Defining the Street in Dublin and Ballsbridge

Parnell Street

Parnell Street

In my opinion, good city buildings touch each other and define the street. They don’t have to be glamorous to make good urban fabric. When building work together, they create good spaces for people to enjoy.

I’ll give two quick examples of clearly defined streets. These two streets are near my apartment in Dublin. Unfortunately, they are both designed for cars–not people.  Nevertheless, the buildings work together to define space. On Parnell Street, the buildings support a good mix of uses and are close enough together to provide the density of population needed to support ground-floor retail. Residential density is lower a few blocks away, on North King, and ground-floor business are fledgling.

North King Street -- view toward the Jameson Distillery smokestack -- where density breaks down.

North King Street — view toward the Jameson Distillery smokestack — at the point where density breaks down.

Simply put, a proper mix of residential and office space is necessary to support ground floor restaurants and retail. By providing residential as well as working space, mixed-use districts are active throughout the day. Businesses can draw customers morning, noon, and night.

Having the right mix in your district ensures you’ll be able to get the services you need without getting in a car. (Oh, that we’d build this way in the States! Walkability is so rare in cities back home.)

I was reminded of all this last Thursday, when I travelled to the Fulbright office in Ballsbridge to help interview Fulbright applicants. It’s in the outskirts of Dublin. Although this is a suburban neighborhood, it is still dense by US standards. Notice that there’s more space between buildings in Ballsbridge than in Dublin city center, but that there’s still a good mix of uses/services. Nevertheless, some buildings contribute much more to the life of the street than others!

Silver Linings of Dublin

I'd never noticed this beautiful weathering panel on the Quay just east of the Four Courts. Lovely, isn't it?

I’d never noticed this beautiful weathering panel on the Quay just east of the Four Courts. Lovely, isn’t it?

I’d snuck in one last trip to see the nephews this past weekend while I was back in the States.  It was such fun, but I caught a bug that kept me in bed all day Monday.  That prevented me from wrapping up my writing in a timely fashion and packing for my return to Dublin.  I had to lean on my colleagues for help and then throw my bags together in the wee hours before my flight.

The resulting overweight bag set me back $200.  And, I arrived in Dublin sans Irish credit card, bus pass, et cetera.  I suppose those documents are at home in some very safe location.  Dave has been in bed with the bug today and hasn’t yet located them.  I spent the day pulling myself back together.

The sliver lining in this cloud is that a new bankcard is on the way.  And on my walk to withdrawal cash I discovered wonderful new delights of Dublin.

Thom White and his Magical Plot

Shannon stressing over her paper.

Shannon stressing over her paper. (Dave snapped this photo to tease me about my laptop set-up. My back was killing me; I had to stand!)

After the second day in a row of rigorous paper writing, I was delighted when our architect-neighbor Thom dropped in to say hello.

He brought a tin of coffee in thanks to Dave for sitting his pets. And his visit reminded me I’d wanted to post photos of The Plot he designed for downtown Norfolk.  It’s located on the unused but prominently located site-of-a-stalled-development project.

It was beautiful place to behold on the morning of the solstice, when Dave and I arrived in downtown Norfolk for breakfast with our friend Wayne Ringer.

Thom White is an up-and-coming young architect. (Yes, you heard me right. Young. Architects are considered young until they hit their 50s.)

Architects Thom White and Shannon Chance.

Architects Thom White and Shannon Chance.

Thom and his business partner, Mel Price, have been shaking up the design scene in Hampton Roads the past couple of years. (For all you out there who think I get my genders confused, Mel’s name appears to be short for Mary Ellen… and yes, Leslie Lee IS a man!)

Thom and Mel’s young firm, WPA, has been doing such great work – in addition to an admirable level of community service – that they’ve recently snagged a number of very prestigious design contacts.

A couple years back, Thom was part of the Emerging Leaders in Architecture program sponsored by the Virginia AIA. They did interesting an interesting community service project in Richmond. Back home in Norfolk, people saw the opportunity to spruce up a rather ratty-looking site that lies smack in the middle of downtown. A number of buildings had been torn down over the years to make way for boom-time development that never commenced. The site was left dormant and lonely.

A kind gift and note from the Whites.

A kind gift and note from the Whites.

Thom and Mel dreamed up a temporary solution and “Hundreds of volunteers have worked with the Downtown Norfolk Council to turn the vacant two-acre plot of land into a park, complete with Wi-Fi, vendors, entertainment and other attractions,” according to WVEC, a local TV station aired a story on it.

On the morning of December 21st, The Plot was simply magic. If you’re in the neighborhood, you should stop by the D’Egg diner for a meal and take a stroll through Thom’s magical Plot.

Bringing Prague Home

Inside Outside Spaces

You can view the whole set of boards I produced after our one-week trip by clicking here.

Here are some photos of the exhibit that my Hampton University architecture students assembled after our 2008 spring break trip to Prague.  In addition to the exhibit, we also delivered a lecture on campus and another for the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).  Those talks were about the urban issues each of us studied on our one-week trip.

With the help of Lenka Schulzova, an alumna of our program who was born in the Czech Republic, I’d planned an itinerary that included lots of warm spaces inside where we could draw (Prague is chilly in March) as well as outside spaces.

It was truly amazing how this group came together during this trip.  Everyone on the trip embraced the challenge to practice sketching as much as possible.  Daisy Williams (a truly amazing teacher who is now working at the University of Oregon) provided instruction on drawing before and during the trip.

Each day of our trip, the students eagerly explored the city.  They frequently asked to stop to make sketches.  And they enthusiastically discussed and critiqued each other’s work.  We developed so much skill and knowledge during this trip!  And we brought what we learned home to share with others.

Prague is remarkable in that so many grand, public spaces are available indoors.  It also has lovely courtyards embedded inside the blocks of streets.  This is the case in many cities, but in Prague the courtyards are often accessible to the general public — which is a great treat for visitors and residents alike!

Discovering all this, I titled my series of boards “insideout|side spaces” and described different qualities of these Czech spaces on each board.

Dramatic Smithfield

Mix-use complex built during the economic boom known as the Celtic Tiger.

An impressive canyon-like space within a mix-use complex that was built during the economic boom (known as the Celtic Tiger).

Smithfield is home to some dramatic public spaces.  Most notably, there’s Europe’s largest cobblestone-paved plaza. Bordering this are circular spaces that make Swiss cheese of the Jameson Distillery (where the courtyards are even painted yellow) and the dramatic canyon opposite the plaza from it (see photo).

A lot of development happened in Smithfield during the economic boom known as the Celtic Tiger.  Today the apartments of Smithfield appear t be filled with residents — but many of the cultural, retail, and office spaces of Smithfield are vacant or under used.

Nevertheless, there are enough restaurants, attractions, businesses, and services here to keep the place feeling alive enough.

I haven’t yet been to many of the highlights (such as the Lighthouse Cinema, the Smithfield Art Tunnel, the Generator Hostel, or the Maldron Hotel). But I have enjoyed my time at a number of the eateries as well as the Jameson Distillery, the Cobblestone, the Elbowroom (which is one of Smithfield’s many guys), and the Fresh Market.

Smithfield really doesn’t deserve the bad wrap it gets.  But as long as people have the perception that there might be something scary here, the rents will stay reasonable. And that part is fine by me!

The old smokestack of the Jameson Distillery.

The old smokestack of the Jameson Distillery.