Monday, 1 May 2017

Concrete & Shopping

During my trip to Rome last year I made a point of visiting Valentino's new flagship store in the historic Piazza di Spagna. It was not for the textiles it contained but for the tectonic quality of the space. This haute couture building which officially in July 2015 was designed by David Chipperfield Architects in conjunction with Valentino's creative directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli is Valentino's largest store yet at 1,470 (1,865 including basement) square metres providing a whole new boutique experience. Upon entering the shopper is greeted by extremely sculptural marble columns and altar-like display tables defining the entrance. The massive 6-metre atrium and two marble staircases reinforce the feeling that one is in a monumental space. 

I couldn't of had less interest in the clothes and the sales assistants could sense this, telling me to make sure I saw the staircases. They must have been used to people coming in with their gaze skirting beyond the clothes and mannequins. The marble staircases are so beautiful, almost as if they rose up from the earth. Every sleek surface beckons you to touch it. The grey Venetian terrazzo with Carrara chippings oozes luxury with simple black leather armchairs and timber tables complementing the cool oyster and pearl tones of the walls and floors. The palette of colours is completed with suspended oak shelving and brass fixtures for the full length mirrors and rails. This wall treatment stops at door height with uplighting to soften the lines. Internal doors have a sculptural quality with flush pull handles. This store is the perfect stage to make the clothes sing. A new attraction for this ancient city. 


All images taken by author



Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Concrete proof that brutalism is beautiful ( first published in Sunday Times 5 March 2017)

In the 2015 British dystopian thriller High-Rise, Tom Hiddleston caresses a concrete pillar in his new concrete-walled apartment before taking to his concrete balcony to sunbathe naked. The film, based on a 1970s book of the same name by JG Ballard, creates a world where the rich live on the top floors of a high-rise apartment block and the working classes live on the lower levels. Before the storyline descends into chaos and violence, the beauty of brutalist architecture shines through.

The release of High-Rise coincided with speculation about the future of the 1970s Central Bank building, as Fitzwilton House and the AIB Bankcentre in Ballsbridge and Hawkins House in Dublin city centre all faced demolition. Despite the curiosity and nostalgia aroused in younger and older generations about this form of architecture - characterised by huge forms and unadorned concrete - many of these buildings remain undervalued and under threat.


English architects Alison and Peter Smithson are believed to have coined the term “brutalism” in the 1950s, influenced by “béton brut” (the French for “raw concrete”) — used by Le Corbusier in the late 1940s. Unfortunately, its meaning in English has made it a target for denigration, as if it were a synonym for “provocative” or “crass”.

Brutalism challenged traditional notions of what a building should look like by showing its construction and not disguising the materials. The key features are “raw”, unfinished materials; bold geometrics and massive forms defying conventional proportions; and expression of different functions, services and structure. The key to a love of brutalism is celebrating its raw honesty in an era of faked brickwork, stone and marble with cladding.


True Brutalism

Even though brutalism’s movement was short-lived, falling between modernism and post-modernism, it is hard to define. Dr Ellen Rowley, editor of More than Concrete Blocks: Dublin City's Twentieth-century Buildings and their Stories, explains that not all brutalist buildings were created equal, and for every great building there was another that undermined the movement.

“There’s true brutalism and then there’s derogatory brutalism,” she says. “The former is about roughcast exposure of materials and often even mostly handmade buildings that set out to be expressive and often irrational. The latter is about over-scaled, prefabricated, bombastic buildings.” The most celebrated examples of brutalist architecture in Ireland are on university campuses and owned by institutions with budgets to maintain them.

In 1966, architectural critic Reyner Banham described brutalism’s aesthetic as “a violent revolutionary outburst”. The endless possibilities of its “plasticity” allowing it to take on the imprint of other materials. These include timber marks (think of Trinity College Dublin’s Berkeley Library); rope (the external finish of St Fintan’s Church in Sutton) and a ribbing effect (Connolly House, North Strand VEC).

Celebrated bunkers

In Ireland, most brutalist monoliths are civic buildings and housing projects, which were usually commissioned by local authorities. These were built from concrete that was functional, affordable and had become readily available with production in Limerick and Drogheda from 1938.

They include the dormitory block in Limerick’s Mary Immaculate College, designed in 1955 by RKD Architects, and the 1972 water tower and administration building at University College Dublin Belfield, by Andrzej Wejchert.

It is hard to imagine walking through the grounds of Trinity without the arresting site of the concrete Berkeley Library, designed in 1967 by Ahrends, Burton & Koralek (ABK Architects).

In Belfast, meanwhile, the Ulster Museum extension displays raw concrete harmonised in tone and colour with the existing Edwardian building.


Why the bad rep?

In 1982, ABK produced a prize-winning project for the National Gallery’s Hampton extension in London. It was described by Prince Charles as a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend”. The design was discarded and replaced by the Sainsbury Wing extension in 1991.

While in Europe brutalist buildings replaced earlier ones destroyed in the Second World War, in Ireland Georgian buildings were often wilfully knocked down to facilitate the brutalist aesthetic. The ESB headquarters replaced a Georgian terrace on Fitzwilliam Street, for example.

Sam Stephenson won Dublin Corporation’s competition in 1968 to design the new civic offices at Wood Quay, comprising four monumental granite-clad blocks linked by a glass atrium.

After construction began, the remains of a Viking city were found beneath the site, as well as a long section of the medieval city walls. There was an unsuccessful public campaign to halt the development — and the site’s destruction has tainted Irish brutalism ever since.

Brutalism’s functionality made it the perfect fit for cash-strapped European countries seeking to rebuild urban centres after the war. The aesthetic of choice for many low-cost housing projects in western Europe, it became a symbol of poverty.

Unfortunately concrete does not age well in Ireland’s damp climate. As these blocks fell into disrepair, they became bywords for antisocial behaviour and poor urban planning.

In Ireland, schemes such as the 1960s St Michael’s Estate, in Inchicore, and Ballymun towers shook people’s faith in high-rise social-housing.

Contemporary brutes

Brutalism is not synonymous with cheap or crude. Dublin’s Grafton Architects won an award for the world’s best new building in 2016 for its concrete university campus in Lima, Peru. Brutalist but not brutish, the building was described as “modern-day Machu Picchu”.

There is a homage to brutalism emerging in young Irish architectural practices such as Lid Architecture (Canal House, Galway), Broadstone Architects (Heytesbury Street extension), Gottstein Architects (extension Ormond Road ) and ODOS Architects (extension at Carysfort Road in Dalkey). Polished concrete floors or terrazzo are making a comeback. Once the preserve of schools and hospitals, concrete is finding its way into homes.


The future

Many great British brutalist buildings are listed, including Trellick Tower in west London — which is said to have inspired Ballard’s novel — Battersea Power Station and the British Library. In Ireland, brutalism lives on the brink.

Some examples face the wrecking ball — such as Fitzwilton House, AIB Bankcentre and the former Bord Failte headquarters on Dublin’s Baggot Street — as developers realise they can profit by replacing unpopular concrete buildings with shiny new ones. The future of what remains looks bleak as long as Dublin city council and other local authorities refuse to add 20th-century buildings to their records of protected structures.

Brutalism is a democratic, civic- spirited form of architecture. It radiates optimism with a celebration of man-made materials, at times defying gravity. If architecture is music then brutalism is atonality, a sound that does not conform to tedious tonal norms. Preserve it.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016


Flowers for Franco

Last week I learned that a letter from Carlow County Council will wing its way across the Atlantic to America congratulating Donal Trump on winning the US presidential election. An interesting question is did this same council propose sending a similar letter to President Obama after his electoral victory? Should I have been at all surprised? It immediately reminded me of a curious occasion when Limerick too fawned over far-right leaders. 
On the 28th of January 1939 the Irish Press reported that the Limerick Corporation congratulated General Francisco Franco on the capture of Barcelona aided by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany ‘on his fight for Christianity and freedom.’ This laudatory gesture was accompanied by a bouquet of flowers for the Spanish dictator. Furthermore this group passed a resolution demanding the Fianna Fáil government to ‘recognise the Administration of the Patriot Leader’ thus breaking diplomatic relations. The same government which unwaveringly stood by De Valera’s declaration of neutrality in the face of immense criticism and pressure from the Allies during the Second World War. Limerick was the first Irish city and one of the first in the world to recognise Franco as the legitimate ruler of Spain. This event in the Limerick story is indicative of the Spanish Civil War’s impact on Irish diplomatic policy and the intensity of Catholic religiosity in Ireland.

This short newspaper article stated that James Dalton proposed the resolution of congratulations, eventually seconded by Ald. James Reidy after Michael Hartney withdrew his secondment. Reidy took it further requesting government recognition of Franco. The Mayor Ald. Dan Bourke responded to this request with ‘We could leave that to the Government to decide.’ Ald. Reidy’s rejoinder defending the totalitarian dictator is today ironic with the benefit of hindsight ‘We are free citizens of a free country and we are entitled to make a request to our Government.’ In spite of Reidy’s appeal the Mayor was unyielding ‘That is so, but we can be assured that our Government will do the right thing at the right time’ and later would say ‘We are only giving expression to the wishes of the people, irrespective of political views.’ After receiving unanimous votes Bourke finally declared both resolutions adopted, not because of the strength of Reidy’s arguments but because of his party did not control the corporation. This proposal to recognise Franco as the Spanish head of state by isolationist Éire came a month before both Britain and France.

James Reidy and Michael Hartney would follow Dan Bourke in holding mayoral office, 1944-45 and 1945-46 respectively. Dan Bourke would be mayor for the record period of five years[1]. He joined the Volunteers in 1913 and was one of those who welcomed Pádraig Pearse, Éamon de Valera, Tom Clarke, Willie Pearse and other leaders to Limerick in 1915. He remained on the Republican side during the Civil War, was arrested in 1922 and imprisoned in Kilmainham and Mountjoy. The following year he was transferred to Tintown No.1 Internment camp at the Curragh from which he escaped through a tunnel in April 1923. He was later recaptured and held prisoner for a considerable time. In 1920 he was elected a member of the Limerick Corporation in the Republican interest and was later to become one of the founder-members of Fianna Fáil.
Michael Hartney was also a Fianna Fáil member to City Council and was one of the most active members of the Volunteer movement during the War of Independence. His home in Davis Street was blown up by the Black and Tans as a reprisal. He was twice captured by the Black and Tans and served a term in Wormwood Scrubbs Prison where he went on hunger strike. On his release he resumed his volunteer activities and after being captured by the “Tans” for a second time he was held as protection against I.R.A ambushed and was later interned on Spike Island. Hartney would be secretary for the Mid-Limerick Brigade of the Old I.R.A for over 40 years at the time of his death[2]. As the exchange described in the initial report on the recognition of Franco government implied Reidy was elected as a Fine Gael TD.

On the 25th of February both local and national press presented its readers with the extraordinary headline ‘Franco thanks, Letter to the Mayor of Limerick.’ Mayor Bourke had received the following letter from the National Government’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, dated February 3rd; Dear Sir, On behalf of Generalissimino Franco, through his Minister for Foreign Affairs, I am to convey to you the lively gratification of his Excellency for the enthusiastic message of congratulations which you sent him on learning of the magnificent victory at Barcelona. I take this opportunity of extending to you my most friendly greetings.’
Ironically De Valera gave a statement to the Associated Press which appeared in newspapers only five days previously declaring ‘the desire of the Irish people and the desire of the Irish government is to keep our nation out of war. The aim of Government policy is to maintain and to preserve our neutrality in the event of war.’ One can only imagine the reaction of readers in Limerick the recording of this exchange between City Hall and Spain. One Dublin resident, a Mr R. Jacob, addressed an indignant letter addressed to the mayor outlining his reaction to the news of the recognition of Franco ‘This must be the greatest disgrace that ere has befallen the city of Limerick.[3]’ Mayor Bourke replied to this letter stating ‘the resolution passed by the Limerick Corporation in regard to the victory of General Franco was an unanimous one, and he has, therefore, no apology to offer.’

This was not the first time that a fascist dictator involved in the Spanish Civil War had sent communiqué to neutral Ireland. A telegram from Italy’s Mussolini on the 13th of March 1937 contained a message of support for the Irish Brigade, which translates as ‘Let the Legionnaires know that I am following hour after hour their action and it will be crowned by victory.[4]

The recognition of Franco’s regime, notwithstanding the fact that Reidy had to convince his colleagues of its validity, is not remarkable when taken within social and political context. It must be remembered that the decades following the birth of the Irish State saw an unquestioning acceptance of clerical domination over education, health and public morality. This was particularly true in Limerick where the Arch-confraternity of the Holy Family attached to the Redemptorist church of Mount St. Alphonsus had the highest level of attendance not only in Ireland bit in Europe with 10,000 registered members in the 1930s. One contemporary commentator referred to Limerick as ‘one of the most pious towns in Ireland[5].’ The year 1936 saw the emergence of Patrick Belton’s Irish Christian Front and general Irish opinion was overwhelmingly pro-Franco with O’ Duffy’s men leaving these shores to the sound of cheering crowds as they left to defend Catholicism. The War in Spain was seen as a religious rather than political conflict and Spain was regarded, like Ireland, as a historically Catholic nation.  The nation took comfort in the fact that whatever divided Irish people politically, they were firmly united when it came to their Catholic faith.

The letter from the Corporation was not the only correspondence Franco received from Limerick that year. In July 1939 a Co. Limerick schoolboy, Timothy Ahern, wrote to the General congratulating him on his victory and expressed admiration of his ‘great deeds in defence of Christian ideals.’ The reply to this fan mail from Franco appeared in the local press in the September which read as follows;
‘The Colonel Secretary of his Excellency, the Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the National Army, salutes Timothy Ahern and he has the pleasure of presenting to him the thanks of the Commander-in-Chief for his congratulations on the victory of our glorious army, enclosing at the same time a photograph of the Commander-in-Chief in accordance with his desires.’

In the age of social media sites contemporary audiences have the benefit of up to the minute news reports and film footage. Armed with a smartphone any ordinary bystander can have the capability of being a wartime correspondent. Before we judge the actions of these men in the council chambers in Limerick on that day in January 1939 we must bear in mind the exaggerated claims and propaganda they were fed. Franco fully appreciated the power of the media along with letters from Limerick.

This article was written by Emma Gilleece for the Limerick International Brigade Memorial Trust (LIBMT) publication From the Shannon to the Ebro; the Limerick Men who fought fascism, published in 2014 thanks to funding from Limerick City of Culture 2014. It is available to purchase from O'Mahonys Booksellers. 




[1] Limerick Leader, 13 Oct. 1951.
[2] Limerick Leader, Funeral of the late Mr Michael Hartney, 29 Apr. 1964.
[3] Letter  dated 21 Feb. 1939 is held by Limerick Museum, Ref. No. 1987.2028.2
[4] P13/115, Robert Stradling Collection, Special Collections, (UL, 2002).
[5] Frank O’Connor, ‘Irish Miles’, (London, 1947). His impression of Limerick was written in 1939. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2016


On 29 June 1963 Limerick welcomed America's first citizen, 46 year old President John Fitzgerald Kennedy as part of his Irish tour which took in Dublin, Wexford, Cork and Galway. Limerick's inclusion was a last minute change after much civic campaigning focusing on the fact that the President had ancestry from Bruff, Co.Limerick. Greenpark racecourse held a gathering of thousands of people to witness JFK become a Freeman of Limerick. The city came to a standstill with local businesses closing between the hours of 12 noon and 3pm. Only five months later the young, glamorous American which we called our own in Limerick was assassinated.
Image taken by Emma Gilleece
Limerick was quick off the mark in Ireland wishing to commemorate JFK's historic visit. With plans underway for a new boys school for the Ennis Road area of Limerick, St Munchin's Parish priest Monsignor Michael Moloney suggested that it should be named John F. Kennedy Memorial School (Personal conversation with Barry Sheppard, QS for JFK, December 2010). It was the first school in the country to be dedicated as a memorial to the late President. Many buildings in Ireland in the coming year were named in honour of the American president such as the JFK Memorial Hall in Dublin.

It was decided to erect the school on the same site as the Holy Rosary church to accommodate 350 pupils. Monsignor Moloney approach the same architect as the church, Liam McCormick fifteen years after he first approached McCormick and Frank Corr to design the church after they won the competition to design the Church of Our Lady & St Michael. It was not the first school that Corr & McCormick designed- that was St Malachy's Primary School in Coleraine. Logistically the distance of the practice in Derry from Limerick made it difficult with Corr only visiting the site once during its construction.
Image taken by Emma Gilleece
Sadly Monsignor Moloney died in a tragic car accident in October 1964, not living long enough to see the school completed. JFK Memorial School was formally opened on Wednesday 4th May 1966 by the Minister for Education E.S. O'Murcheartaigh, Deputy Chief Inspector Department of Education and the Bishop of Limerick ('Historic occasion in Limerick; three schools opened, 4 May 1966, Limerick Leader). Flying above the school were the tri-colour, the Papal flag and the stars and stripes. JFK's sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, United States Ambassador to Ireland visited the school in 1995.

Corr & McCormick came up with a design for a simple one-storey school which formed a courtyard, a private space. Its materials echoed that of the church with the darkly stained exterior weatherboard contrasting with the gorgeous green of the copper roof. The front elevation towards the Ennis Road made maximum use of natural light with its continuous fenestration. Unfortunately the weatherboard was not regularly painted and treated so over time it did deteriorate with substantial pieces falling away. The window and door frames were timber throughout the school before the insertion of uPVC windows in recent years.
Image taken by Emma Gilleece
The school was conceived and always seen as a temporary measure. Not able to keep up with changes in the Irish education system, cloakrooms and toilets were turned into language support room and three temporary classrooms were erected facilitate growing student numbers. The school received government funding in 2005 for the construction of a new school on the site. After a structural survey it was deemed that none of the building was salvageable including its copper roof. The inspector's report stated 'I consider the demolition of the existing school to be accepted as it is of little architectural merit.' An Bord Planála approved planning permission to the designs by Healy & Partners in June 2010 and construction began in October of that year. It was not the first of Corr & McCormick's school to be demolished - that was St Patrick's Primary School (accommodated 900 pupils) at Pennyburn, Derry which opened in 1954 and demolished in 2002.

Tower of Holy Rosary Church from site of new JFK Memorial School



Sunday, 26 June 2016


EUR:Mussolini's Monuments

On 7 June BBC4 aired my hero Jonathan Meades' latest offering Ben Building: Mussolini, Monuments and Modernism. I began my year with a visit to Rome. Meades' fantastic exploration of Rome under the charismatic Benito and what his brand of fascism was reminded me of that day in January walking around this district of the city. I seemed to be the only tourist walking around this monumental business zone. Sadly all the parked cars do take away from the photos. 
This area, south of the city, was originally chosen in the 1930s as the site for the 1942 world's fair which Mussolini planned to open to celebrated twenty years of Fascism. It was envisioned that the city would expand towards the south-west towards the sea and be a new city centre for Rome. The planned exhibition never took place due to World War II. 
This year marks 80 years since the creation if the autonomous agency responsible for the organization and construction of the project, E42 on 26 December 1936, the name later changed to EUR. The architects and urban theorists chosen for this master plan were; Marcello Piacentini, Giuseppe Pagano Pogatschnig, Luigi Piccinato, Luigi Vietti, and Ettore Rossi, employing concrete to replicate the gravitas of ancient Roman structures. During the war the uncompleted EUR development suffered severe damage. However, the Roman authorities decided that EUR could be the basis of an out-of-town business district. The next two decades saw the completion of the unfinished Fascist-era buildings and other new buildings built in contemporary styles for use as offices and government buildings. 

Palazzo dei Congressi constructed in 1942 for the Universal Exposition

 


Marconi's Obelisk (1959) 45 metre high concrete structure covered in marble.




Pigorini National Museum of Prehistory & Ethnography


Museo della Civiltà Romana with 59 sections illustrating Roman civilization 1939-41



The centrepiece for Mussolini's new Roman Empire - the 'Square Colisseum' with twenty-eight marble statues. Fendi have recently bought and restored the building for their HQ with a permanent exhibition space on the ground floor. 


Interestingly these buildings and muscled male statues, both monuments of political strength were almost fully completed for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, again a celebration of strength and beating ones competitors. 


The area isn't frozen in time as contemporary buildings are being added such as Massimiliano Fuksas's 'the Cloud' or La Nuvola, a new convention centre and hotel. Straining to peer through the glass it is like all the curves that weren't used for the E42 buildings were gathered within this glass box. 
It is naturally hard to separate the fact that these buildings were built for a fascist regime but there is something a little sad about them. They never got the chance to bask in Il Duce's vainglory. Today we focus on the activities inside our outlet stores, and convention centres and no longer fill our cities with buildings that evoke child-like awe. These buildings sing out their operatic overtures, at the top of their lungs, the grand ambition of their designers and patrons and not the mute, banal ones that we increasingly see more of today. 

Friday, 1 April 2016

Zaha Hadid and the Taoiseach's House

Zaha Hadid and the Taoiseach's House; 

design competition for the Irish Prime Minister

Image taken by Emma Gilleece
I was saddened to hear about the sudden death of Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid yesterday 31 March 2016. My initial thought was how young she was at 65 years of age, the same age as my mother. Despite this being the age that us mere mortals would consider retirement, the starchitect Hadid seemed to be in her professional prime. As with the death of all stars the supernova left being is the wave of comments and obituaries attempting to quantify her talent and inspirations to others. In 2004 she became the first woman recipient of the Pritzer Architecture Prize, she received the Stirling Prize in 2010 and 2011 and in 2012 she was honoured in the Queen's Birthday Honours list for services to architecture. In 2015 she became the first woman to be awarded the RIBA Gold Medal in her own right receiving the award only a few weeks ago. Her worldwide practice employs nearly 400 people. 
I got to experience the 'wow' factor of Hadid's architecture during a trip to Rome early this year with her MAXXI Museum of XXI Century Arts (2009). Many buildings rely on scale or decadent ornamentation to inspire childlike wonder in the viewer. Visitors cannot fail to stop and marvel and the gravity-defying cantilevered top floor and think "how?" Hadid was born on 31 October 1950 in Baghdad. Her London-educated father headed a progressive party advocating for secularism and democracy in Iraq. Her childhood had eclectic influences growing up in Baghdad’s first Bauhaus-inspired buildings and attending a Catholic school where they spoke French where Muslim students were welcomed. Hadid studied Mathematics at the American University of Beirut. In 1972 she began at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, a centre for experimental design. She had professors such as Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis both graduates of the School themselves. Her graduation project was called Malevich's Tectonik, a proposal fro a hotel atop Hungerford Bridge over the Thames. The title was a nod to the Russian avant-garde architect Kazimir Malevich who heavily influenced her work. After graduation Hadid went to work for the practice Koolhaas and Zenghelis established in 1975 The Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in Rotterdam and became a partner two years later. In 1980 she set up her own London-based practice. It was her early Mathematical studies that contributed to her distinctive, algorithmic style . She was part of the Deconstructivism movement in architecture concerned with shattering and breaking, tough and jagged yet soft, radiating power. It is a style promoted as a successor to post-modern architecture with it's multiple perspective points and fragmented geometry. 

The Design Museum, London held an exhibition of Hadid's work back in 2007 entitled Zaha Hadid- Architecture and Design. One of the unbuilt projects on display was her entry for the 1979 architectural design competition for an official residence of the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister). Zaha's entry was, as she described herself in 'The Complete Buildings and Projects' (1998, p18), "my first major project." The design was entered with the address 84 Portland Road, London under Entry No.11 Eliza Zenghelis with Zaha Hadid under 'Collaborators' column. Thanks to Shane O'Toole I now know that the reason why her entry was submitted under the name of Elia Zenghelis, her former teacher and partner at OMA, was that only professionally qualified architects were eligible to enter, and she was not at that time. But the project is entirely hers. The same situation pertained to one of the joint second entries,  designed by Peter Dudley (now of STW, then a 4th year student in UCD) and entered under the names of his tutors, Paul Moore, John Meagher, Yvonne Farrell and Shay Cleary. 
Interestingly Zenghelis entered a second design with Rem Koolhaus alongside collaborators Alan Foster, Stephano de Martino and Ron Steiner (No. 29). 
The intended site was in the north west corner of the Phoenix Park along the long diagonal route of Chesterfield Avenue. The images are taken from zaha-hadid.com/architecture/irish-prime-ministers-residence/. Below them is the description of the entry by the practice. 
The brief also called for a Guest House on the site of the former Apostolic nunciature, at a cost of approximately £4 million. The prize of £6000 was allotted for the winning practice and £2000 for the runners up. The winning design was produced by London firm Evans & Shaler Architects. The practice of Eldred Evans and David Shaler was established in 1965 and had previously won design competition for Broadclyst Village for the National Trust in Devon and later in 1981 they produced the winning entry for the Royal Military College Library in Shrivenhan. 
The Assessors' Report for the competition is dated 10 October 1979 (NLI holding). In December that same year, mere weeks after becoming Taoiseach Charlie Haughey scrapped the plan of his predecessor Jack Lynch. A close second in the competition was Design No.8 by de Blacam & Meagher in collaboration with QS Austin Reddy & Co. and Consulting Engineers ARUP & Partners. Joint Second Place was No.17 Julyan Wickham & Desmond Lavery (London) and Moore Meagher Farrell & Cleary with an address of UCD School of Architecture. Commended was Toal Ó Muíre & Emer Ó Siochrú and the practice Ivor Smith & Cailey Hutton (Bristol). Most of the Entries were from Ireland and the UK with the odd one further afield like West Germany. 
The competition received 98 entries in total. Looking through the list there are so many familiar names that are still around today over 36 years later such as;
No.12 John Tuomey (would later become odonnell-tuomey.ie/) with Drawing Team of Paul Keogh and Rachael Chidlow. Paul's chances of being on the winning team were doubled as he was also collaborator alongside Michael McGarry on Sheila O'Donnell's entry (No. 87). No.93 sees Don O'Neill and the late Jeremy Williams with collaborator Freddie O'Dwyer. There is RKD Architects (61), Grafton Architects (76), Delaney MacVeigh & Pike, Patrick & Maura Shaffrey, Robin Mandal (58), Gerry Cahill (52), Noel Dowley (49), Peter & Mary Doyle (35), Sam Stephenson (28), and No.23 was Edward Jones, Malcomn Last & David Chipperfield (23). You might wonder why I went to bother of typing out the entry numbers. When you read below you might find yourself scrambling to cross-reference the numbers as I did. 

The Assessor's Report does not mention who the judging panel except that it was designed by the chairman Richard Stokes. The foreign assessor was Aldo van Eyck, interestingly father-in-law to Julyan Wickham. It starts with;

In general, the standard of the entries reflected the complexity of the brief, only a minority showing a sensitive appreciation of the requirements. The most common defects were a weakness in the integration of the several components of the plan and a failure to establish an appropriate relationship between the main elements, the Residence and the State Guest House. Many competitors also ran into difficulties with the link for informal communication between the two elements and in relating the medieval tower to the new buildings. It was of interest to find that only four entries sought to retain the 18th century Villa. While detailed attention was paid to these in the assessment, the Assessors considered that they failed because the Villa could not be related successfully in scale to the total complex. Some thirty-four designers incorporated the old stable buildings and, in many cases, made use of them in a sensitive way. 

After detailed examination, the Assessors selected fifteen entries which, appeared to have an especial merit and potential as acceptable schemes. They were Nos. 1, 8, 14, 17, 19, 35, 36, 48, 57, 59, 60, 66, 70, 78 and 91. 

In their final appraisal, the Assessors narrowed the list to the four entries which showed the highest quality: Nos. 8, 17, 36 and 91. Of these they decided that entry No. 91 was the best and was of a quality which would warrant its adoption and execution and, with some feasible modifications, would meet all the Promotors' requirements. 

A well-developed and detailed scheme, entry No.91 fulfills the planning and accommodation requirements with interesting space relationships, both internally and externally, and it has a pleasing human scale. The layout is sensitive to the site and keeps ,much of the present screening, making the best of its surroundings. 

The three other entries in the final grouping, No.8, 17 and 36, were felt to represent three differing but acceptable solutions to the main requirements of the brief though they would require development and improvement to make them suitable for adoption. It would be difficult to separate them on merit and they were therefore placed jointly in second place, that is, with a prize of £2,000 each. It is to be noted that the effect of perfecting them would certainly lead to increases in cost. 

On entry No.8 by de Blacam & Meagher
Project No.8 was favoured for its distinctive architectural quality and its sensitiviety in detail and conception. There were aspirations regarding certain aspects of the planning of the buildings, including the location of the Taoiseach's private apartments and the absence of an entrance hall as envisaged in the brief. There is also an undue emphasis on the walled garden to the detriment of the siting of the Guesthouse. But it was noted that the competitor had made a serious practical endeavour to incorporate examples of the best Irish furniture and modern art. 

Hadid's other Irish connections was the design for an unbuilt tower on Dublin's North Wall Quay archiseek.com/2009/treasury-may-yet-bullet-the-blue-sky-with-u2-tower-entry/ and acknowledging the encouragement that the Irish Civil Engineer Peter Rice gave her at the initial stages of her career. Hadid's first taste of international attendtion was winning the competition for the Cardiff Bay Opera House. Lacking the confidence to follow through with this bold contribution to contemporary Welsh architecture it was never built. Upon being asked 'how do you deal with the unbuilt projects? Hadid replied;
I don't think it would make seen to build the unrealised designs as they are now. If you do them again, they're going to have to be an interpretation of what might have been... (Massimo De Conti Design Talks: Contemporary Creatives on Architecture and Design (Images Publishing: 2012, 55). During an interview for BBC Radio 4's Women's Hour in 1995 after the Opera House fiasco Hadid commented "you cannot respond to something just by looking at the image of a building because it's not all about that. It's about how the building works." 

Hadid wanted to be judged solely on her projects and not on the basis of her gender or place of birth. She herself along with her mentor Rem Koolhas attributed her signature curves in her buildings to her Iraqi upbringing rather than her sex;
'He (Koolhas) noticed that only the Arab and Persian architecture students like myself were able to make certain curved gestures. He thought it had to do with calligraphy. The calligraphy you see in architectural plans today has to do with the notion of fragmentation in space.' 

As powerful as her designs is her legacy that the next generation of women have a smoother path to trend on in pursuit of a professional architecture career and that all architects should be brave enough to put the depths of their imagination to paper and then worry about the how. A generosity of spirit will reap answers from multidisciplinary collaborators and friends. 








Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Image taken from limerickleader.ie
The Land of Milk and Money
Limerick's Co-operative Creameries

With the news that Limerick City and County Council is to redevelop the former Cleeve's Factory site I decided to revisit the first job I officially work on with my father with my MUBC under my belt, the former Glin Co-operative Creamery. I also like to think I have managed to find the most tenuous of links between creameries and Easter (milk,,,,,chocolate....Easter eggs!) and even to Nationalism and Home Rule. My father's practice carried out an historical report and photographic survey of this former co-operative creamery, a building type completely alien to me. The Cleeve's Factory site was bought from Golden Vale by the local authority in 2014. Thanks to it being a location for eva International in the same year I got to walk around this impressive complex so close to the city centre. 
In 1889 Ireland's first Co-operatives were established in Doneraile Co. Cork and in the same year Limerick has the title of having the first co-operative creamery in Dromcollogher. The site is now a National Dairy Co-operative Museum (For contact details click here). The importance of the practice and rituals of the dairy farmers conveying their milk to the co-operative creameries is recorded in papers such as this excellent one by Dr Maura Cronin of MIC 'Remembering Creameries'. The delivery of your cows' produce was your opportunity to catch up with the daily news (before the invention of Twitter). Even as we get more urbanised we cannot forget Ireland's bovine servitude; we assist in their conception, birth, milking, feeding, death. It was this job that I got to meet the wonderful Tom Donovan, an authority on the history of the area (and much more) and editor of the Old Limerick Journal which I have been honoured to contribute to on two occasions and hopefully more in the future. I have yet to ask him how much this city girl shocked him asking why the creamery laid off staff during December and my complete ignorance of the fact that dairy cows did not natural produce milk all year round. There is no farming on either side of my family. The closest anyone came to a cow was the short spell my grand-uncle Tommy spent in his late teens in the tannery. He described the hellish smell to me as a child to help me understand who he could not move to Dublin fast enough. Perhaps it is why he settled in Howth with its freshest of air. 

Image taken by Declan Gilleece.
Glin Co-operative Dairy Society was one of the first co-operative diary societies to be established in County Limerick in 1891[1]. The official opening was attended by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Horace Plunkett, and the Knight of Glin, R.A Anderson, Lord Emly and Lord Monteagle[2]. Addresses were also read from the committees of the Ballyhahill and Castlemahon Co-operative Dairy Societies[3]. The idea was that it would be owned and managed entirely by the farmers who have taken shares[4] serving a radius of approximately 3 miles. This predates the founding of the Irish Agricultural Organisation (now ICOS) in 1894, the brainchild of its President Horace Plunkett set up to help and advice the fledgling co-ops[5]. Limerick had a formidable tradition of dairying, being a stronghold area in the Golden Vale region. Glin was a natural choice logistically for the site of a creamery as there were several large dairy farms and an established butter market held in the town as well as nearby Limerick and Cork cities in the nineteenth century[6]. The railway and port of nearby Foynes along with the Glin pier built in 1876 and the addition of the jetty on the banks of the Shannon in 1895[7] facilitated the exportation of the butter to the Irish and English market. 

The first manager of the Glin Co-operative creamery was Thomas Normile of Killacolla[8] and the committee had eleven members. The earliest known President is recorded as Patrick Fitzgerald and the venture was financed by loans from the Munster & Leinster Bank in Tarbert. Along with the manager they would decide the price band for the milk. Unlike many early creameries the local clergy had no involvement in the committee. The main product manufactured by the creamery was slightly salted sweet cream butter with cheddar cheese production commencing around the 1930s when a second building was constructed on the site as store room, cheese room and poultry rearing. The cheese made by the Glin creamery was known as Country Squire and turkey plucking took place in the adjoining room to the main store.  The managers over the years after Normile were Timothy Donovan, Michael O’Connor, Maurice Fitzgerald, Donie Cusack, Patrick Roche and Davie O’Sullivan.
The butter produced by the Glin Co-op creamery was of a renowned high quality partly due to its cooling which was aided by the importation of ice from Norway for the ice houses built for the thriving Glin fish market where salmon taken locally were bought and then sent directly from there to Billingsgate, London for sale. Ice was needed to pack the fish to keep them fresh[9]. A dairy inspector report dated 13 August 1897 confirms this As the creamery is now receiving ice daily and I gave them information how to use this to the best advantage, I expect good results in the future both in quantity and quality[10]. The idea was to set up a factory where farmers could bring their surplus milk and dispose of it for so much a gallon. In the creamery the milk would be separated into whey (or backmilk), which the farmer received for calf and pig rearing, and butter milk. This separation was achieved by separators powered by steam engines run by coal brought in through Foynes. Large amounts of uniform colour, texture and flavour was produced and exported. A lease was signed between the Glin Co-operative Dairy Society Ltd and the Knight of Glin on the 15 April 1925 for the yearly rent of £11.10.0 and stating that the term of the lease was 70 years from 29 September 1919[11]. The property is described as ‘the parcel of ground and yard with a creamery and buildings therein having a frontage to Church Street of 111 feet.’ This replaced the original lease between the creamery and James O’Driscoll who was owed money by the Knight of Glin and therefore sub-letted the house and garden at the back to recoup his money. This co-operative creamery was successful in its day with the participation of 149 dairy farmers at its height as well as employing fifteen people[12]. The milk was delivered by horse, donkey, jennet and cart in wooden churns which were made locally by the coopers Mangans, O’Briens, Culhanes and Lynches. The farmers would queue up Church Street in their carts from 7am until 11am to get their milk processed and on the train to the Dublin and British markets by the evening[13]. This was not only business but an important social aspect to rural life for the dairy farmers to keep up with the local news and goings on. The creamery constructed the commercial premises across the road in 1948 as a co-op farm store to sell goods such as feed and fertiliser and remains as one to this day[14].

Building Design
The original creamery building as it stands today is simple in appearance consisting of a long, gable-fronted, multiple-bay, detached double-height building with a pitched roof with cast-iron louvered vents and two metal rooflights. Its cast-iron rainwater goods and slates have been replaced in recent years[15] as well as the square headed casement windows. Exterior walls constructed with locally quarried stone and smooth rendered. Internally the ceiling was lined with plain rebated timber for hygienic purposes[16]. A sliding timber battened door to weightbridge platform was added later to the side of the creamery accessed by concrete steps. 

Image taken by Emma Gilleece
The creamery was extended thanks to the designs of Limerick born architect Conor O'Brien who I wrote about back in June 2015 in my post on the AK IlenConcrete Stew. O'Brien was a Home Ruler and in 1910 he was elected a council member of the Dublin Industrial Development Association, which promoted Irish manufacturers and the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (I.A.O.S.). Left is a plan attached to letter from I.A.O.S. secretary in the National Archives to the creamery manager in 1912 for extension of main building at the gable end up to the boundary line to provide an office designed by O'Brien. 
The functions of the creamery would have been in a typical linear arrangement such as the mechanical separators, centrifugal pump to elevate skim milk, water pump, rolling churns, measuring drum (used before the advent of scales), test churns and a butter worker. The engine room had to be separate from the dairy because of all the coal dust and fumes. Initially seven people were employed full time; a secretary, manager, manager’s assistant, manager’s helper, fireman (to stoke the steam engine), dairymaid (whose wages were second to the manager[17]) and the assistant dairymaid. The yard is substantial as it was required for deliveries. Along with the main creamery building later additions included the 'cheese house' for the manufacturing of cheddar cheese in 1928 and in the mid thirties turkey rearing. The cheese factory building is a single story construction with asbestos slate roof with the verge pointed in cement, metal roof lights and a small atrium. The original terrazzo floor can be seen in the entrance hall which runs halfway up the walls, employee toilets and underneath the modern flooring in the main part of the building.
On the 24th of Sept 1928 Glin Co-operative Dairy Society Ltd amalgamated with Turraree Co-operative Creamery Ltd, a small creamery 3 miles away which began in 1902 on the land belonging to Daniel Geoghegan. Glin Co-operative Dairy Society joined Golden Vale Co-operative Creameries, Charleville, Co. Cork in 1973. It established a processed cheese plant with the objective of providing a centralised outlet for the cheddar cheese being produced by the smaller co-ops in the Golden Vale hinterland. Ireland’s entry into the EEC in 1973 lead to two rounds of rationalization resulting in amalgamations that reduced the number of creameries substantially throughout the country[18]. This situation was compounded by the introduction of milk quotas in 1984. This intensified the movement out of small scale milk production and led to the concentration of milk supplies on a smaller number of larger holdings[19]. After the amalgamation with Golden Vale, the Glin no longer functioned as a creamery but instead milk was now delivered to this branch by local suppliers where it was chilled and, in the summer, transported daily to the factory at Charleville. Instead of milk separation it now just pasteurised about 30 gallons of milk a day for sale to local people. The first bulk collecting lorry came in the same year with Joe McGrath and Joe Buckley as the collectors. This was deemed an uneconomic and troublesome exercise by Golden Vale for the benefit of the locals and so the company decided that this would cease during the summer of 1975. Shortly after this decision was made the Glin Development Association approached the company to see if the decision could be reversed but, in spite of further consideration, the company decided that the operation would have to stop from September 1st[20]. On being informed that there was no pasteurised milk for sale local man Mortimer McElligott positioned himself outside the creamery and lay on the road so as to obstruct the lorry taking milk to Charleville and had to be removed by the gardaí. The premises remained unused and were sold for £20,000 in 1988[21] to Seamus Danaher who set up a furniture business there.
A year after this report I was given the task of getting objects for the Ranks Exhibition put on by Limerick Museum & Archives in collaboration with the Hunt Museum with no money as budget did not stretch that far. When I saw the old photograph of the flour being weighed I remembered the butter scales abandoned in the Glin Co-op creamery and rang the current owner who was more than happy to give us a loan of it for the duration of the exhibition. It wasn't an exact match but it gave visitors an idea of how far industrial machinery has come. I quite like the old machines and the original idea of the co-operative movement. 


Author's Plea
There are calls by councillors to give this huge site a single use, as a convention centre. It is the hope of this blogger that somebody influential might stumble across this article online- I ask you to please consider donating part of the complex to the Ilen School ilen.ie/ to help continue a part of Limerick's heritage. Please do not allow the history of Cleeve's to dry up, continue the co-operative spirit. 


[1] The Limerick City & Counties of Limerick and Clare Directory, 1891-2. The title of first co-operative creamery in Ireland belongs to Drumcollagher in Co. Limerick which was established in 1889 and the second one was in Ballyhahill again in Co. Limerick (Carla Keating, Plunkett and co-operatives; past, present and future, p.92).
[2] The Munster News, 13 May 1891.
[3] ‘The Lord Lieutenant in the South’, 16 May 1891, The Irish Times.
[4] Pat Bolger, The Irish Co-operative Movement: its history and development, (1977), p.183.
[5] Cormac O’Gráda, ‘The Beginnings of the Irish creamery system, 1880-1914’, in Economic History Review, vol.30, no.2, p.284.
[6] ‘The land around the town is very fertile...There are several large dairy farms; a large butter market is held in the town, and great quantities of butter are made here and sent to Limerick and Cork for exportation.’ Samuel Lewis, Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, vol.1, 1837.
[7] Thomas J. Donoghue, ‘Glin in the early century’, in Ballyguiltenane Rural Journal, (Christmas, 1987), p.4.
[8] The Munster News, 8 April 1891.
[9] Mainchín Seoighe, Portrait of Limerick, (Limerick, 1982), p.77.
[10] Glin Co-operative Dairy Society General Correspondence files held by National Archives.
[11] The Glin Papers, P1/203, University of Limerick, p.130.
[12] O’Donoghue, p.4.
[13] Michael F. O’Sullivan, A history of Hospital and its environs, p. 107.
[14] Shop was built by building contractor Jack O’Connor (conservation with Mr Tom O’Donovan of Glin Historical Society).
[15] New roof installed in 1971 (conversation with former creamery manager Dave Sullivan).
[16] Patrick & Maura Shaffrey, Irish countryside buildings, p.95
[17] John Hough, Ireland’s Co-operative Heartland Ardagh C.D.S, a history 1891-1974, (Limerick, 1997), p.6.
[18] Carla King & Liam Kennedy, ‘100th anniversary Irish Co-operatives; from creameries at the crossroads to multinationals,’ in History Ireland, Vol.2, no.4 (winter, 1994), p.40.
[19] Hough, p.96.
[20] ‘Court order to stop picketing at creamery’, Irish Times, 5 September 1975.
[21] Peter Somers and Michael McGrath, Golden Vale Remembered 1948-2001, (2006), p.34.