Kevin Roche, the renowned Dublin-born architect, hoped he would live to see the convention centre he designed for his native city up and running. And now, at the ripe old age of 88, he will. Because the Convention Centre Dublin is being officially opened today by the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen.
For Roche, who is based in Connecticut, it has been a long haul. He was just 75 when Johnny Ronan of Treasury Holdings invited him to design the facility in 1997. The last thing he would have expected at the time was that it would take so long to realise his vision of what has been dubbed the Cube with the Tube. Roche found the planning process incomprehensibly labyrinthine and frustrating. “I wish I knew how it works. There are people here who have made a profession at guiding you through it, for a consideration. Because you definitely need a guide,” he said in 2006. His views on the process would be “unprintable”.
Better known for his corporate work, primarily in the US, Roche wanted to give Dublin a significant public building – and probably thought the red carpet would be rolled out for him. But the endless contests and complexities of procurement, with the Government contributing not a single cent upfront, turned it into a long-running saga.
Dermod Dwyer, the convention centre’s executive chairman, who has been intimately involved in the project for 13 years, recalls that it was “a very lonely station at times. But I always had confidence that it would happen, and I would keep the spirits of the entire team up, including Kevin, by saying: “˜It may take a little longer, but we’re going to make this happen’ “.
Now, almost miraculously, there it is, standing on North Wall Quay, a rectangular box bisected on its front by a tilted glazed drum, and set back from the line of the quay, with angular glazed canopies in the foreground. And the finished building looks almost exactly like the computer-generated images we’d seen of it over the years.
The granite cladding on the front and (rather blank) sides came from Spain, where Roche had used it on his headquarters for Banco Santander, on the outskirts of Madrid. It is certainly quite foreign to Dublin, with a peculiar pink hue; traditional Portland or Portuguese limestone might have been more appropriate in the context.