Wednesday 8 July 2015

Irish Builder and Engineer (Nov, 1953). Taken from

Documenting Building:journals & lectures

This week's post was possible thanks to information provided by Dr Daniel O'Neill @ONeillDanielP 

Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner noted that evolution in architecture cannot be entirely due to changes in materials, purposes or social conditions but by the fact that a new spirit of the age required it. The primary document is of course the building itself but as my co-author Dan O'Neill says 'the journal should be treated as a treasure to be preserved.' Additionally papers read at public seminars at the time are also invaluable records capturing the zeitgeist of the new Republic. 

Print and media, dissemination of information
Journals such as the Irish Builder (during its lifetime it as known as The Dublin Builder; Illustrated Irish Architectural, Engineering, Mechanics & Sanitary Journal; Irish Builder and Engineering Record and Irish and Technical Journal) are great sources of information often with accompanying plans and photographs. This building journal periodical was in publication from 1859-1979 and kept a close eye on its British counterpart to keep abreast of the latest events on the International architectural stage, which was an excellent resource for architectural students. The journal cut across all social classes appealing to the labourer, brick manufacturer, and the architect. The articles ranged from topics on planning, to segments on new products,new projects, labour, cost of materials and changes in urban environment. 

Other important sources of contemporary design and discourse for Irish architects in the first half of the twentieth century were the AAI Green Book and the journal of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI). Vincent Kelly reviewed Pevsner’s Pioneers of Modern Design (1936) in the magazine Ireland Today. As well as our own periodicals Irish architects followed British publications such as The Builder, Architect and Building News and the Architects’ Journal. Even though in many cases Ireland was more aware of what was going on in the rest of Europe than Britain such as contemporary church designs. Ireland may have been on the edge of Europe but Irish Builder wanted to stay on the forefront of contemporary design with articles appearing as early as 1938 entitled ‘Modern ecclesiastical architecture in Germany[1]’ tracking the careers of the likes of Rudolf Schwarz and his highly influential book ‘The Church Incarnate’ published that same year[2]

Public Lectures
In a lecture to the Architectural Association of Ireland in 1933 Sean T. O’Kelly appeared to have foreseen the future of public architecture of the New State when he said: 'We too in this country have room for men who will give to our peculiar problem the intense study they require, and help us build in a manner that will reflect credit on our country and generation.' A group of young architects, including John O’Gorman and T.P. Kennedy, arranged to have the RIBA photographs exhibition from London in 1934 sent on loan to Dublin and organised a display of it in the National College of Art in January 1937. 
This photo of Chicago's Century of Progress International Exposition
taken in 1933 which could of been part of the RIBA exhibition.
The AAI also got guest speakers from further afield with the Walter Gropius lecture[3] in 1936 seeing a turnout of 300 people[4] which was exceptionally large for an AAI event as noted by a young John O’Gorman.[5] The AAI would continue to invite internationally renowned architects to give lectures such as Erich Mendelssohn, Alvar Aalto in 1957 and Mies van der Rohe in 1959[6] There was a keen interest in architecture from the Government ministers of the new state and they were often present at meetings of the AAI. The AAI today continues on this valuable service of public lectures on current issues in architectural theory and history in conjunction with their architectural competitions.
Irish architects were not afraid of being outspoken with regards to authenticity regardless of the typology. For example in 1931 the landmark of modern architecture in Ireland took place at Turner’s Cross in Cork.[7] Barry Byrne and J.R Boyd Barrett’s Christ the King Church was revolutionary for its time and its use of reinforced concrete was an inexpensive alternative to the traditional church. Nevertheless Christ the King church did not immediately influence Irish church design which continued in imitation of earlier styles of architecture well into the 1960s. Most of these buildings were adorned with artificial veneers that simply presented earlier architectural styles such as Greek, Gothic and Romanesque but used new engineering and structural techniques. This point was best summed up by P.M Delaney in a paper read before the Architectural Association of Ireland[8] in 1961 in which he observed:
‘Most of our churches have become confused collections of unrelated inaccurate and clumsy fragments taken without understanding from widely different sources and usually copied, not from the original, but at fifth or sixth hand, from reproductions in turn based on other reproductions. There can be no reasonable or logical basis for this illiteracy, which merely created an impression that the church has no connection with the conditions of the present day, since its visible expression in its buildings is so deliberately archaic and out of contact with the daily life of its members.’[10]

I found the Irish Builder as an invaluable source of information for my postgraduate research which spanned 1930s-70s Limerick. There are holdings in the library of MIC in Limerick but they had gaps for the years I required. I was fortunate to have the holdings in  Dublin but not everybody has the time or money to travel up in down to the capital from other parts of the country like myself in Limerick. If these journals were digitised and made publicly accessible it would make the lives of architectural researchers so much easier. I am lucky to be around for the age of Twitter, having fantastic advice and knowledge on tap like @ONeillDanielP and others. To think it might very well be a rich resource for researchers in the future. What would the architects of the 1930s have made of Twitter I wonder! 

Holdings Locations
Microfiche: Architecture Library 1859-1979 (Ref: Journals)
Hardcopy: James Joyce Library 1859-1866; 1877-1882; 1886-1888; 1894-1897; 1909;
1937-1939. (Ref: Special Collections 30.PPB.1 - 30.PPC.2)
National Library of Ireland
Microfiche: 1859-1979 (Ref: Ir 6905 i 42)
Dublin City Archives
Microfiche: 1959-1979 (Ref: 690.05, MF)
Hardcopy: 1904-1915
Irish Architectural Archive
Hardcopy: 1867-1874; 1876-1880; 1882; 1886-1898; 1903-Sept 1904; 1906-1913; 1915-
1923; 1926-1927; 1932-1933; 1947-1981 (incomplete).
Referenced publications
Collins, Niamh : The Irish builder and engineer catalogue. In: Research and resources in a digital age : UCD Irish Virtual Research Library and Archive. UCD Irish Virtual Research Library and Archive, 2010.
Elizabeth Tilley, « Trading in Knowledge: The Irish Builder and Nineteenth-Century Journalism  », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. III - n°1 | 2005, 110-120. 

[1] Written by J.V Downes.
[2] Richard Hurley & Paul Larmour, Sacred places; the story of Christian Architecture in Ireland (Dublin, 2000), p.14.
[3] Lecture entitled ‘The International Trend of Modern Architecture.’
[4] John O’Gorman, ‘Dr Walter Gropius, the International trend of modern architecture’, Ireland Today, 1:2 (1936), p.57.
[5] Seán Rothery, Ireland and the new architecture, (Dublin, 1991), p.89.
[6] Ellen Rowley ‘Researching a history of the architectural association of Ireland Part II’, in Building Material, 8(2009), 96.
[7] R. Kevin Seasoltz, A sense of the sacred; theological foundations of Christian architecture and art, (London, 2005), p.265.
[8] Becker et al., (1997) 20th Century Architecture Ireland, p.20.
[9] Published in Liturgical Arts, no.4, 1961.
[10] Richard Hurley, ‘Irish Church architecture ,1839-1989’, in 150 years of architecture Ireland (Dublin, 1989), p.80.

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