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Dublin Looks To The High(er) Life

Dublin’s status as a low-rise city may have its visual merits, but increasing urban sprawl as well as commuting times and distances are a poor trade-off for anyone affected — and unsustainable in the long-term.

Going up in height is inevitable to improve the efficiency of the city, but it doesn’t have to mean adopting a New York or Hong Kong skyline.

Dublin City Council has identified four locations in the city centre as suitable for buildings of over 50 metres – or 164 feet – in height: the Docklands, Connolly, Heuston and George’s Quay. It has said it recognises the merit of taller buildings, including landmark buildings, in these limited locations at a scale appropriate for Dublin.

Tara Street Tower proposal

One developer trying for a second time to get his plans approved for just such a landmark building — in George’s Quay — is Johnny Ronan. 

Earlier this year, An Bord Pleanala rejected his company’s proposal to build the city’s tallest building – a 22-storey, 289-foot tower – next to Tara Street station and in the George's Quay location.

Ronan's revised plan proposes the same height and the same number of storeys but reduces the number of basement levels from three to two. The total proposed floor area is now around 178K SF, down from the original 199K SF. As before, the plan is for a 110-bed hotel on the first to fourth floors, office accommodation from the fifth to the 20th floors and a rooftop restaurant on the 21st floor.  

The previous application was rejected by An Bord Pleanala on the basis that it would “seriously injure the urban character and visual amenities of the historic city core”.

Munich city centre

Dublin's density problem is not just down to its lack of high-rise buildings, however. According to Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) President David Browne, Dublin currently has one of the lowest densities of any European city. “It’s well below the OECD norm,” he said. “Buildings are on average one or two storeys.”

We don’t need a Manhattan-style solution to increase density here, said Browne. “Most European cities — including Munich, Oslo, Helsinki and Hamburg — average six to eight storeys. If we even got to an average of four storeys of height throughout the metropolitan area of Dublin we’ve more than enough brownfield sites available to allow for the expansion of the population right through to 2040. I think we need to think about height in that context.”

The problems are recognised at government level: at the beginning of August, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government issued draft guidelines on urban development and building heights.

That document states that the government sees significant scope to accommodate population growth and development needs by building up and consolidating the development of existing urban areas. One of the proposals is to consider building up to at least six storeys as the default within the canal ring in Dublin, and higher on “suitably configured” sites.

Dublin docklands

Dublin has already missed an opportunity in the Docklands, according to Savills Ireland Chairman Roland O’Connell. “If buildings of two or three storeys higher had been allowed in much of the Docklands SDZ we probably would have seen a lot more residential construction completed there by now because the sites would have been much more viable for residential development at the time,” he said.

“That wasn't allowed and consequently residential development has lagged office development in those areas and we’ve ended up with both office and residential buildings that aren’t as high as they could be and aren’t making the best use of the land along there.”

But there’s also a place for some buildings of much greater height, said Browne. “I think there are opportunities to build really good buildings emblematic of the city that would give it an added degree of character. A few high rise buildings can certainly contribute to the urban memory people would have of the city.”


Dublin’s tallest existing building is Google Docks on Barrow Street, completed in 2010 and standing 15 storeys and 220 feet high.

Next up is the Millennium Tower in Grand Canal Dock. Built by Liam Carroll’s Zoe Developments and completed in 1998, it is 16 floors and 207 feet in height. It is currently the highest purely residential building in Ireland.

Completed in 1965 and the tallest building in the capital for over 30 years, Liberty Hall stretches up 17 floors and 195 feet.

Green Reit-owned One George’s Quay Plaza has 13 floors and comes in at 194 feet at its highest. The scheme consists of 151K SF of office space.

The final building in Dublin to be defined as high rise – over 50 metres or 164 feet – is the residential block Alto Vetro, which scrapes in at 167 feet and was completed in 2008.

CGI of Kennedy Wilson's Capital Dock scheme with its 22-storey Hailing Station BTR building

A number of buildings currently under construction or with planning approval are set to join the tall building ranks over the next couple of years. The 260-foot residential block in Kennedy Wilson’s Capital Docks scheme will be the tallest storeyed building in the Republic, and the third tallest on the island of Ireland, when it completes this October. Situated at the end of Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, the same site was originally granted planning permission for the 394-foot U2 Tower in 2006.

According to Kennedy Wilson, the build-to-rent block — called the Hailing Station — will be ready for occupation after internal fit out in November or December. It will comprise 95 units across its 22 storeys.

EXO Building, Dublin

On the other side of the river, next to the 3 Arena, the 240-foot, 17-storey Exo Building is on track to become the tallest office block in the Republic when construction is completed in April 2020. The building will include 172K SF of office space across 15 floors, ranging from almost 18K SF on the lower levels to 5.5K SF on the eight higher storeys. The building will have capacity for over 1,950 people and will include an 11K SF roof garden.

The Exo site was granted planning permission in 2007 for Harry Crosbie’s 394-foot Watchtower. The Dublin Docklands Development Authority said at the time that the Watchtower and the U2 Tower would “form a maritime gateway to the city of Dublin”. They will be over 130 feet lower in height but the intention is for the Exo and the Hailing Station to make a similar visual statement.

Bolands Quay under construction, April 2018

Adding to its portfolio of tall buildings around Grand Canal Dock, Google acquired the entire Bolands Quay development earlier this year. Included in the mixed-use scheme are three buildings, one of which makes it into the ‘tall’ category, rising to 173 feet and 13 floors. The two other buildings are a 15-storey apartment block that reaches to 157 feet and a 12-storey office block of 161 feet high.

Last December, An Bord Pleanala granted planning permission to Gannon Homes for a 16-floor apartment block at Station Square in Clongriffin, Dublin 13, which will rise to 171 feet and deliver 139 units.

Going higher in Dublin, whether it’s a couple of extra storeys or 20 or 30, will happen — it's about when, rather than if. In the case of very high buildings, Browne stresses caution. “We do need to be careful not to unduly impinge on our signature Georgian areas. And I think that can be done if we choose the locations carefully.

“And we should be ruthless about demanding the very best architectural quality. These buildings are going to be the memory people have when they think of Dublin. If we put up a bunch of mediocre high-rise buildings, that will do us no favours at all.”