In the deep gloom of the recession, a new dawn was rising for Irish architecture, even if we were not yet awake to it. The Central Meat Control Laboratory was John Tuomey's first building after he returned to Ireland from Jim Stirling’s studio in London, where he had worked on the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and the competition for the WZB Berlin Social Science Centre. It should have won the inaugural AAI Downes Medal in 1986, but for a below-the-line tag that the new awards were ‘a forecast of architecture to come’, and this was already built. So the jury ruled it out from the prize. The regulations were soon clarified, but too late for Abbotstown, which was, however, subsequently commended in the RIAI Gold Medal award.
I wrote in The Sunday Tribune in December 1989 that this was the most important Irish building of the 1980s, a decade when little enough was built here and young architects were searching for the ‘Irishness’ of modern Irish architecture, primarily through its connection with landscape. I still think it was – although it is now much altered, a faded shadow of its original heroic self. Today, it is the Sport Ireland Institute on the National Sports Campus, saddled with a monster on its back – a 16-bay, High Performance Centre tacked on to its rear – a really brutal extension, mindless in its banality, like something served up from a closed city in the former USSR.
Abbotstown House, near Blanchardstown, was purchased by the Department of Agriculture in 1950, with over 400 acres, to accommodate the Veterinary Research Laboratory and state farm. The early-19th century house and farm buildings remained the focal point of the estate over the next half-century while additional farming and scientific facilities were gradually added.
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