Nice Gaff: IDA Small Business Centre

Posted November 1, 2015 in More


IDA Small Business Centre

Architects: Scott Tallon Walker

Last month an intriguing building emerged at the junction of Gardiner Street and Summerhill. This building is not new however, it is 30 years old. This particular corner of the intersection always seemed like an overgrown end of Diamond Park, a forgotten wilderness in the city, a somehow un-monetised site waiting for its bland apartment block. And then one day the trees, hedges and creepers suddenly disappeared and in their place was left a modernist concrete bunker. The sign said ‘IDA Small Business Centre’ and if you would like to see it you had better hurry as it is about to be demolished.

Nice Gaff 1


The building is beguiling in part because of its unexpectedness, but more so for its many ambiguities. From the Southern or Eastern viewpoint it has a muscular and austere beauty yet when seen from Summerhill it nearly disappears, looking more like a raised terrace than a building. It was built in the mid-’80s as part of the Dublin Corporation’s urban renewal programme to provide low cost space for startup businesses for the population of the newly constructed neighbourhood. Yet its design, by Scott Tallon Walker, seems determinedly anti-urban, turning its back on the important intersection and refusing its obligation to make a piece of urban fabric. The architects chose instead to blend the building into the adjacent park with layered South facing terraces, integrated planters and even wire trellises to encourage its assimilation into the landscape – an idea which in the end proved to be perhaps too successful.

One can imagine the type of city life the project attempted to engender with these small robust units. Like a traditional European street, it is human scaled and could provide for a hairdresser, an artist’s studio, or a mechanic’s garage in close proximity, each free to pour out onto the pavement creating a lively and diverse pedestrian experience.

8384 IDA Gardner A01

The sad irony is that this is exactly the type of city life that existed in this part of the city right up until the entire neighbourhood of Georgian buildings were demolished by the Corporation to allow for this and the adjacent buildings (though not before U2 played a concert right on the very site where our IDA building would be built). This small corner of the city is emblematic of many places in Dublin where centuries of slowly evolving small-scale, robust development was demolished or abandoned in favor of master plans, large-scale development and corporate development companies. Here the misguided master plan, a veritable catalogue of ill-conceived planning concepts, eliminated an ancient city street, exchanged urban space for inward-looking suburban cul-de-sacs, created numerous pockets perfect for ‘anti-social’ anything, added in a bit of road widening, and most importantly it abandoned the small-scale pattern of the city for a series of large-scale structures constructed in the cheapest possible fashion. Unfortunately, in the ensuing decades these development strategies have become commonplace.



The loss of this IDA Centre is distressing not simply because of the disappearance of this interesting, unconventional building but because it represents the passing of a type of development that seems no longer possible. Throughout the city, retail spaces in new developments are almost exclusively mid to large scale as developers prefer fewer units that can be let in longer term contracts to more established companies. The rents for these units are artificially high as they are determined not by market rates but by the high projected income used by developers to get the initial building loan. One need only look a few streets away to Smithfield to see the result – a decade of vacancy and a paucity of urban life. One need only look to the rest of the traditional Georgian city for its highly successful antithesis.

NiceGaff 2


There are a number a bright sparks emerging throughout Dublin based on this bottom up small scale creation of vibrant polis, Block T, the Fumbally Exchange and the Chocolate Factory come to mind. But the city needs many more buildings like this IDA centre, providing opportunity for individuals to make a living while making city life. Unfortunately the IDA centre is making way for the developer’s building du jour, an ultra high density seven storey student housing block with almost no ground floor retail space. The loss of this building has less to do with the quality of its architecture and much more to do with the way contemporary Dublin is being made.

Words: Ryan Kennihan

Photos: Ryan Kennihan and courtesy of Scott Tallon Walker.

Ryan Kennihan is an architect ( and lecturer at the Dublin School of Architecture.


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