From the Sky to the Dockside

Grand canal

The latest issue of RIBA Journal has a feature on the newly completed Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin. The theatre was designed by Daniel Libeskind with his trademark flippancy: the initial plans were sketched out on on an airplane. Like all of his creations, the Grand Canal was designed to be built on planet Libeskind, which has six or seven dimensions. The developer, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, was forced to hire Martha Schwartz to integrate Libeskind’s sprawling tangle of glass and steel into the site, a gritty, cramped docklands that once housed a gasworks. She also added the red carpet extending from the theatre to the dockside, now the theatre’s most distinctive design feature. 

The results are somewhat mixed, according to Shane O’Toole. The acoustics are great, but the rooflines can drop so steeply that ceilings sometimes plunge to less than eight feet high. O’Toole insists, however, that “very little hubris [is] on display” even when Libeskind’s metaphors break down, such as “the hokey, tricked-out ‘ribs'” inside the main auditorium, which are “intended to resemble large ship’s timbers in a maritime allusion gone wrong.” O’Toole even calls the theatre “[p]opulist and warm-hearted,” words not normally associated with a Libeskind building. Evidently, just as butter makes every dish taste like comfort food, a bit of red makes every building seem welcoming.



  1. It’s amazing to think that a supposedly project-specific architectural vocabulary designed to represent the explicit sadness, suffering and tragedy that was the Holocaust (i.e. Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin),can be so easily co-opted for, and so casually grafted onto a building for entertainment and amusement in Dublin. His flippant rational for the imagery of this building has nothing to do with architectural design. It’s a sad reflection on the intelligence and gullibility of Libeskind’s clients and fans that they cannot see what is obvious, namely that Libeskind is just a cheap, fast-talking hustler preying on the cultural insecurities of people who should know better.


  2. No one has been so consistently denounced in the comments section of this blog than Daniel Libeskind. I agree completely with you Cormac. O’Toole’s account of the building of the Dublin theatre reveals him as a callous and careless designer. The best parts of the theatre are the ones he’s not responsible for. Still, I wonder if the overall design would be as successful if he wasn’t involved. The main auditorium, based on his original design, is a striking space, at least in photographs. Maybe in person it would seem gimmicky. At any rate, the Grand Canal Theatre demonstrates that when Libeskind’s bombast is held in check, something interesting can occur.


  3. Some produce a rather weak argument that it’s a waste of money to buy an analogue adapter, but they clearly don’t realise how little analogue adapters cost. It’s like worrying about a radio having AM and FM when you only want to listen to FM. Realizing how extensive our universe really is amazes me. Knowing that God is bigger than all of that, and created the known and unknown is overwhelming. All I can add is that He is awesome!


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