Imagining what Cork will be like in 2101

What will Cork look like in 2101? That’s the idea behind a new design competition. COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to engineer Pádraig Leahy who is calling on people to take part
Imagining what Cork will be like in 2101

An artist impression of the Cork South Docks, which is earmarked for redevelopment by  O'Callaghan Properties.

ENGINEERS, architects, landscape architects, surveyors, planners and any other relevant professionals from the built environment are being invited to take part in a design competition.

The aim is to propose a creative, innovative and sustainable vision of Cork city and the metropolitan area in 80 years’ time.

“It’s about throwing off the blinkers and handcuffs and going - ‘right, let’s go mad. What could Cork look like in 2101?’” explains Pádraig Leahy of the Cork branch of Engineers Ireland, owner of PLAS Consulting engineers.

“Let’s imagine it.”

Pádraig acknowledges working from a blank canvass can be difficult so he suggests looking at Cork’s problems and challenges. The brief is to re-imagine Cork as a waterside regional city on the edge of Europe.

Participants are encouraged to collaborate with other disciplines. There is also a design competition for third level students, who are being asked to propose innovative solutions for a future crossing of the River Lee and/or Cork harbour.

It’s all part of marking 2022 as the 80th year of the Cork branch of Engineers Ireland.

Cork city is going to grow with new businesses and industry. It will all be driven by people who will have to have somewhere to live and will require services such as transport, communications, leisure amenities including green spaces, heat and power.

“Typically, our colleagues, the architects, imagine the spaces and sometimes get all the credit. But the spaces have to be built and we’re the people who do that,” says Pádraig.

Pádraig Leahy of the Cork branch of Engineers Ireland.
Pádraig Leahy of the Cork branch of Engineers Ireland.

“If someone comes up with a nice concept for your home, someone else has to figure out how it will be physically built, how all the components will work, what are the correct materials and so forth. That’s the engineer’s job.”

Pádraig says that a lot of people out there are “frowning over” the amount of ground that’s being given over for roads.

“However, for the foreseeable future, roads are a requirement and are enablers. Without them, the activity level that feeds us all just couldn’t happen. There may be a time when we’ll be better organised with transport technology,” he said.

The docklands seem to be sprouting a lot of relatively high ‘glass boxes’, which are not to everyone’s taste. But Pádraig points out: “We don’t all live to serve history and heritage and never progress. That said, I am proud of our heritage, both Ireland’s and Cork’s heritage.

“I’ve lived in Cork all my life. I’m quite fond of the proposed south docks where the developers are incorporating the industrial and architectural heritage (of Custom House) into a new building. I think that’s a good thing.”

But he adds that there is “a reality” that has to be considered.

“We all, or at least I fancy the idea of a nice old country cottage or something like that. The reality of living in such a building is not the same as the rosy image we have in our heads.

“We’ve become accustomed to large bright rooms that are warm, dry and have easy access to electricity and data facilities. You can’t have all that and have a 19th or early 20th century structure, at least not without a lot of work and expense. And in some cases, not at all. So there’s an element of practicality involved.”

Building upwards is inevitable. “But how high you go, I’m not really sure. But a certain density has to be achieved. That said, there is space around a vertical structure that has to be achieved so that people living within high structures have somewhere to go for exercise, a walk in the park to relax the mind.

“There are examples, maybe not in Cork, but elsewhere in the country, where they built upwards but did it in isolation without considering the rest of the picture.”

Pádraig works in the machinery space for the most part.

“When we’re designing a whole factory, you have to consider the full life cycle of it nowadays. It has to be designed properly and be sustainable and operable for its working life. Then you’ve got to consider the end of the road when it’s going to be dispensed with. How do we do that correctly?”


A keen kayaker, Pádraig is constantly observing the water and the tides. While he doesn’t think marshy Cork is going to sink, it has its challenges and it’s a controversial topic.

“I do a lot of kayaking upstream at the Lee Fields and above in the Inniscarra reservoir and a bit on the lower harbour as well. That affords me a practical view of the water that a lot of people don’t have.”

Cork has always been challenged by tidal flooding, says Pádraig, adding that he is merely offering his personal opinion on what might be done to counteract the destruction experienced in 2009, for example.

“There is at this time no solution to the flooding. There are potential solutions but nothing delivered. 

"I’m not a fan of the walls that have been proposed because there’s an assumption there that water is only going to come up the river channels and overflow onto the streets. Cork is a swamp with a lot of gravel underneath. 

"I had experience of trying to dig a hole for a water tank of all things early in my career in a site on the marina. At a certain point in the day, the hole was filling up with water. We had to stop and drop the tank in before any more water rose.”

Pádraig favours the tidal barrier option which “has worked in other countries.”

And he points out that if quay walls are going to be constructed and pumping stations built, Cork city will become a construction site, as it was when the main drainage scheme was being laid down.

“A lot of businesses back then were put under a lot of pressure because the public couldn’t access trade. Arguably, the walls and pumping stations would be a bigger project. The paying customers of City Council would definitely be hit and the general public would be hit as well. Cork will not be a pleasant place to live in if that goes ahead.

“I have no idea of the time line - but you could say two or three years. That’s my view. I’m not an expert in this area but I think my view is reasonably practical.”


With many derelict buildings in the city, Pádraig says that “making the city centre a building site as I’ve mentioned wouldn’t further the cause (of dealing with dereliction.) But he is encouraged by the acquisition of two derelict properties in Barrack Street by the council.

“They had been an eyesore on the street. That sort of thing is replicated around the city. North Main Street is less than pretty, for sure. There are parts of Patrick Street that could do with some attention. 

"It’s nice to see the likes of Penneys and other entities investing. And you have the likes of Dubray Books recently opened on Patrick Street.”


Pádraig can see silver linings arising out of Covid, in that it has led to greater pedestrianisation and outdoor seating at restaurants and cafes.

“It creates a leisure and social perspective and puts a different slant on the city, making it more cosmopolitan and European.”

So get designing, trying to envisage Cork city and the metropolitan area 80 years down the road.

The closing date for expressions of interest in the design competition is January 21 and the closing date for submissions for the professionals’ competition is February 18. The deadline for the students’ competition is February 4. See

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