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London architects win Cork waterfront ideas contest

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HH+ and Francis Keane Architect have won an ideas competition to rethink the future of Cork’s historic waterfront

The London-based duo were chosen from 55 entries to win the contest’s £8,800 top prize. Dublin’s A2 Architects won second place and GKMP Architects won third.

The competition was organised by the Cork Architectural Association with the support of Ireland’s National Sculpture Factory, the Architectural Association of Ireland and the campaign group Save Cork City. It sought ‘innovative and considered’ public realm proposals for the ancient city’s Morrison’s Island district.

The project set out to provide an alternative vision for the post-industrial area which is currently earmarked for the first phase of an 8km flood defences programme, which critics argue could ruin the city’s cultural identity and sense of place.

Ronan McCann, president of the Architectural Association of Ireland, said: ‘The jury assembled for the Morrison’s Island International Design Competition, is probably the best jury put together for an architectural competition in Ireland in the last twenty years. The calibre of this jury illustrates just how important this competition was.

‘The value of this international design competition in seeking the best solution for the Cork quays cannot be underestimated. To win this competition, HH+ and Francis Keane Architect had to produce something very special. It truly is a magnificent scheme.’

Cork occupies an island within the River Lee between Lough Mahon and Cork harbour. Morrison’s Island is situated in the southern channel close to the docks and quays of the working waterfront.

The competition focused on Matthew and Morrison’s Quay where contestants were required to draw up plans for a new public space addressing the river. Proposals for a replacement pedestrian bridge at Morrison’s Quay and ideas to boost riverine activity such a trade, tourism, sport and leisure were also required.

The call for ideas was a response to plans to create a major new £123 million flood defence within the city featuring 8km of concrete walls and 46 pump chambers. The Irish government-backed programme, known as the Lower Lee (Cork City) Flood Relief Scheme, has been criticised for threatening the city’s historic quayside landscape and civic spaces.

The campaign group Save Cork City has called for an alternative tidal barrier to be constructed outside the city and improvements to up-stream catchment management, allowing the central area to be restored and enhanced for civic purposes.

Seán Antóin Ó Muirí of Save Cork City commented: ‘The vista from Fr Mathew Quay looking towards Parliament Bridge with the spires of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral in the background is of international value. To obscure or interfere with the historic quayside landscape in front of Parliament Bridge would be an act of vandalism. The proposal of the winning entry, in the way it demonstrates an understanding and sympathy of this rare and unique setting is inspiring.

‘The unique condition of how the buildings face on to the water’s edge to the west of Parliament Bridge, at Morrison’s Island is very significant. It is the last 18th-century, intact section of the quayside in the city centre where this setting is maintained. Cork architecture has direct similarities to Bruges and Venice because of this. If we do not preserve this amazing chapter of our architectural history, we will regret it as a city forever.’

Ó Muirí continued: ‘By commissioning the winning scheme, the citizens of Cork can rest assured that the historic significance of our magnificent quays will be preserved for us and future generations who love the city. Building the barrier enables us to protect our historic quays. It is time for the government to do the right thing for Cork and make a decision about the barrier that will safeguard the city’s future.’

Judges included Yvonne Farrell of Grafton Architects; the artist and sculptor Eilís O’Connell; Tim Lucas, structural engineer at Price Myers Engineers; James Howley of Howley Hayes Architects; and Siobhán Ní Éanaigh of McGarry Ní Éanaigh Architects.

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