Eoin O’Mahony, UCD
Phil Lawton, Maynooth University
If you walk through the south of Dublin’s city centre right now you cannot fail to notice the large amount of building work going on. Molesworth street is being reshaped with several government offices moving to smaller offices and the Luas works wind their way interminably through the city core. The Luas works will, of course, end soon. Testing begins on the tracks this summer and then we’ll get some wisecracks about northsiders invading the leafy southern suburbs. What is striking about these new city centre developments is not that they are ‘back’ after a prolonged property-led crash. After all, financialised capital continues to circle the globe seeking a spatial fix, landing intermittently in Dublin. The ‘smart money’ as some would have it is now in office space. The function of these new office developments is not under dispute: they act as magnets of speculation everywhere right now.
Large numbers of these recent developments adorn the hoardings of various levels of sophistication. They seek to distinguish one location from another next door: 1GQ on George’s Quay, 10 Molesworth Street and 40 Molesworth Street. Dublin is no stranger to garish hoardings: the hubris of Belmayne will echo through the ages. The peak of the last construction boom was characterised by designed hoardings in series of bourgeois triptychs and manifestly untruthful representations of the spirit of gracious living. The current crop however seek to make place in a more nuanced, perhaps more muted, way. The stylised numbers make use of a calculation of the city that has not been evident up to now in Dublin or many other urban spaces in Ireland. What can we make of this new development?
One possible way of looking at this is that, led by capital, architects, designers are bringing to bear a calculus on the city landscape that was beget of the introduction of postcodes to Ireland. Under the eircode system, each building is allocated a six digit code that represents its location in space. This homogenises all space; it is now merely a series of points and no building is conferred a special place among all others. Numbering your hoarding and consequently the building’s brand allocates a unique place among all others in this way. While there is a connection here, it is somewhat tenuous. What is most striking about the current trend is the degree to which the wholly rational – that of the street number – becomes a feature of distinction. There are a number of aspects of note here. On the one level, collectively, the approach of numbering as differentiation builds upon the long history of Dublin 2 as a space carrying historic connotations of wealth, power and grandeur (cf. the Georgian core). On another, the numbers are used as a means of allowing each owner to differentiate between each other; to stand out from the crowd.
While buildings in Dublin have been given numeric figures before this: 2 Grand Canal Street and the eir building near Heuston Station are two examples of this, the current trend stands out for its intensity, both spatially and temporally. We argue that this new trend toward stylised hoardings and the use of signal numbers (1 is a popular designation, as is anything over 100) is a further abstraction from the materiality of actual construction work. When capital gets fixed in place, it takes people to dig holes and create concrete columns. It takes a money to pay all of those people but by the use of these hoardings what we see is an attempt to abstract this money from the physical landscape. Gillian Rose and others have done valuable work around this. In particular, her work shows how the use of CGI in redevelopment hoardings needs to be taken seriously by geographers as a form of representation. This new form of imagining and imaging urban space is a further abstraction from the grounded realities of financialised capitalism. This is a form of commodity fetish of course, a little like the ‘Designed in California. Made in China.’ of Apple Corporation. What is being fetishised here is the commodity of the building itself as a place, one singular place among others.
Our work is taking us in interesting new directions about how we imagine urban life in the near future. These abstractions of financialised capital express a desire for something, a desire that is projected by possible clients / renters / occupiers on to the space before it materialises. In this regard, we are currently expanding this work to analyze other contexts, such as residential space., Here, we are interested in examining the manner in which luxury and ‘high-end’ housing is projected on to suburban and urban contexts, and how they reinforce realities of exclusion and segregation through the celebratory language of being ‘Exclusive’. More pointedly perhaps, how does capital (as well as their designers and architects) maintain an exclusivity about the built environment when what is being grounded is much the same capital that gets fixed in insurance products and crude oil futures?