In 1979 an international architectural competition was held to design an official residence for the holder of the office of Taoiseach and, in conjunction with it, a State guesthouse to accommodate visiting heads-of-state and other dignitaries. The proposed site was formerly the Under Secretary’s Lodge (later the Apostolic Nunciature) in the Phoenix Park.
Entry to the competition cost £25 and was limited to architects with a degree or diploma ‘awarded on completion of a five-year full-time course at University level in architectural studies’, and no less than two years practical experience. Firms could enter, as could ‘an association of architects created for the purpose of entering the competition’, though at least one of the associates had to have the required qualification and experience. Each entrant was required to submit up to eight A1 size drawings to include a site plan, floor plans of every floor in the proposed buildings, a detail of a part of one of the buildings, an axonometric drawing, and a ‘series of sketch perspectives, internal and/or external, of selected parts, to illustrate the designer’s spatial concepts’. The drawings were to be accompanied by a report providing information on landscaping, construction, materials and finishes, a schedule of accommodation, and a cost plan.
Despite an eighteen-week postal strike, almost 300 enquiries regarding the competition, and 97 actual entries, were received. The assessors were Richard Stokes, Deputy Assistant, Department of the Taoiseach (chairman), Martin Burke FRIAI, Principal Architect, OPW, Aldo Van Eyck, University of Delft, Maurice Hogan MRIAI and William Maguire MRIAI. They awarded the first prize of £6,000 to the London firm of Evans and Shalev Architects, the practice of Welsh/Israeli couple Eldred Evans and David Shalev (d. 2018). The original drawings for this scheme have been loaned to the Archive by Eldred Evans, and four are included in the exhibition.
Three designs were placed second, each winning £2,000: de Blacam and Meagher, Dublin, and, Cleary, Farrell, Meagher and Moore with Peter Dudley, UCD School of Architecture, whose entries are each represented in the exhibition by two drawings, and Wickham and Lavery, London. Two further entries were commended by the assessors: Toál Ó Muiré and Emer Ó Siochrú, with Sean Ó Siochrú, D.L. Martin and Anthony Conlon, represented in the exhibition by two drawings, and Ivor Smith and Cailey Hutton. Single items for a further twenty-three entries are also included in the exhibition, ranging from preparatory sketches to submitted drawings.
The competition had been promoted by Jack Lynch, with cross-party support in the Dáil, but in December 1979 Charles Haughey replaced Jack Lynch as Taoiseach and the project was cancelled on economic grounds. The old Under Secretary’s Lodge was demolished in 1985; only Ashtown Castle, its tower-house core, remains. The Phoenix Park Visitor Centre now occupies the proposed residence site.
The entries to the competition are from a remarkable range of architects, many at the outset of outstanding careers, each of whom approached the brief and the site in their own unique and distinctive way. By presenting a selection of the entries to mark this fortieth anniversary of the competition, this exhibition affords an opportunity to reflect on the architectural culture of the time, the quality of the individual schemes, the legacies of the entrants, and the role of the competition in achieving design excellence, while at the same time considering what might have been had the project not remained unbuilt.
The exhibition runs until February 2020.