Grand Canal Square, Dublin, Ireland

Location: Dublin, Ireland
Client: Dublin Docklands Development Corporation
Size: 1 hectare
Status: Completed 2007

Ideas for any project at Martha Schwartz Partners begin with a look into the history of the area. Free form ideas are generated around the table and then narrowed down to 4 or 5 concepts. Inspiration for Grand Canal Square came from the existing landscape and the theatre by Studio Daniel Libeskind slated to be completed in 2010. The €8million project has replaced a smaller paved space built over an underground car park.

Grand Canal Square is the major public open space in the Dublin Docklands Development area. It is located on Grand Canal in Dublin and forms the focal point of this new development. Facing out to Grand Canal it is flanked on its other end by Libeskind‘s prominent new theatre and entertainment building as well as a new hotel to the north and an office development to the south. In this setting dominated by contemporary architectural expression, we have created a public space that will offer color and dynamism to Dublin‘s open spaces. Due to its cultural celebrity setting, we have developed a scheme with a central red carpet that leads from the theatre out onto the canal and vice versa. A green carpet connects the new hotel to the office development.

The hardscape consists of a cracked-glass scheme- a series of criss-cross “paths of desire” stretching across the length of the square connecting various points of interest for pedestrians. The original square was much smaller. MSP wanted to enlarge the square by extending the hardscape up to the buildings’ edges. Granite paving from the previous square, laid out just two years ago, has been recycled in the new design to create paths across the square in every direction while still allowing for the space to host major public events such as festivals and performances.

Extending out from the steps of the theatre, the red carpet rolls into the square, spilling the magic of the theatre into the public space and down to the water’s edge. The carpet is made from bright red resin-glass pavings that reflect and capture light during the day. The red pick-up sticks imbedded into the carpet provide dramatic light at night.

The green carpet has a calmer expression and offers ample seating on the edges of planters of various heights. The planters, extruded polygons of the green carpet, are planted with marsh vegetation as a reminder of the historic wetland area of this site and some offer immaculate lawns for lingering and enjoying the spectacular setting. Pushing out of the plaza is a water feature of randomly stacked green marble that is overflowing with bubbling water. The square is further criss-crossed by narrow paths that allow for movement across the square in any possible direction while still allowing big activities such as markets or fairs. The new square will be an urban magnet with 24-hour activity and is an accurate interpretation of Dublin’s energy.

The three triangular objects are the two pavilions and the water feature. The two pavilions allow access to the stairs and elevator leading to the underground parking as well as add ventilation. The pavilions are stainless steel mesh with blue walls and blue LED lights. The third triangle, a cascading fountain, evokes a boulder being pushed from the ground with different layers representing a “brook in spring”. White LED lights illuminate the water at night.

In addition, the fact that it opens onto a large, non-tidal body of water makes it a unique space for Ireland, as such spaces have only traditionally occurred in Mediterranean cities, for example, Trieste and Venice.

Grand Canal Square has helped to create a presence that gave the area’s development community confidence to move forward. The space created a strong address and presence and is now the address for several international company headquarters. It helped to keep this neighbourhood thriving during an economic downturn by creating a desireable area in which to work and live.