In recent history, Dublin architecture has been defined by the Georgian buildings in and around the city centre, which have become iconic and part of the city’s identity, especially with all of the colourfully painted doors that add a sense of individuality and contrast to the brick facades. However, from a practical point of view, if we look back to what these buildings were originally designed for, and how they are used today, it’s clear that a lot has changed.
From residential buildings designed to house the aristocratic elite in the Georgian era, the way Georgian buildings have been renovated to function as office buildings (with some residential spaces in between) is an interesting case for understanding a significant shift in the use of these spaces in a contemporary work environment.
For example, the way Georgian buildings are designed means that amenities like bathrooms and kitchens are hidden from view, with often only one bathroom for a whole building, given the way in which aristocratic families in the 18th century would have used these kinds of shared facilities. While Georgian office interiors are airy and bright, with pressed ceilings (having been used as entertaining rooms and bedrooms respectively), they aren’t always conducive to the needs of the office working culture of today, especially when it comes to modern amenities and having the flexibility of both open and private working spaces.
In contrast to this, Miesian Plaza is further expanding on the functional benefits of modern architecture with a different approach to the free flow of space between the interior and exterior. In designing the Seagram Building, for example, Mies van der Rohe challenged the perception of the way in which people access a modern skyscraper by creating a public space between the street and the building. By creating this space, the lines between the exterior and interior spaces are blurred, with the addition of an interactive experience of engaging with public art, like Alexander Calder’s Flamingo, which is outside the Federal Plaza in Chicago, also designed by Mies van der Rohe.
The redevelopment of Miesian Plaza aims to create the same kind of experience for people who work in the building, and even for those who don’t, by expanding on this idea of a functional and inviting exterior space. The modern Miesian concept of blurring lines between interior and exterior spaces has also been taken a step further with a practical approach, for example, in the way that people can access the building, both by car and bicycle.
In a city like Dublin, which is so accessible by bike, it makes sense then that people should be able to access the building in a convenient way that doesn’t create any inconvenience or hassle at the main entrance. This includes underground parking (a huge drawcard in a busy city), and storage for bicycles. In the redevelopment, employees can even take a shower in the building after their bicycle ride, and before heading into the office.
In the Miesian Plaza redevelopment, the blurring of interior and exterior space is also not only being built around creating an accessible pathway into the building for bicycle users and pedestrians, but also by optimising the area between all of the buildings that make up the complex. This use of exterior space was already present in the building’s original design, but to create a more conducive flow between the outside and inside of the space, a water feature is going to be added, and the pre-existing modern sculptures restored and rearranged, to optimise the flow of people in around the water feature and exterior space.
The fact that these two modern sculptures are being carried over into the new design warrants some kind of investigation into who made them, and how they fit into the ethos of both the historical Miesian design and the redevelopment of Miesian Plaza moving into the future. The two sculptures include Reflections by Michael Bulfin, made in 1978, and the Red Cardinal by John Burke, which was also completed in the same year. Both sculptors are celebrated artists in Ireland, so it’s fitting that their sculptures continue to form part of the redevelopment, albeit in different locations, to better suit the improved exterior design.
To elaborate on the inclusion of these sculptures in the Miesian Plaza complex, it’s relevant to take into consideration Mies van der Rohe’s use of sculpture in his buildings. In an analysis of Mies’ well-known Barcelona Pavilion, researcher Penelope Curtis sees the relationship between sculpture and modern architecture as one in which the contrast between the two affects the experience of the space, in other words:
“[Sculpture] is not a curiosity that we must accept… but a component that is crucial to the architecture’s meaning.”
In this case, the two outdoor sculptures are a counterpoint to the vertical lines of the building, and add an element of colour that is otherwise missing in the space. With the solid colours of yellow and red respectively, the sculptures also conform to simple visual and colour blocked designs of De Stijl, a movement that was part of the development of modern and Miesian architecture.
With the sculptures restored and placed in their new positions, they will be an additional visual complement to the redevelopment, in addition to the improvements to the building’s facade, overall energy management, and most importantly, for the visual benefit of the valued tenants who work in the building.