Last year, on a winters morning in Copenhagen, as the ‘clockwork’ city was beginning another day I walked though the quiet streets of Island Brygge. Snow was being to fall, the temperature below freezing, and out of a small hut on the banks of the canal came two elderly men dressed in swimming trunks, swim hats and goggles. Walking down a ramp towards the canal they both dived in an began to swim. I watched them for about fifteen minutes, doing lengths of the Harbour Bath, a small enclosed area of the canal. They got out, walked back up the ramp, into the changing rooms, emerging ten minutes later dressed in suits, presumably heading to work.
It may seem strange; but I was reminded of this story yesterday, when I saw Communities NI Shaftesbury Square Development Framework — particularly the concept image of the scheme. Now; it’s a ‘framework’ document, so I am assuming that its main purpose is to provide urban strategy analysis of the area, broad proposals and some design intent images. That being said, the design proposals for the square (road layouts, routes etc) have been worked through to a level of detail that would suggest they will not be far off what ends up being implemented.
Here; complete with (bizarrely) an ambulance centre image is the proposal.
I have many questions, thoughts and comments on these proposals. I’ll maybe write more about them as additional details emerge. The thing that concerns me the most is the lack of imagination that seems to have gone in to redesigning the square. Other than a few road layout adjustments it just looks like the same, heavily trafficked, car friendly square, with a few new road surfaces.
Shaftesbury Square is a significant and historic landmark in our city. Schemes of this significance deserve better. For sure there are the various procurement rules and regulations dictating who can design for which department and where. But, we must find ways to overcome these to ensure that schemes like this get the absolute best design input possible. There are world class architects and designers working across the island of Ireland at the moment.
What I saw in Copenhagen was the result of a small act of imagination. In the summer, the Harbour Baths are packed full. What a stupid idea; swimming; in the canal; right? I mean who on earth would want to do that in the middle of a city?
...What a beautifully absurd idea. That someone had the imagination to think beyond the confines of the given and ask the question: what might be if?
Are our imaginations so numbed, coopted and satiated by our inability to break free from our limited perspectives; or are we just to carry on, blissfully unaware of the damaging consequences that seemingly poor urban planning decisions like these will have on our city for generations to come.