irish life centre
In 1946, 31 year old architect Andrew Devane journeyed to Scottsdale, Arizona to train and work under the prominent American modernist Frank Lloyd Wright. The invite came directly from Wright himself, prompted by a letter in which Devane had boldly stated, ‘I cannot make up my mind whether you are in truth a great architect or just another phoney’. Emboldened by what he saw in Arizona, Devane returned to Dublin two years later where he rejoined the architecture firm Robinson & Keefe (now known as RKD) as partner.
Wright’s approach to architecture had left a profound and lasting impression on Devane’s practice. As a spiritual man, he admired his mentor’s desire to harmonise the natural with the manmade. Designed by Devane in the late ’70s and completed in 1980, The Irish Life Centre in Dublin’s city centre epitomises this crucial learning.
‘I cannot make up my mind whether you are in truth a great architect or just another phoney’.
Architect Andrew Devane in a letter to Frank Lloyd Wright
Concrete Collar took a tour of the Irish Life Centre during Open House Dublin, an annual weekend of free architectural tours run by the Irish Architecture Foundation. Upon arrival, our expectations were low. We, like many other Dubliners, had overlooked this city block for years, its once bright light having dimmed through decades of use. On this morning however, following an €8 million renovation, The Irish Life Centre had never looked better.
As Dublin’s first mixed-use development, The Irish Life Centre sought to reinvigorate the much-neglected, surrounding city centre streets by integrating office, residential, retail, leisure and public space. Hidden in between its towering (in Dublin terms) tripartite brick facade is a series of multi-level courtyards complete with covered walkways and decorative ponds. A number of terraced apartment blocks overlook them. Originally intended as housing for Irish Life workers, the apartments benefit from access to the centre’s indoor swimming pool and squash court.
‘Like men, cities age, buildings crumble, facilities wear out and must eventually be replaced.’
Irish Life Chairman, Neil Crowley speaking at the opening of Talbot Street Mall in the Irish Life Centre, 1980
Is the Irish Life Centre Dublin’s answer to the Barbican? Not quite. Admittedly it doesn’t have half as much to offer as London’s most-sought after residential complex. There is no theatre, cinema, art gallery or conservatory and the glory of its shopping centre, Talbot Street Mall, was never fully realised, but credit must be given to the complex’s ambition. Devane dared to imagine an alternative reality for office workers and for this still rather forgotten corner of Dublin city. And lest we forget those leafy courtyards.