Ireland’s hatred of tall buildings

There’s a reason why churches have tall spires. 

Spiritually, psychologically, they’re deeply aspirational.

The building soars.  Our spirits soar with it.  You never hear of a “low-rise cathedral”. 

Back in the last century, when Ireland was poor, I was embarrassed by Ireland’s lack of skyscrapers, and consoled myself with the expectation that, as soon as the country had a bit of money, we’d rectify the situation.

But we’ve had money coming out of earholes for decades, and still the same timidity.

I realised our lack of vertical ambition has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with an inferiority complex. A particularly-insidious inferiority complex too, as it has convinced itself it’s mere historical curation.  

Meantime back in planning land, another day, another tall building shot down by Irish planners:

“ …the proposed building would stand apart as an overly assertive solo building which would not form part of a coherent cluster,” the planners found.

The proposal would therefore have a significant and detrimental visual impact on Dublin’s historic skyline, by reason of fragmentation and visual intrusion and would thereby seriously injure the urban character of the City Centre skyline, would create a precedent for similar type undesirable development and would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.”

Yep, we can’t be having anything “assertive” now, how vulgar.  We’re Irish, no assertiveness here. Croppies lie down.  These planners see a large building “dominating”.  I see a tall building as providing hope to its neighbours, a tall template that their stunted, apologetic existences can aspire to …

Architecturally, Dublin is still a colonised city, forever genuflecting to the 3-storey Georgians. 

Everything about this miserable decision screams cautious bourgeois twats in full-on committee mode. 

If I was in the room where that dull decision was taken, I suspect that I’d have fallen out with everyone in the room. 

Are people still scarred by Fatima Mansions (the tower block, not the band) lol.

The subjectivity is off the scale here, as is the unspoken, and culturally regressive, reverse-snobbish, assumption that “everyone hates tall buildings”.  Blind prejudice masquerading as a priori standards. 

A tall building can be ugly and inappropriate, same as a short one.

And care must be taken to ensure that any building – tall or short – does not obscure a good view of an existing well-loved building, of course. 

But as this bloke notes:

Georgian proportions have defined the Dublin skyline for the last 250 years, but standards established then should not be the sole determinant for the ambition or natural evolution of the city for the next 250 years.

This position contributes to urban sprawl, prioritising the character of a few areas over developing the green belt within and outside the city.”

Consistently, in comparison to some other European cities, Dublin needs around twice the amount of land to house the same amount of people. 

Dublin houses circa 2,900 people per square kilometre.  The corresponding figure for Madrid is 5,400 people per square kilometre.  For London, it’s 5,100 people per square kilometre.  For Barcelona, 5,000 people per square kilometre.

In other words, Dublin’s sprawl is off the scale, and all because Dublin’s planners have decided that a large chunk of Irish territory should be governed by a height template established by the English in the 1700s.  But that’s OK – the sprawl contributes to Dublin’s endemic traffic gridlock and it means that all those tourists stuck in taxis in from the airport get more time to admire all those pleasantly-nondescript low-rises that Dublin’s planners have decided are the only way to live:

Dublin city centre houses

Done right, a skyscraper is beautiful:

On my first visit to New York, I was up early and away into Manhattan, as excited as a child. 

The towering brutalist buildings were and remain things of wonder:

NYC, sunrise
Manhattanhenge in New York City, seen from 42nd street.

Ugly as sin, and an appalling vista to be stoutly resisted, in the minds of Irish planners:

Chicago skyline
Skyscraper, London

Check the old church beside the above skyscraper in London. In Dublin, that juxtaposition would have led to sackings.

And, of course, skyscrapers don’t just look good from the outside in. They’re terrific from the inside out too, as this one in London shows us;

Skyscraper restaurant, London

That day in NYC years ago, I certainly didn’t get up early to have a day-long gawk at a bunch of 3 stories. 

Dreams and ambitions should be lofty.

I judge countries’ ambitions, and openness to change by many things, but by 2 in particular – how tall their buildings are and how high their speed limits are …

In each case, well, “lower is lower”

Centuries later, when it comes to planning, we’re still dominated by our former colonists; it’s still a case of croppies lie down. 

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