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.
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.
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.
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.