Re: Re: ‘Dutch Billys’

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Anyone with an interest in the Dutch Billy tradition and the place it should hold in the record of Irish street-architecture, would have been well advised to steer clear of the ‘Street View: Urban Domestic Architectures 1700 – 1900’ symposium in Trinity today .

It wasn’t just that no aspect of the entire gabled tradition featured in any of the papers presented, or that the first presentation appeared to chronologically pick the development of a house on Henrietta Street as the day’s starting point, as though B.H. [before Henrietta Street] was some kind of primordial ooze out of which the classical Dublin town house magically emerged, it was that the whole significance of the 18th century gabled tradition, as a distinctive native phenomenon and as a critical factor in influencing the street-architecture that followed it, simply hasn’t registered.

The pre-lunch discussion was almost comical in its absurdity. Something like two hundred of the best minds in the field of Irish architectural history floundering on the question; why was it that the façades of Georgian houses in Dublin were so plain, compared to the façades of contemporary Georgian houses in Britain?

This is the same question that the morning chair, Christine Casey, had herself posed in her chapter of ‘The Eighteenth Century Dublin Town House,’ published in 2010, to which there is no satisfactory answer . . . . unless one considers the exuberantly banded and gabled houses of the typical Dublin streetscape that immediately preceded the emergence of the dull brick box. This is precisely the comparison that everyone in the field seems bound and determined not to make

Every exuberant phase in architecture is followed by a phase of deliberate restraint, we all know this. In turn, every minimalist phase succumbs eventually to a renewed interest in more elaborate or decorated forms. Dublin began to adopt a distinctly plain form of Georgian architecture in the middle years of the 18th century in a deliberate reaction against, what a small coterie of Dublin developers portrayed as, the excesses and irregularity of the prevailing gabled tradition.

We can justifiably fume against the cowboys who illegally butchered the original cruciform roof of 91 Camden Street in the last few week, but if our academic classes continue to under value the extent and significance of the tradition that this house belongs to, as this symposium did, are we in any position to point the finger at the cultural vandals in the yellow jackets?

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