So near and yet so far. “It’s a real shame the scheme was never completed,” says James Howley. Every architect appreciates the perils of phased development. Clients move on, shared visions decay or can be lost altogether. The crash imposed immeasurable variables on such always delicate equations.
In the end only half of Boreen Bradach was built, denying a rare opportunity for the midlands to once again point the way for social housing in Ireland, as it did around 1950, when Frank Gibney was studding the counties of Offaly, Westmeath, Kildare, Longford and Roscommon with brilliant housing built for Bord na Móna workers. As Fergal McCabe, Gibney’s biographer, puts it: “While their architectural style is of a modest and familiar semi-vernacular Arts and Crafts character with plastered walls and pitched roofs which would be familiar and acceptable to the future inhabitants, all of the schemes have distinctive or dramatic layouts.” No different here, at least as envisaged.
More than any others, Howley and his former partner Seán Harrington have been occasional heirs [for example, at Balgaddy, Co. Dublin, BOTM March 2016
] to the spirit of Frank Gibney’s civic vision for urbanity in rurality through the medium of social housing. In fact, this commission was initially awarded to Howley Harrington Architects shortly before the amicable dissolution of that practice.
Gibney, in turn, had been influenced by the City Beautiful ideas of Sir Raymond Unwin who with Barry Parker had laid out Hampstead Garden Suburb before writing, in 1909, Town Planning in Practice: An Introduction to the Art of Designing Cities and Suburbs. As Frederick Gibberd noted in 1953, “The lesson Unwin taught was that layout is essentially a three-dimensional grouping of dwellings round a space. The street is not a frontage but a space about which the dwellings are grouped to form a series of street pictures; or alternatively the street is a space that may be expanded into wider spaces such as closes or squares.”
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