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Competition: Morrison’s Island, Cork

The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland Southern Region has launched an open ideas contest to rethink the future of Cork’s historic waterfront (Deadline: 8 September)

The competition – supported by the Cork Architectural Association, Ireland’s National Sculpture Factory and the campaign group Save Cork City – seeks ‘innovative and considered’ public-realm proposals for the city’s Morrison’s Island district.

The project set outs to provide an alternative vision for the post-industrial area which is currently earmarked for the first phase of an 8km flood defences programme, which critics argue could ruin the city’s cultural identity and sense of place.

Morrison’s Island, Cork

Morrison’s Island, Cork

Source: Image by Mozzer Cork

Morrison’s Island, Cork

According to the brief: ‘The purpose of the competition is to unlock opportunity and potential, advance knowledge, and develop expertise and ideas across architecture, engineering and landscape design through integrated design solutions that are specific to Cork city.

‘It is hoped that the output of the process will contribute towards the city’s future strategy for the quays by revealing new ideas and uses and promoting economical repair and maintenance of cultural identity and sense of place while inserting new design.’

The centre of Cork occupies an island within the River Lee between Lough Mahon and Cork harbour. Morrison’s Island is situated in the southern channel close to the docks and quays of the working waterfront.

Morrison’s Island, Cork

Morrison’s Island, Cork

Morrison’s Island, Cork

The competition focuses on Matthew and Morrison’s Quay where contestants are required to draw up plans for a new public space addressing the river.

Entries should also include proposals for a replacement pedestrian bridge at Morrison’s Quay and ideas to boost riverine activity such a trade, tourism, sport and leisure.

The call for ideas is a response to plans to create a major €140 million flood defence within the city, featuring 8km of concrete walls and 46 pump chambers. The Irish government-backed programme, known as the Lower Lee (Cork City) Flood Relief Scheme, has been criticised for threatening the city’s historic quayside landscape and civic spaces.

The campaign group Save Cork City has called for an alternative tidal barrier to be constructed outside the city and improvements to upstream catchment management, allowing the central area to be restored and enhanced for civic purposes.

Submissions must include two A1 boards featuring plans, sections and conceptual images along with a written description of the proposal. Shortlisted entries will feature in a public exhibition and print publication. Invited contestants and key stakeholders will also be invited to a public symposium.

Judges include Yvonne Farrell of Grafton Architects; the artist and sculptor Eilís O’Connell; Tim Lucas, structural engineer at Price Myers Engineers; James Howley of Howley Hayes Architects; and Siobhán Ní Éanaigh of McGarry Ní Éanaigh Architects.

The overall winner, to be announced in late September, will receive €10,000.

How to apply


The deadline for applications is 8 September

Contact details


Visit the competition website for more information

Q&A with Seán Antóin Ó Muirí

The competition organiser discusses his ambitions of the contest

Why are your holding an international ideas contest to rethink Morrison’s Island and its surroundings?

Just to give your readers a brief a background to the situation, the current flood protection proposals put forward by the Irish state department involve the construction of over 8km of concrete walls and 46 pump chambers in Cork. This will result in increased flow and higher water levels in the city centre. Thus, for the first time in our history, at peak river flow the level of water will be higher than street level in the north channel of the River Lee. This will set a dangerous precedent and is against all current thinking on effective river management. Added to this, this proposal will be detrimental to the beauty and significance of Cork’s historical quayside landscape.

Save Cork City, a voluntary group formed in response to this proposal, has presented an alternative solution to the government which involves the construction of a tidal barrier. It has been proven from statistical analysis that the barrier would resolve Cork’s flooding issues (tidal and fluvial) both now and into the future. Internationally renowned experts on the issue have told us it is the only appropriate means to protect Cork from rising sea levels.

In the current scheme, Morrison’s Island is the first site where the proposed concrete walls and pump chambers solution is to take place. This scheme will turn the city’s back on our river. This cannot be this generation’s legacy; we want to engage with our greatest asset, the very thing that defines the city. While the barrier is being built, minor flood protective measures need to be implemented at Morrison’s Island. This competition is a means to illustrate to the government that far more innovative and economically viable solutions for the city exist that protect its citizens, its heritage and its identity.

Morrison’s Island, Cork

Morrison’s Island, Cork

Morrison’s Island, Cork

What is your vision for the future of the area?

Morrison’s Island is a south-facing quay, which sits in the heart of the city. It is an untapped resource in the city; its potential is just immense. Yet, in recent years this place has been neglected – there are a number of dilapidated buildings and vacant plots and the quay’s sole function at present is to act as a car park. This competition has the ability to reignite this area in the city for the good of all. Huge scope exists to open up the quays on Morrison’s Island as promenades to enhance and promote quality urban space. This competition is a means to attract a variety of innovative, place specific, thoughtful and sustainable solutions from both national and international studios.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We strongly hope that architects and designers with a strong sense of place will apply. It doesn’t matter if the studio is well established or up and coming. What matters is that they hold that sense of genius loci and ambition to create subtle but innovative interventions in a historical context. The design of the new pedestrian bridge is an integral part of the brief. In urban terms, it’s a means of rethinking the urban flow of this area of the city. A new bridge could be repositioned to a more appropriate location to connect into the pedestrian flow patterns that are set up by the existing streets and lanes. Also, in design terms, it is a great opportunity to design something both practical and beautiful that will have a positive effect people’s everyday experience of Cork.

We spent a lot of time thinking about who should be on the jury. A good jury and a good brief are essential if you want to have a good competition. The jury members have a lot of experience working on sensitive sites in international contexts. They will be looking for this specific quality and ability to be demonstrated in the winning proposal. To help international participants, there is a very thorough competition pack that has extensive documentation on the existing quays, the access steps, information on the materiality of Cork and the historical analysis on the site

There will be a book produced on the jury’s selection of entries and there will be a travelling exhibition to accompany the competition. This will be promoted through various media sources.

Morrison’s Island, Cork

Morrison’s Island, Cork

Morrison’s Island, Cork

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

At present we are focusing on the Morrison’s Island Competition. Everyone who is involved is giving their time pro-bono. Yet, we hope that the competition will be a template for the city to procure and deliver a better built environment that respects the city’s heritage and the citizens who live in it.

I must add that in Cork the competition has been met with widescale approval from the public. The media and a number of key political parties have also come on board and are now championing the competition as a means to show what Cork can be.

Are there any other innovative flood defence projects you have been impressed by?

Historically in Cork city, the quay flagstones were lifted and another course of limestone was inserted underneath to raise the quaysides as appropriate. There are many schemes that we looked at that work in historically sensitive landscapes. Yet, we would prefer not to discuss them as we do not wish to focus any participant’s ideas on a particular scheme. In short, we welcome innovative and clever solutions for Cork that understand the specific context.


Southsea Sea Defences case study: Q&A with Walter Menteth

The director of Walter Menteth Architects discusses lessons learned designing an alternative flood defence programme for Portsmouth, England

Walter Menteth

Walter Menteth

Walter Menteth

How does your project aim to provide a viable alternative to the planned flood defences in Portsmouth?

It protects an equivalent number of people from sea level rises and saves more properties because it addresses a key site: Clarence pier. The city economy, of which roughly 12 per cent derives from tourism, is augmented by significant new opportunities, historic assets are conserved, and this is done with a more resilient, robust and sustainable design. Significantly the amenity of Southsea’s common, its vistas to the sea, its coastal landscape and popular beach frontage are enhanced and improved. The authorities’ ‘hard wall’ £86 million, 4.5km-long, concrete revetments proposed on the beach, separating the common and the sea, and rising upwards to 3.8m, are deplorable and unpopular.

Which architectural, material, public realm and other methods did you harness in your design?

Strategically a landscape with ‘soft engineering’ sea defences and ‘managed coastal realignment’ has been developed. By removing the coast road (providing access and parking to a beachfront that will otherwise be lost!) a dyke can be placed further inland. This dyke, lying parallel to the coast, connects and repurposes existing listed historic battlements, providing defensive continuity with adjacent areas. (Report detail here)

Southsea Sea Defences

Southsea Sea Defences

Southsea Sea Defences

A gain in usable public open space on the common is achieved by burying parking behind the dyke. Over all the landscape conceals the dyke providing an ecologically rich naturalised coastal environment with unimpeded access gently graded down towards the sea, providing the initial sea defences, in a safer, natural and time-honoured fashion.

What advice would you have to contest participants on designing a new alternative future for the Cork Quays?

While sea level rise represents significant risk, designers also need to advance the opportunities and potential, by designing with the waterside landscape context more sustainably, to ensure that future investment can be resilient and deliver the widest possible social value. They need to consider future management of expectations, how defence structures maybe fragmented into multiple staged defence lines and key salient contextual features. An international design research programme ‘The Portsmouth Elephant Cage’ with many valuable outputs providing an unmatched research facility is available here.

Southsea Sea Defences

Southsea Sea Defences

Southsea Sea Defences


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