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.