The Spire of Dublin

Artist Name(s) Ian Ritchie Architects
Artwork title The Spire of Dublin
Context/Background The Spire (aka Tur Solais, or Monument of Light) was the winning entry in an international architectural competition launched by Dublin City Council in 1998 to provide a replacement for Nelson's Pillar, which was blown up in 1966. The project, then estimated at IRL £3 million (€3.8 million), was selected by Dublin City Council in March 1999 by 34 votes to 14.  The monument was designed by the London-based firm Ian Ritchie Architects. It is a 120m high cone that is three metres wide at the base and tapers to 150mm at the top. It is located in the median of Dublin's O'Connell Street between North Earl Street and Henry Street and was completed in January 2003. The choice of design was not without controversy however. The decision was later challenged in the High Court by Mr Micheal Ó Nuallain, a retired school inspector whose own design, one of the original 205 competition entries, had been rejected. As reported by Frank McDonald in the Irish Times in 2002, Ó Nuallain had proposed a 'skypod' mounted on a huge hexagonal column rising from a three-storey glazed box at street level. This, he argued, would give Dublin a 'sculpted flying saucer', as powerful a symbol for the city as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which was equally controversial in its day Brother of Brian O'Nolan (alias Flann O'Brien and Myles na gCopalleen), Ó Nuallain argued as part of his objection that the city authorities should have produced an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In July 1999, Mr Justice T.C. Smyth ruled that an EIS was required before Ian Ritchie's monument could be built. Subsequently, a detailed EIS was compiled by McHugh Consultants and submitted for certification in June 2000 to Mr Noel Dempsey, then Minister for the Environment. A planning inspector, Mr Eoghan Brangan, was appointed to deal with the case and the public was asked for its views. 
Of the 121 submissions received, three-quarters were against the project. But Mr Brangan recommended that it should go ahead as a pivotal element of the city council's 1998 plan to rejuvenate O'Connell Street, which includes the creation of a granite-paved 'plaza' in front of the GPO. 
All but 10 of the objections came from individuals, including Mr Ó Nuallain. They argued that 'The Spike' was inappropriate in terms of the character, history and architecture of the area, while just over a quarter complained that it would be too high, ugly and out of scale with its surroundings. 
In his report to the Minister, Mr Brangan noted that a quarter of the submissions were supportive - mainly from local businesses and commercial organisations, including the Dublin City Centre Business Association, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and the Irish Hotels Federation. 
The Arts Council also argued in favour of the Ian Ritchie design, saying the monument's 'sheer vertical form' was an appropriate response to the 'broad horizontal nature' of O'Connell Street. With its 'unique and exciting design', it would be 'a courageous embodiment of the 21st century and a monument worthy of a capital city.

120 metres high and 3 metres in diameter at the base, the stainless steel monument was designed by Ian Ritchie Architects (London) and rises above O’Connell Street. Ritchie has explained that he polished pattern at its base "can be read as mirrored seas or lakes or, conversely, as hundreds of islands floating in a mirrored sea".

The contract for this manufacturing work was awarded to SIAC-Radley JV and was manufactured by Radley Engineering of Dungarvan, County Waterford, and erected by SIAC Construction Ltd. The first section was installed on 18 December 2002. Five additional 20m sections were added with the last one installed on 21 January 2003. The spire is an elongated cone of diameter 3 m (9.8 ft) at the base, narrowing to 15 cm (5.9 in) at the top. Construction was delayed because of difficulty in obtaining planning permission and environmental regulations. It is constructed from eight hollow tubes of stainless steel and features a tuned mass damper designed by engineers Arup, to counteract sway. 

The steel underwent shot peening in order to subtly reflect the light falling on it. The pattern around the base of the Spire is based on a core sample of earth and rock formation taken from the ground where the spire stands. The pattern was applied by bead blasting  the steel through rubber stencil masks whose patterns were created by water jet cutting based on core sample drawings supplied by the contractor.

  • Shortlisted for Mies van der Rohe Prize (2005)
  • RIBA Award & Stirling Prize shortlist (2004)
  • British Construction Industry International Award finalist (2003)

 “So what’s the point? Mystic Monument: Ian Ritchie's Spire of Dublin" by Hugh Pearman, The Sunday Times 16 February 2003

 The Spire of Dublin - Science and Technology in Action (DCC Educational pamphlet)

"The Spire in Dublin is 10 years Old" - RTE Report, January 2013


Ian Ritchie established Ian Ritchie Architects in 1981. The creative design philosophy of the practice emerged from a research and investigative approach based upon its social, aesthetic, and ecological values allied to spatial, physical, and technical performance within the political and landscape context. 

Since the 1980s, Ian Ritchie Architects has enjoyed collaborations with artists, mathematicians, physicists, musicians and others, some very well known, others less so, but all to the benefit of the client’s project.

Ian Ritchie Architects has has received many national and international awards and has been short-listed on four occasions for the RIBA Stirling Prize.

Commission Type Local Authority
Commissioner Name Dublin City Council
Commissioning process RIAI Competition
Project commission dates January 1, 1998 - January 1, 2003
Partners Arup, Radley Engineering
Artform Visual Arts,Architecture
Funded By Dublin City Council
Budget Range 250000 + euro
Project commission start date 01/01/1998
Project commission end date 01/01/2003
Location O'Connell Street, Dublin 1, Ireland.
County Dublin
Town Dublin
Street Address O'Connell Street, Dublin 1, Ireland.
Google Map Insert View this projects location
Content contributor(s) Anne Mullee



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