In an undated note, handwritten on his office letterhead sometime in the early/mid-1990s, Arthur Gibney (1932–2006) wrote to me: “I feel early work is of particular importance in terms of how architects see their cultural position … The work I see as important in my case is the IMI complex, Merrion Hall and Leixslip [sic] School,” before going on to list fewer than half a dozen other works, including his unbuilt Montreal Expo pavilion of 1967 and projects then on the boards in the office, such as the restoration of Dr Steevens’ Hospital.
These three, then, were his creed, his architectural testament. The three great works he stood by: Merrion Hall (1965–73), facing Sandymount Strand, Ireland’s first Bürolandschaft – initially home to both Irish Shipping and Córas Tráchtála (now Enterprise Ireland) – is majestic, an almost perfect work of architecture in every way; the Irish Management Institute (1971–74) in Sandyford, which deservedly won the RIAI Gold Medal; and this community school in Leixlip that is largely unknown, despite being named PLAN Building of the Year in 1982, before the AAI and RIAI annual awards existed. Time to fill in a gap or two.
The judges who chose this building ahead of an exceptionally strong field that included the AIB Bankcentre, Cork’s English Market, the National Concert Hall in Earlsfort Terrace and the IDA Enterprise Centre [Tegral BOTM April 2019] were: Professor Cathal O’Neill; Andrzej Wejchert; Alec Pamplin, President of the Society of Designers in Ireland; and Neil Steedman, the too-often forgotten Editor of PLAN Magazine, who played a significant, if lonely and difficult, role promoting Irish architectural culture back then, long before it was popular.
Coláiste Chiaráin was the last of Gibney’s great modernist trilogy and certainly not part of his early work. But maybe its completion, following two decades in practice, marked the last time Arthur felt he was still a ‘young’ architect – even then, incredibly – not yet aged 50? How can we know now? Perhaps a clue can be gleaned from a document he attached to his note. It was a copy of his student thesis ‘Towards a National Architecture’, published in the RIAI Yearbook, 1956–57.
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