Architecture – Welcome to Dublin! The Irish capital is known for its historic churches, stunning libraries and literature heritage as well as for its striving pub culture and, mostly, its friendly inhabitants. On top of that, the city has got an ace up its sleeve: contemporary architecture.
- RELATED STORIES: discover more Irish architecture and design on Archipanic…
PRACTICAL INFO – In Dublin all the main attractions are within a walking distance but museums, restaurants and shops generally close quite early. Book in advance! Even if Gaelic is an official language, you won’t need it. In Ireland you can experience 4 seasons in a single day – even in July – be prepared for both chilly evening, unexpected rain and hot sunny moments. [COVID-19: Double check local restrictions and behave responsibly.]
Dublin’s contemporary architecture tour begins as you leave the plane. The new Terminal 2 by Pascall+Watson  provides an iconic gateway to the city with free-flowing, fluid forms of the two main volumes suggesting metaphors of flight.
Trinity College [Map] is a true architectural destination starting from the stunning neoclassical Old Library which is still consulted by researchers. Do not stop here and explore the Berkeley Library and the Trinity Long Room Hub, the campus’ unexpected contemporary gems.
The Berkeley Library is a Brutalist concrete volume with an above ground bunker feel to it. A sequence of storey-high, curved glass bay windows in bronze frames contrasts with the orthogonal forms of the concrete and granite on the walls. Completed in 1967 by Paul Koralek, the building represent the the 20th century as the College’s earlier buildings represented the 18th and 19th.
Nearby, the Trinity Long Room Hub by McCullough Mulvin Architects  is a tall rectilinear form in stone clad with a broken pattern of incised granite slabs and deeply inset vertical windows picking the geometry of the adjacent Old Library.
- Just outside Trinity College, make sure to walk under the historical Bridge of Sighs as well!
The ‘other’ Temple Bar
Located in the heart of the city on the south bank of the river Liffey, Temple Bar [Map] is tourists, pub lovers and party animals’ main destination. Over the years the neighborhood characterized by cobbled alleys and historical pubs has lost its bohemian soul to become a ‘Temple of Bars’ with tacky souvenir shops and, alas, drunken louts and drug addicts. Still, it is great, thanks to the many vintage shops, art galleries and local designers’ boutiques and ateliers.
Fans of photography and graphic design should head to Meeting House Square [Map] where the Gallery of Photography and the National Photographic Archive hosts permanent and temporary exhibitions.
The masterplan of this square, a former car park, was conceived as an outdoor room and an open-air performance space. Here, four huge flower-like umbrellas by Sean Harrington Architects allow the square to be roofed in inclement weather and used all year round.
Temple Bar means also street art. Start from here to walk the city’s streets in search of stunning murals including and artworks by Banksy and the Blooms Hotel by James Early who took inspiration from James Joyce’s Ulysses characters. Check the Dublin Walls art project which maps the city’s ever evolving street art landscape and has also created 4 alternative walking routes to explore the city through its talkative walls.
Grafton Street and around
Buskers perform on Grafton Street, the city’s true epicenter for shopping and strolling [Map]. Enjoy the nearby St. Stephen Green and Merrion Square park for relaxing moments, visit the Dublin Castle, a “living building” which has been adapting for over 1000 years and check the unexpected quirky exhibitions at The Little Museum of Dublin focusing on contemporary and vernacular Irish lifestyle. Venture in the Victorian Stephen’s Green Shopping Center.
Nearby, the Department of Finance building [Map] by Pritzker Prize winner studio Grafton Architectsdiscretely integrates with the surrounding streetscape. A volume checkered with large crafted stone slabs and windows. The street line is maintained by a handcrafted bronze railing and gate and by the three metre cantilever of the grand staircase space held over a sunken entrance threshold.
O’ Connell street
The Spire by Ritchie Architects [2003 – Map] is the world’s tallest sculpture. The 120m high monument which replaces the Nelson’s Pillar, destroyed by terrorists in 1966, was inspired by the ever-changing light and composition of the Irish skies.
Explore modernism through the interiors and furniture of Eileen Gray, self-taught architect, designer and pioneer of XX century Modernism. At the National Museum of Ireland [Map], a dedicated permanent exhibition features important items such as the adjustable chrome table and the non-conformist chair.
Bridges on the river Liffey
The Ha’Penny pedestrian bridge [Map] is the most iconic bridge of the Irish capital. Named after the fact that people had to pay ‘a penny’ to cross it, the most instagrammed bridge of Dublin has been restored in 2013 to its original white colour.
The cable-stayed balanced Samuel Beckett bridge by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava on the river Liffey [2009 – Map] recalls the delicate harmony of a harp, Ireland’s national symbol. Two unequal spans allow pedestrians and cars to cross while a 90-degree horizontal rotation was engineered for water transportation.
Calatrava designed also the James Joyce road bridge [2003 – Map], the silhouette of which resembles the shape of an open book.
Explore The Liberties [Map], a historical working-class neighbourhood known for markets streets, local family-owned businesses and ancient churches but also factories and whiskey distilleries. Uncover the stories and literary gems in centuries-old libraries, explore local galleries and resist the temptation of Francis Street’s antiques shops.
Grasp a 360° view on the city with a pint in your hand on the panoramic bar of the Guinness Storehousemuseum and brewhouse and discover and taste the art of making whiskey at the Pearse Lyon distillery in a former medieval church renovated by TOT Architects which features a brand new glass pinnacle. Make also sure to visit the nearby St. Patrick cathedral, Ireland’s biggest and most iconic church and the epicenter of all St. Patrick Days across the globe!
The Docklands district is Dublin’s ultimate destination for architectural experimentation and global business. Indeed, here, you can find the EU headquarters of big-tech companies such as Facebook, Google and the famed AirBnB HQs designed by Henegan Peng Architecture.
Completed in 2010, Kevin Roche’s Convention Centre Dublin features a large curved glass facade studded into a concrete volume. The building, the only project in Ireland by the late Pritzker Prize architect, is recognized as the first carbon neutral convention centre, meeting the highest standards of environmental sustainability.
The Grand Canal Square masterplanned by Martha Schwartz is a focal point of the Docklands regeneration project, a reclaimed industrial area now home to apartments, hotels and recreational areas. Enter the 2000-seat Grand Canal Theatre by Daniel Libeskind [2010 – Map].
Here, the dramatic design of The Marker Hotel by Aires Mateus and Mccauley Daye O’connell draws its inspiration from the Irish landscape, eroded over time.
Cherry on top! Back in the days, if you had trouble with justice or with the British you might have ended in the Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin former prison. You do not have to misbehave today to visit the venue, now turned into a brilliant museum narrating the lives of inmates as well as the bloody past of the country and its task to gain independence.
A special thanks to the RIAI – Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland for the precious support and tips.