ESB to redevelop Dublin headquarters

Development excludes Georgian façade restoration

Ireland's Electrical Supply Board (ESB) is to redevelop its headquarters on Fitzwilliam St in south central Dublin. The plans come almost 50 years since the controversial ESB building was constructed on the site of 16 Georgian houses which were demolished in what conservationists described as one of the worst acts of vandalism in the history of the state.

The ESB now plans to knock down its headquarters and apply for planning permission to double the capacity of the existing structure. However its new design by Grafton Architects and O'Mahony Pike Architects does not comply with the recommendation by Dublin City Council (DCC) that the street's lost Georgian façades be restored. Instead the ESB says the plan will "re-interpret" the original architectural heritage of what was once Dublin’s longest Georgian facade.

When the ESB planned to demolish the 16 Georgian houses in 1962 there were protests from the newly-established Irish Georgian Society, leading Irish cultural figures and even Princess Grace of Monaco. However the demolition had some support from younger architects, including the new building's designers Sam Stephenson and Arthur Gibney, as well as English architectural historian Sir John Summerson who described the 16 houses as a “sloppy, uneven series” with no architectural coherence: “It is simply one damned house after another.”

Following the negative publicity generated by the protests, Dublin Corporation (now DCC) refused permission for the demolition, however at the last minute, the then minister for local government Neil Blaney overturned the decision and the demolition went ahead. Blaney expressed the commonly-held official view at the time that Georgian buildings were an unwelcome post-colonial British legacy, saying "I was glad to see them go. They stood for everything I hate." Blaney's government colleague Kevin Boland also derided the conservation movement as "a consortium of belted earls, their ladies and left-wing intelllectuals."

The backlash against the ESB and the government was somewhat eased by the collapse of two nearby Georgian tenement buildings within weeks of each other in 1963, and a nervous Dublin Corporation embarked on a demolition spree, condemning 900 buildings in the city.

The winning entry of the competition for the ESB headquarters was a modern design, by then up-and-coming architects Stephenson and Gibney, who were part of a generation of dynamic Irish architects that shaped Dublin in the second half of the 20th century. Both Stephenson and Gibney have died recently, and now their controversial ESB building faces demolition 44 years after it was completed.