Saturday, February 21, 2009


The only thing better than this:

#52, East Wall, Dublin

. . . is its proximity to this:

Sean O'Casey Community Centre,
East Wall, Dublin

Officially, it's the Sean O'Casey Community Centre, but since its completion in September 2008, Dubliners have dubbed the new building in the East Wall "The Cheese". One thing I've learned is that if the Irish take the time to slag you or call you by a nickname you can't quite decide if you should laugh at take offense, they generally think you're all right. If they don't like you or if you bore them, they simply won't bother. This rule applies to buildings as much as people. Statues and landmarks all over Dublin have livelier names than the ones in the guidebooks.

Consider some of the old familiars. There's Molly Malone with her wheelbarrow (the Tart with the Cart) or the now-gone-missing Anna Livia Plurabelle in her cascading fountain (the Floozie in the Jacuzzi). Unfortunately for Anna, the real-life version of James Joyce's poetic embodiment of the River Liffey was not only called the Hooer in the Sewer but also repeatedly vandalized and eventually removed by the Dublin City Council for safekeeping, whatever that means; Ms. Plurabelle's since been replaced by the tall stainless steel spire (the Stiletto in the Ghetto or the Why in the Sky, depending on if you lean toward the sociological or the philosophical). And though it resembles a sporting trophy of some kind, I'm partial to the Phil Lynott propped outside Bruxelles: the Ace with the Bass, of course. As for the East Wall's new neighbor, the Cheese so far stands alone. But the Cheese by the Quays? Mightn't be the worst, if you're feeling rhymey.

Contrary to popular belief (my snarkitectural one-liners have been quoted anonymously, I'm proud to say, not once but twice in the Irish Times, including my level-headed suggestion that an ugly new building beside City Hall be wrapped Jean-Claude Christo-style), I really enjoy when a new building emerges that just gets it right.

On my most recent trip to Dublin in January, this was one of my first stops. The pictures I'd seen looked whimsical and playful and I never pass up an opportunity to go for a cold, rainy cycle through the docklands. Despite a few disappointments -- the view of the ground level was blocked by some ugly temporary hoardings and the center wasn't yet open for an interior look about -- the new building was a welcome sight. How many buildings actually make you smile as you approach? For a community center, the playful vibe meshes well with the functionality of the concrete structure. The "holes" in the wall are porthole-style windows that offer varying views from the different levels inside. The color scheme of faded robin's egg blue, deep red, and honey-colored wood is fresh and unexpected.

I'd be curious to see how the building gets on once the community center opens its doors. In the meantime, well done to architects O'Donnell + Tuomey for bringing an imaginative new structure to the skyline of Dublin and giving me a reason to sharpen my somewhat dull skills in kudos distribution. I'd hate to only be known for my snark. Or would I?

If you see this door, knock and tell the architects "Thank you."


Jackie said...

I think you'll like this:
The music teacher at my elementary school played the accordion. I had him from K-8th grade. Some of my most vivid memories are of my class singing "Molly Malone" while he walked around our desks (arranged all in straight lines- like Madeline) and played the accordion.

"Now her ghost wheels her barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"

It was kind of fabulous.

Julie said...

Did Binney & Smith have a "faded robin's egg blue"?