starchitects Foster + Partners, but had refused to pay a non-refundable deposit. The 120m tower was to include apartments, a hotel and shops and construction was due to finish in 2011.
One development-land expert recently told the Sunday Tribune that the site is now worth less than €10m, significantly below the bids of up to €100m which were submitted for the site by various competitors. The DDDA is also facing a multimillion-euro bill from Dublin-based architectural firm BDCH, whose proposal had originally won the international competition to design a tower for the site.
During the boom, Sean Dunne spent nearly €380m to acquire Jurys and the Berkeley Court in Ballsbridge, both next door to each other. His subsequent €1.5bn redevelopment plan saw Dublin City Council reject plans for a 37-storey tower designed by Henning Larsen Architects and an office block on the seven-acre landbank, despite the fact that the tower was by far the most impressive part of the proposal. The council instead gave planning for six other buildings on the site. After the decision, Dunne's Mountbrook announced that development would not commence until the two buildings refused permission by the council were granted permission, either through An Bord Pleanála or Dublin City Council, in a subsequent planning application. An Bord Pleanála ruled against the proposal, however, saying it would represent "gross overdevelopment" of the site. Afterwards, Dunne said that a revised application to develop the site would be drawn up.
The hotels continue to trade under the name D4 Hotels. Dunne has other landholdings in the area via his ownership of part of the AIB Bankcentre complex and an office block known as Hume House, which was the subject of legal action between Dunne and property advisers CBRE. ?
Concert promoter Harry Crosbie's Watchtower building next to the O2 on Dublin's north docks was intended as a bookend to the U2 tower on the other side of the quays. The foundations, which cost €14m, are in place but the site has been tarmaced over as the economic downturn takes hold. Crosbie now plans to give over part of the 120-metre building to offices and commercial use rather than develop apartments as originally planned.
The tower, which was designed by Scott Tallon Walker, forms part of Crosbie's €800m Point Village development, which will have a shopping centre anchored by Dunnes Stores. Dunnes is currently taking legal action, seeking to be released from that agreement, as a result of the Watchtower and the U2 Experience being put on hold. That move followed an earlier legal action taken by Crosbie against Dunnes.
Crosbie is one of the largest landowners in the docklands. He is involved in the Spencer Dock scheme on the north docks and the Daniel Libeskind-designed theatre in Grand Canal Square.
Plans for a flying-saucer-style extension to the Clarence hotel in Temple Bar had architectural conservationists up in arms but the Foster + Partners-designed scheme was eventually approved. However, Bono and the Edge, who part-own the hotel, have since said the project is on hold. The other owners are property syndicator Derek Quinlan and developer Paddy McKillen who owns half of the Jervis Street and Powerscourt shopping centres and has numerous retail interests.
The plan was to increase the hotel to 140-bedrooms by demolishing a number of protected structures. The planning-appeals board eventually ruled that the proposal constituted "exceptional circumstances" which would justify the part demolition of those protected buildings. The appeals board ruled that the Foster + Partners scheme "would provide a building of unique quality and architectural distinction at this quayside location, would not unduly detract from the Liffey Quays Conservation Area, would in time become a significant feature in vistas along the Liffey and would ensure the continued historic hotel use of a signature building, which would add to the architectural legacy of the city of Dublin".
When Noel Smyth's Dunloe Ewart won planning permission in 2001 for a 90-metre tower designed by OMS at the former Hammond Steelworks on Sir John Rogerson's Quay, it was viewed as a major victory over planners. The four-acre site was acquired by Dunloe after it narrowly beat rival developer Liam Carroll in a tendering process.
Dunloe Ewart was later bought by Carroll after a hostile takeover and the 231 apartments and office properties were never built – Dublin City Council decided insufficient works had been carried out before the planning application expired to justify an extension of the planning permission. The ruling was important because the DDDA had brought in a planning stipulation that only one tower could be built on the south docks, and that it had to be developed on the U2 tower site. That meant that if Carroll reapplied for planning for the tower element of his scheme it would likely have been turned down. Legal proceedings against Dublin City Council's decision were lodged with the High Court by one of Carroll's companies in 2007 but little has happened since.