The Central Bank
Architect: Stephenson Gibney & Associates
One of the city’s most iconic buildings, Central Bank on Dame Street is a striking and unmistakable building. It stands eight storeys tall and is offset slightly from the main line of buildings allowing for its large granite plaza which spans out to meet the Dame Street to the front, and which surrounds the east and west sides of the building. As a Southsider, before mobile phones, this was the easiest place to arrange to meet friends off the bus, and, for me, this building has always represented the centre of town.
Decided upon in 1972 – around the same time as the decimalisation of the punt – to alleviate the growth of the Central Bank, which then had its offices at College Green, the building which was built by Sisk, gives 8,500 square feet of office space and that sits on a twin level car park which holds 1,000 cars. What makes this building so unique and so remarkable was the way in which it was constructed, from the top down.
Starting construction in a very cold winter between 1972 and 1973, from an enormous hole in the earth on the former site of Dublin’s Commercial Buildings, two 50 metre central columns were built, around which each of the 400 tonne floors, that were built at ground level, were hoisted into position. Initially the structure looked like a mushroom before the individual floors were added top-down. Each of the floors we raised at a painstaking rate of three meters per hour and at two monthly intervals.
After the initial thrust of work, construction was halted completely in October 1974 due to complaints from planning authorities about the height of the building. In April 1976 the workers returned with a revised roof design and by 1979 the work had been completed and the bankers moved into their luxurious open-plan office spaces, with floor to ceiling windows and panoramic views of the city, from the mountains to the bay.
However the story doesn’t end there. After the arduous and troublesome build which took in dispute after dispute, this modern beast still wasn’t without its detractors. The reason it holds personal significance to me is that my dad, Aidan Senior, was working at the time as a draftsman with JMSE, and himself and a colleague Mick Boylan were asked to do the drawing work on another version of the roof, which although revised during the build, was still outside the height boundaries set down in the planning permission.
“They probably thought, ‘We’re building this super-building on Dame Street, nobody is going to care if it’s ten feet higher than its supposed to be’, but they did! So basically all we did was redesign the roof – again – and we had a bank holiday weekend to get it in.”
“It wasn’t immediately after the building was finished, it was allowed to stand too tall for years. It didn’t look like anyone was going to insist on changing it to begin with, everybody knew it was too tall but nobody was coming along saying ‘you better lower this or we’ll demolish it’. It was around six or seven years later that we got involved.”
With four days over an Easter bank holiday to work with, an enormous mobile crane was brought onto Dame Street to remove the existing roof, and replace it with a structural steel one of a different profile. “We needed it to go together like a Meccano set. Everything needed to be perfect. And it was. I went into town on the Sunday and met the Chief Engineer, he came up and shook my hand. He was delighted because the crane was getting ready to pull off.”
In 2014 the building was put on the market and the Central Bank staff moved again, leaving the function and future of the Dame Street edifice in uncertainty. There is a call for the building to be used for a gallery, museum or in a cultural respect, something many Dubliners would love to see.
Words: Aidan Lonergan
Image: Come Here To Me