Stylish re-use

The new Roe & Co Distillery demonstrates that large industrial buildings can be reimagined successfully with a combination of bold vision and good design, writes James Howley

Guinness became Ireland’s first global brand almost 100 years before commercial branding became a marketing phenomenon in the early 20th century. From humble beginnings in 1759 on a small site close to the late-medieval St James’s Gate, the company had grown to become the largest brewery in the world by the late 1880s. Having subsumed several city blocks on the south side of James’s Street, the brewery grew into lands on the north side of the street, linked by underground tunnels for access, services and a miniature railway network. Malthouses, grain stores, vat houses and brew houses were enlarged or replaced as the company grew to meet the ever-increasing demand for its dark creamy porter. Respected equally for their business acumen, employee welfare, scientific innovation and generous philanthropy, the Guinness family left a legacy to Dublin and Ireland that is unlikely to be equalled.

Guinness’s attitude to its industrial buildings was very clear – it built well and, when a building became redundant due to changes in brewing technology, it modified and repurposed its buildings to suit new uses. When a building finally reached the end of its useful life, it was generally left standing and replacement buildings constructed elsewhere on the vast sixty-acre site, which eventually extended down to the south bank of the River Liffey. In the late 1940s, during the steady expansion northwards, Guinness acquired the lands of the former Phoenix Brewery and the neighbouring George Roe & Company Distillery.

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