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Competition row brews over Ritchie's Dublin steel spire

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Two unsuccessful entrants of a competition to design a millennium monument for Dublin have taken separate actions in the Irish High Court to try and prevent winner Ian Ritchie's dramatic 120m-high steel spire from being built.

A court battle is under way over the spire to be built on the Old Nelson Pillar site, on the main thoroughfare of O'Connell Street, after an international competition run by Dublin Corporation and supervised by the riai (aj 3/10.12.98). The two entrants, one an artist and the other a sculptor, have taken separate actions in the Irish High Court to stop the spire being built, arguing that Ritchie's winning design does not meet the original competition brief, which stipulated 'an elegant structure of twenty-first-century design that shall relate to the quality and scale of O'Connell Street as represented by late-eighteenth- and early-twentieth-century architecture and civic design.'

Sculptor Mary Duniyva of Rathmines, Dublin, told a preliminary court hearing last week that the proposed monument would be an 'anorexic alien body; alien from every angle in material, size, shape and symbolism'. It would not bear any relation to existing buildings in terms of scale or quality, she said.

Duniyva added: 'Steel, the choice of material in the winning design, is a cold mass that will extend into the Dublin skyline, thereby negating the friendliness and warmth of the citizens of Dublin.'

The other objector, artist Michael O'Nuallain, told the High Court he did not feel aggrieved at failing to win the competition and felt Ritchie's design to be superior to his in many ways. But he had been incensed by the selection of this particular design 'as it appears to disregard the design parameters of the competition.' He believed it would also have an adverse affect on buildings of artistic, architectural and historic interest in the immediate O'Connell Street area.

Testifying on behalf of O'Nuallain was Sam Stephenson, a well-known and controversial Dublin architect whose work includes Dame Street's Central Bank and Dublin Civic Offices on Wood Quay.

Stephenson told the court that at 120m, the winning entry did not and could not relate to the scale of O'Connell Street as stipulated in the brief. He was not criticising the entry because of its height, but said it could only have won if the competition assessors had effectively abandoned the competition brief. This, he added, was unfair to those who sought to confine their proposals to the brief.

A decision on the challenges is not expected for several weeks. Whatever the verdict, it is likely to result in an appeal to the Supreme Court. Counsel for the Dublin corporation, which insists the winning entry was properly chosen, has warned that any undue hold-up caused by the legal challenge could mean the monument would not be completed in time for the millennium. The corporation has already spent ir£600,000 on the project, the court heard.

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