What is House/City?
Brian Ward
Dublin School of Architecture, DIT

‘The city receives the experiences of each passing generation and hands the record on to the next’. – Patrick Geddes

Over the course of July and August 1914, over 110,000 people visited a Civic Exhibition in Dublin’s former Linen Hall. The exhibition was organised with the intent of uniting the divided citizenry of Dublin around a sense of pride in their city and a sense of optimism about its prospects. It was deliberately placed in one of the most slumridden sections of the city in order to emphasise the importance of such aspirations only months after seven people had been killed when two houses of tenements collapsed on nearby Church Street. The hope was that, putting such events behind it and re-connecting with its ‘Golden Age’ of Georgian urbanism, Dublin could be ‘the phoenix of cities’.

The exhibition brought the new discipline of town planning to the attention of Dubliners. The planning movement had emerged as a response to the deplorable housing conditions that had become endemic in cities across the world over the course of the nineteenth century. It proposed that in order to properly deal with these conditions a comprehensive view of the city had to be taken. As part of a trio of exhibitions to mark the centenary of the Civic Exhibition, Dublin School of Architecture, DIT is presenting House/City, exploring the symbiotic relationship between house and city. It does so on the site of the original Civic Exhibition as the School now occupies Linen Hall. House/City runs alongside Phoenix Rising in the Hugh Lane Gallery (07.11.14 – 29.03.15) and City – Assembled, an exhibition to be mounted by UCD and IADT in the City Assembly Rooms (26.01.15 – 06.02.15).

House/City installation view, DIT

House/City installation view, DIT

House/City examines the way in which the city was mapped and its houses were surveyed during two periods of its history, 1909-1925 and 1976-1991. As the Civic Exhibition was primarily about ‘stirring up public feeling’ about civic matters, House/City exhibits maps and books that disseminated various views of the city and its houses during these periods. The early town planning movement suggested that a city should be surveyed in order that it could be properly understood before any new plans be made for it. Drawing a link between this aspiration and the student work that is conducted on the same site today, House/City probes into what the planning historian, Michael Bannon, calls the ‘transubstantiation mystery’ between survey and plan. House projects, which arose out of thinking about the city’s condition during the two periods under review, and that were disseminated in a spirit of hope will therefore be exhibited alongside the survey material.

This will set the context for a survey of Dublin terraced houses that has been conducted in the School since 2010 and also a selection of contemporary house projects. Focusing on the twin scales of house and city, and utilising photographs and scaled drawings and maps, it is the slippage between both scales that is the object of the exhibition.


Occurring during the Lockout, the Church Street disaster on 2 September 1913, was immediately seen in political terms. Unless housing conditions in the city were addressed, it was suggested, there would always be labour unrest in the Dublin. This gave added impetus to the town planning movement in Dublin, which had just begun to gain traction in Ireland due to the efforts of Lady Aberdeen, the Lord Lieutenant’s wife, who invited many planning luminaries to the city between 1911 and 1914. Principal amongst them was Patrick Geddes who, after giving evidence at Dublin Corporation’s Inquiry into the Church Street disaster, suggested to Lady Aberdeen that a Civic Exhibition be held in the ‘disused barracks’ in Linen Hall in order to disseminate the town planning message in the city. On the 15th July 1914, the exhibition opened with much media fanfare and a newsreel camera in place to advertise the event in the city’s cinemas.

A wide-ranging exhibition that presented a picture of Ireland as a progressive country, its centrepiece was Patrick Geddes’ ‘Cities Exhibition’, a graphic history of urban civilisation that the Scottish professor had toured internationally. Having mounted his exhibition, he used it as a teaching aid during the three week long School of Civics run from Linen Hall which included detailed field studies of Dublin. The Civic Exhibition was intended to educate the inhabitants of Dublin about their city so that they could be informed participants in the discussions regarding their city’s future once images from a Dublin Town Planning Competition were published in September.

The competition was won by Patrick Abercrombie, the Professor of Civic Design at the University of Liverpool, but along with other competitors he complained that his scheme was hampered by the lack of a Civic Survey of Dublin. Geddes championed the city survey as a means of stilling something which he saw as being in constant evolution – it could then be examined for patterns that would inform decisions on the city’s future. In 1925 The Dublin Civic Survey Report was finally published by HT O’Rourke and the Civics Institute of Ireland. It included a rare set of early aerial photographs of the city, presented as a new method of envisioning the urban environment. It also included a series of maps analysing the city in terms of categories such as ‘Recreation & Education’, ‘Industry & Commerce’, ‘Hygiene’, ‘Archaeology’, ‘Traffic’ and ‘Housing’. These maps were presumably based on the 1911 OS Map, but while the grain of the city is apparent in the base drawing it is all but lost in the Civic Survey maps, evident only in the careful recording of the slums on the ‘Housing’ map.

In order to gain a more fine-grained understanding of the city, The Dublin Civic Survey Report had to be examined alongside the Georgian Society’s Records of Eighteenth-Century Domestic Architecture and Decoration in Dublin (1909-13). The discourse around town planning in Edwardian Dublin was supplemented by the Society’s concurrent project of recording the city’s architectural heritage from 1690-1801. It set about surveying Dublin at the scale of the individual grand house, publishing the results in five volumes. Featuring many photographs of architectural details, the survey also includes some plans and sections. Given the way in which town houses had been transformed into tenements across the nineteenth century, the survey captures spaces in which both rich and poor lived, but given its architectural bias it misses the pre-Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian Dublin houses and also the scale of the smaller house in the city, in the lanes and lesser streets. Given their defining role in the city, it is not surprising to find that energy was devoted within town planning circles to developing schemes which reconstituted Dublin’s Georgian houses as multifamily dwellings. But as PC Cowan’s 1918 Report on Dublin Housing and a contemporary Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland competition demonstrates, it is the small house with adjoining garden that emerges during this period as the type most suitable to resolving the problem of housing within the city.

House/City installation view, DIT

House/City installation view, DIT


‘The city has always been characterized largely by the individual dwelling’ stated Aldo Rossi in The Architecture of the City, published in 1966 as architects sought tools to analyse the historical city such that they could situate their buildings within its rhythms and patterns. This was in reaction against the archetypal modernist ploy of conceiving buildings within an abstract universal space. Rossi popularised the use of typological analysis as a method of simultaneously studying the city and beginning the design process of an architecture congruent with it.

In Deirdre O’Connor’s 1979 Housing in Dublin’s Inner City and Niall McCullough’s 1989 Dublin, An Urban History such analysis is brought to bear on Dublin’s houses. O’Connor included within her book suggestions as to how some of these types could be modified for modern living. The pertinence of this study is evident from another book of the period, Jim Murphy’s 1977 The Semidetached House. Tracing the history of this hybrid type, Murphy pointed out in his introduction that it was the semi-detached house which had become the building block of late twentieth century Dublin. The building of large-scale housing schemes around the edge of the city was contributing to an emptying out of the inner city. As an aerial photograph demonstrated at the beginning of the study, the landscape characterised by the semi-detached house differed substantially from that characterised by the terraced house seen in the 1925 aerial photographs.

If O’Connor’s and McCullough’s books demonstrate a new value being attached within architectural circles to the historical fabric of the city, its parlous state in the latter half of the century is evident from Derek Tynan’s 1982 figure-ground drawing of Dublin, executed while in Colin Rowe’s studio in Cornell University and drawn in order to understand a distant city. In Tynan’s Dublin some of the gaps evident in the earlier aerial photographs, such as the war damage on North O’Connell Street, have been mended but a combined lack of investment and respect for the city in the intervening years had opened up gaping new holes in its fabric. Proposing house-types that could simultaneously restore and modernise this tattered city, McCullough and Tynan, amongst others in Group 91 (such as Shay Cleary and McGarry NiEanaigh), organised an exhibition and publication entitled Making a Modern Street in 1991. A gap in the city’s fabric, shown in an aerial view, became a testing ground for forward-looking ideas about inner city living that was to inform the group’s later projects in Temple Bar.


As the Dublin School of Architecture began to establish its studios on the Linen Hall site, a project was instigated by Andrew Clancy, Colm Moore and Brian Ward (and supported by Jennifer Boyer, Gerry O’Brien and Magdi Rashied) to re-connect with the spirit of the event that had taken place on the site in 1914. Patrick Geddes postulated that a school should be understood as an outward manifestation of a city’s subjective life. He was interested in a porous relationship between educational institutions and the cities which surround them.

In 2010 a survey project was organised to capture a representative sample of the Dublin terraced house. By then aerial views of the city were ubiquitous rather than rare, but plans, sections and elevations, analysing a full range of the city’s house-types in a clear manner were not as plentiful and the project set out to address this imbalance. Over a period of three years, students from first, second and third year were kindly welcomed into houses throughout Dublin and allowed to survey the ordinary architecture of their city. Houses from the city outside were brought into the school, informing projects like Alison O’Reilly’s 2014 thesis project which sought a new residential architecture for the city based on her analysis of one of its typical details, the Georgian window.

The survey project was launched as Dublin’s fortunes declined again and a collective assessment was being made of the built results of the Celtic Tiger era. In terms of residential architecture in the city centre, the building boom had resulted in a series of large apartment blocks composed of small units, generally unsuitable for families. Discerning a disjunction between the scale and rhythm of the historic fabric of the city and that of these buildings, Dublin City Council, working with GKMP Architects and DIT Graduates, Moniker, launched ‘Dublin House’, an initiative which seeks to re-introduce the scale of the Georgian plot back into the architecture of the city. At the same time the project hopes to generate a new house type which will maintain families in the city who might otherwise migrate to the suburbs. Once again, in a city which periodically becomes a phoenix rising, it is the house which is the vehicle through which to think about Dublin.

House/City installation view, DIT

House/City installation view, DIT


Dublin Institute of Technology
Linenhall, Henrietta Place, Dublin 7
26 November to 5 December 2014

Phoenix Rising: Art and Civic Imagination
Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane
6 November 2014 to 29 March 2015

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