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At around 4pm last Friday, patches of ice lay across the island surrounded by streets, on which the Ringsend library sits.
An elderly woman, leaving the front entrance that looks onto a busy Bridge Street, paused for several moments to inspect the ground.
She walked 50 metres across it down to the island’s south end, to use the sole pedestrian crossing to Bridge Street in the vicinity.
Cars and buses zipped around the street’s bend. Those travelling into town from Sandymount come about six metres shy of the library’s main entrance.
The road configuration encourages drivers to go fast along Bridge Street, says Seán Cassidy, an associate director with the architectural practice Mitchell + Associates.
“It’s created a vehicularly-focused environment that is inhospitable to pedestrians,” Cassidy told about 30 people gathered in the Ringsend and Irishtown Community Centre last Wednesday.
Also, the crossing is too far from the entrance Cassidy said, at the public meeting about the library’s planned regeneration.
An accessible new main entrance on the library’s northern end is one of the focal points of the design team’s proposed redevelopment.
On the cards as well is adding a curving bay-windowed exhibition space, a crossing at the bend on Bridge Street, and an open square adjoining the proposed new entrance.
The project should move on to a Part 8 planning process – which involves more public consultation, refinement, and eventually a vote by councillors – in early 2023, says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.
Proceeding with Caution
Opened in October 1937, the Ringsend public library is attributed to the Scottish architect Robert Sorley Lawrie. He also designed the currently closed art deco library on Emmet Road in Inchicore and another in Drumcondra.
Although the art-deco libraries are not listed as protected structures, the design team was instructed to treat Ringsend as if it was by the council’s conservation office, architect Dave Kirkwood told the crowd at the meeting.
“There is a battle there between extending the library to create better facilities, both for the public and the library staff themselves,” he said. “And to try and preserve the building itself.”
The planned revamp would preserve the front elevation of the library, with its stepped main entrance and sawtooth pattern surrounding the doorway, he said.
An extension, which wraps around the rear and sides of the library was first set out in a preliminary draft plan, presented in March 2019. Since then, the design team has forwarded for consideration a new north-facing entrance, while also retaining the current one, they say.
Opening out onto a square with trees, the north entrance would connect with the proposed new Bridge Street crossing, creating a stronger link with Ringsend Park, and the city centre, Cassidy said. “So what we’re really trying to do is connect to the surrounding area.”
Internally, the curved extension on the south-end of the library has been framed as a potential exhibition space, well-lit by a series of vertical windows.
For vehicles using Fitzwilliam Street, to the rear of the library, the southern wing could provide extra convenience at night, lighting up the area, Kirkwood said. “For people driving back up from Irishtown, it could be a lightbox.”
Decluttering the Square
Running for close to two hours, the meeting drew a largely positive response when the redesign and extensions to the library were discussed.
Locals voiced some concerns, though, about the changes to the streetscape, asking whether it would be risky to put in a new crossing on Bridge Street.
At the moment, there is a line of stainless steel barriers running parallel to the road at the street’s bend. Described as an installation to prevent pedestrian movement by Cassidy, the design team suggested they be opened up to make way for a new crossing.
The barriers were put in place to safeguard the houses from an accident, said one local man. “I know you’re trying to open up the area, but removing that is removing a safety feature from the front of houses.”
Cassidy said the idea of a new pedestrian crossing was part of a holistic approach to changes. “It is to reduce traffic speed. At the moment, it is set up to speed. It is set up for buses to move faster on that corner.”
The crossing, coupled with an open square in front of a north-facing entrance could enhance the library’s accessibility, with Cassidy honing in on the current layout of street furniture outside the building.
With a copse of sycamores and rows of benches, Cassidy said, the peripheral space is unusable because of the street furniture and clutter. “It’s not encouraging to pedestrians.”
An open space, surrounded by trees, would reintroduce to the library an element of its original design, he said. “Its intended context was a more garden-type feel.”
Behind the library is Fitzwilliam Street, which is used for parking and is given over to retail outlets and a medical practice. A single footpath runs its full length with this cordoned off by railings.
While the latest design does not propose pedestrianising Fitzwilliam Street, Eoin Ó Catháin, a technical director for planning consultancy Roughan and O’Donovan said it would favour pedestrians.
The street would be narrowed, a second footpath introduced and the railings removed, Ó Catháin said. “It’s going to read as pedestrian priority.”
Local historian Eddie Bohan, who was at the meeting, reflected afterwards on the proposed changes to the street. It is of particular importance to locals looking to avail of its health services, he says. “You have a chemist, a doctor’s surgery where people are dropped off.”
Bohan says his hope is that the number of parking spaces will not be cut. “People have to be dropped off at the surgery. We’re an older area, and a lot of older people like to park there.”
In a 2017 Local Environmental Improvement Plan, the council highlighted that the area was negatively affected by parking however, saying traffic was taking a greater priority than village life.
Also in attendance at the meeting was Labour Party Councillor Dermot Lacey, who said the plan could benefit the area significantly.
Lacey, however, says public lighting on Fitzwilliam Street might be needed, as extensions to the rear and southern end could reduce the amount of open space between the library and the retail street.
“There is no reason that you couldn’t have the lighting coming out from the library. Things like that can be worked on,” he said.
Lacey also suggested that a series of bicycle racks could provide adequate protection in place of the current stainless steel barrier between Bridge Street and the terraced houses.
A Public Engagement
A press spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that plans to improve Library Square and extend Ringsend Library are still in the early stages.
Consultation between council departments would be taking place before a Part 8 application is lodged in early 2023, they said.
At the meeting, Lacey observed that the redesign is what’s known in councilese as a Part 8 development, which means there is an official public consultation.
Once it is at the planning stage, the designs will be made available online and in the library, with the public being encouraged to contact their local councillors, he said.
The plan will be presented at the South East Area Committee, he said, before proceeding to the full council to vote on, he says.
“There are a lot of opportunities here for the public to say what they think about it, and to influence their public representatives,” Lacey said.