A listed building in the heart of Dublin, which was illegally demolished to make way for an apartment block, is to be reinstated by the developer, following a sustained campaign by the Irish architectural profession.
It represents the first major success in the battle to save the city's architectural heritage from the excesses of the ongoing property boom, and could be a turning point. Now new legislation has been introduced in the Irish Parliament which will require the reinstatement of all illegally demolished heritage buildings, while providing for fines of up to IR£1 million and/or five years imprisonment for those responsible.
The building at the centre of the latest controversy is Archer's Garage in Dublin's Fenian Street, an example of the post-art deco style of the 1940s, and a relic of the romantic era of motoring in Ireland. It was classified as a List 1 building in the Dublin City Plan approved by the Corporation. Such buildings have an unqualified status: they must be preserved.
But on a recent bank holiday, this officially protected building was reduced to rubble on the orders of a prominent Dublin developer and hotelier Noel O'Callaghan, whose company is planning apartments on the site. The demolition, carried out when Dublin Corporation was closed for business, outraged architects, planners, conservationists and citizens.
The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland spearheaded the protest campaign. In letters to Irish environment minister Noel Dempsey and the Dublin city manager, it warned that if 'effective enforcement action' was not taken against the developer, all listed buildings could be in jeopardy.
Its director, John Graby, described Archer's Garage as 'an important mid-20th century building,' and added: 'We need to be conscious of the fact that contemporary buildings need protection in the same ways as older buildings, such as Georgian houses.'
The Architectural Association of Ireland called on members to write to the developer, his architects and the Dublin city manager demanding that the building be restored.
A special website was established as part of the campaign, with protest emails being sent on to the developer and the Corporation.
Faced with the threat of prosecution, O'Callaghan finally got the message and agreed to rebuild Archer's Garage. He apologised for the demolition, claiming he didn't know it was a listed building, a claim hotly disputed by Corporation planners.
The developer's Dublin architect, Anthony Reddy & Associates, which said it had no advanced knowledge of the demolition, welcomed the restoration plan and said it was looking forward to 'the architectural challenges that the project entails.' One of those prominent in the protest campaign, Dublin architect Dara O'Connel, has offered to make drawings available to help with the rebuilding.
As a student, he wrote his thesis on Archer's Garage.