Restless Pencil – exhibition and lectures on Noel Moffett


Opening next Thursday 20 December, the Irish Architectural Archive is holding a exhibition “Restless Pencil” – an exhibition of architectural drawings, photographs and works on paper marking the centenary of the birth of the architect Noel Moffett. The exhibition will also be accompanied by a lunchtime lecture series which will run from 22 January to 26 February 2013.

Noel Moffett (1912-1994) was born in Cork on Christmas Day, 1912. He trained as an architect at Liverpool University and joined Dublin Corporation in 1941 before setting up his own practice in 1944. In 1949 he left Dublin for London. He taught for most of the 1950s while building his private practice, working in partnership from 1956 with his Polish born third wife, the architect Alina Zofia Bolesławicz-Moffett. He came to specialise in social housing for the elderly, mainly for the Greater London Council and charitable trusts.

This exhibition concentrates on Moffett’s time in Dublin in the mid-to-late 1940s, a period during which he emerged as a leading Irish pioneer of modern architecture. His near contemporary Kevin Roche remembers him at the time as ‘an extraordinary person’ who was ‘a very exciting presence on what was then a very dull architectural scene’. Schemes such as the Open-Air Theatre, Achill, Co. Mayo, or the proposed factory for Miami Squashes, Dublin, show the diversity of his interests but housing featured strongly from the start. His East and West Houses, Portmarnock, have been described as ‘very daring’, reflecting distinctly ‘the works of the great housing masters, Gropius and Maxwell Fry’, while his scheme of local authority housing for Dundalk Urban District Council was exceptional for the variety of house types, the open-plan ground floors and the bold use of colour throughout. This scheme prefigures Moffett’s architectural career in London, where low cost, high-density, public housing became a mainstay of his practice, including many schemes developed using a hexagonal modular plan inspired, according to Moffett, by the Giant’s Causeway.

Moffett’s unambiguously Modernist buildings were clearly influential but his presence was also felt in other ways. He designed several exhibitions, promoted an interest in prefabrication and innovative building solutions through the Tomorrow Club, was involved (with his first wife Margot) in the White Stag group of artists and ran a private architecture school, an early expression of his lifelong commitment to teaching and to students. The landmark July 1947 issue of the British journal Architectural Design was guest-edited by Moffett and gave a seal of international approval for the first time to contemporary Irish architecture. Several of those who worked with Moffett, for him or encountered him in Dublin in the mid-to-late 1940s went on to enjoy spectacular careers at home and abroad, including Liam Carlin, Paddy Delany, Patrick Hamilton, Reginald Malcomson (a close collaborator who joined Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1947 and was invited to work in his office), Herbert Unger, Robin Walker and the aforementioned Kevin Roche.

Short as his Dublin career was – relatively few of his buildings were actually constructed and none exist in their original state – Moffett remained a figure of interest to Irish architects. In 1967 a call was issued by the Irish Builder and Engineer to have him recalled to Ireland and made Dublin City Architect. It was not until 1990 that Moffett’s legacy was fittingly acknowledged when he was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland.

The Lecture Series

Tuesday 22 January 2013 at 1.15pm

‘Noel and Margot Moffett in Dublin, 1940-47’

Shane O’Toole, architect and architectural critic

Tuesday 29 January 2013 at 1.15pm

‘The White Stag Group in Dublin, 1939-46’

Dr S. B. Kennedy, former Keeper of Art at the Ulster Museum

Tuesday 5 February 2013 at 1.15pm

‘More About Noel and Margot, both in Dublin and After’

Shane O’Toole, architect and architectural critic

Tuesday 12 February 2013 at 1.15pm

‘Bohemian Bodies: Erina Brady’s Modern Dance in 1940s Dublin’

Dr Deirdre Mulrooney, writer, journalist and broadcaster

Tuesday 19 February 2013 at 1.15pm

‘Noel and Alina Moffett in London’

Shane O’Toole, architect and architectural critic

Tuesday 26February 2013 at 1.15pm

‘Noel Moffett: Seven Key Works’

Shane O’Toole, architect and architectural critic

All lectures are open to the public and take place in the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin 2. Booking essential. Places strictly limited to 50. Admission and talks are free but donations to the Irish Architectural Archive are always welcome. For booking and further information please contact the Archive at 01 6633040 or