The Irish Architectural Archive


On the east side of Dublin’s two hundred and fifty year old Merrion Square there is a beautiful centuries old town house that is home to the Irish Architectural Archive. I have to confess, somewhat shamefacedly, that the first time I heard of the Irish Architectural Archive ( from now on refered to by its initials – IAA) was when I went to the pop-up shop they hosted a few weeks ago as part of The Christmas on The Square initiative. I knew the instant I walked through the IAA’s door into an imposing flooded-with-light, large, high-ceilinged hallway which houses a compelling exhibition of scale models of building designed by Eileen Grey, that it was somewhere I would want to revisit.

eileen grey models

Author, historian and cartoonist Nicholas Robinson together with Dr Edward McParland a former lecturer in architectural history at Trinity College Dublin founded the IAA in 1976. It grew out of an exhibition of photographs of the interiors of the Georgian houses on Parnell Square that the two of them had organized in 1974. When the exhibition finished there was nowhere in Ireland that could take in the images to keep them for posterity, so the pair set about raising funds to create an archive which they called the National Trust Archive: it was later renamed the IAA.

The stated aim of the IAA is: ‘to collect and preserve material of every kind relating to the architecture of the entire island of Ireland, and make it available to the public’. The IAA has had a few homes before moving to its current 45 Merrion Square East location in 2004. Sir Gustavas Hume a surgeon/developer built number forty-five in the 1790’s: as the largest house on the square it was the trophy home of its day. It was built during Ireland’s first property boom and as sure as the tides go in and out boom is followed by bust: Ireland’s first property collapse happened in 1801 after the Act of Union.


The IAA has much to offer the public: there is a chance to wander in (just ring the bell) and look at the building (or at least parts of it) with its magnificent melange of architectural detail; there is the aforementioned permanent exhibition of models of buildings designed by Eileen Grey gifted to the IAA by professor Caroline Constant; there is the library with its reading room; and there is always a temporary exhibition to look at.

Watercolour by Thomas Ryan RHA

Watercolour by Thomas Ryan RHA

thomas ryan watercolours

Watercolours by Thomas Ryan RHA

The current temporary exhibition ‘Dublin and Thereabouts’ (finishing on the 14th of December) is a collection of exquisite watercolours by Thomas Ryan RHA. He has described the collection as a two-year examination of Dublin. They will be available for sale when the exhibition finishes and I just wish someone could wave a fiscal magic wand and keep the beautiful collection together and in public ownership for posterity.

aidan lynam architectural model

Babel by Aidan Lynam

Another interesting item on temporary display, and I think available for sale, is a 1:200 architectural scale model called Babel created by Aidan Lynam as a response to Ireland’s most recent property boom and its collapse.

My thanks to Colum O’Riordan the knowledgeable archive administrator for so patiently answering my questions.

Note: the Irish Architectural Archive at 45, Merrion Square is open to the public Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 5pm.


Filed under Culture, Dublin, Ireland

4 responses to “The Irish Architectural Archive

  1. H

    I just love the Thomas Ryan watercolours and will have to pay a visit to see them. They are a joy and you are right – it would be great to keep them together. To my shame, I have never been to see the building, though I am very aware of the wonderful work of Nick Robinson (husband of our former and esteemed President of Ireland, Mary Robinson). Huge thanks for such a beautifully done article.

    • Hi H

      I am so glad you enjoyed the post and thank you for taking the time to comment. I hope you get to see the Thomas Ryan watercolours (sadly the exhibition finishes tomorrow) as my photos in no way do them justice. I learnt yesterday that we are the only country in Western Europe that doesn’t have a government funded Building Record. So absolute kudos to Nick Robinson and Dr Edward McParland for plugging that gap when they set up the IAA.

      This comes with many good wishes for Christmas. Bx

  2. Oh, wow! What an amazing place. So much beautiful and priceless works of Art. Every detail is a masterpiece. Happy Holidays.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s