Chris McCall takes a look at a free jacks on the North Quays and provides us with a complementary parable on the state we’re in.
I found myself on the North Wall during daylight with an hour to kill and a bladder to empty. I decided to look in to the CHQ Building for the craic. There wasn’t any, but at least I didn’t have to pay to use the jacks.
CHQ was a wine and tobacco warehouse originally called Stack A, it opened in 1821 when Georgian Dublin was the trade capital of the Empire. Stack A was a functional, fully stone building designed to outlast its mortgage; no wood was used in its construction so it couldn’t catch fire and burn all that delicious American slave-tobacco.
The Building was designed by John Rennie the elder and/or John Rennie the younger, prolific industrial architects who were also responsible for Dún Laoghaire harbor. Stack A was part of the development of Georges Dock as a warehousing extension for Custom House Quay.
The Stacks went all they way up to Stack G, which was only flattened in the 1930’s for redevelopment; signalling the end of a long and vibrant history of docklands Dublin which is either lost for ever, or really hard to Google.
Stack A was “redeveloped” by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) in 2005 along with the rest of the North Wall and east Dublin. The DDDA also bought the old Irish Glass Bottle plant in Ringsend for a tiger-tastic €415 million.
That site is now worth €45 million; they didn’t even bother getting a valuation before they bought it. On the master plan CHQ was to be an events center or museum; there was no mention of retail. A legal framework was even put in place for this which almost pulled in the National Museum’s Decorative Arts Division.
The restoration of Stack A cost €45 million. One economic crash and six years later it was sold for €10 million to Neville Isdell, a home-grown plutocrat and one-time CEO of the ever spotless Coca-Cola company. Mr Isdell immediately began to put the building to good use remedying Dublin’s serious lack of over-priced coffee shops.
The Building’s website proudly announces it as “The Social Heart of the IFSC” – which probably explains why it is cold and empty. It has class. Polished marble floors complete with original bare stone walls, lots of the old structure is visible and complimented with that “glass and steel everywhere” look everyone was on in the noughties.
The empty, over-glazed retail units have full-height high-color posters containing buzzwords like “exclusive” and “vibrant” to lure in posh shops. The centre is occupied by three or four upmarket franchise food vendors. The kind with shit puns in their name. Big-brand coffee shops are inevitable, They press themselves to the street-side entrance. That’s where the money is.
When not being used as an echoing cathedral of nothing or confusing tourists looking for Temple Bar it spends its time being a proud host to whatever faux-traditional seasonal market will rent it. You can bet there will be an out-of-place looking exhibit of inoffensive art in the foyer, a ghost of its cultural aspirations.
Above the art is a webcam. It has found a nicely ironic view of the Sean O’Casey bridge. Turned outward to the quays streaming video of traffic to an audience of zero.
There is one sign of life between the franchises and the pop-ups. Dogpatch Labs which describes itself as a “pay to play co-working space for scaling technology startups”. Potted plants and old phone-booths can be spotted through the gaps in the opaque windows.
Though it triggers Nathan Barley flashbacks something shocking; there were people inside, actually working.
Photo by Paul Reynolds