Sam Stephenson [Enfant Terrible!]
March 31, 2003 at 3:51 pm #706117
OK – this might seem like an odd question to some people, but what ever happened to Mr Stephenson – Viking and Georgian Dublin’s no.1 fan…?
alive or dead? working or no?
I could do a little research – but it’s such a nice afternoon…
March 31, 2003 at 4:07 pm #725590J. SeerskiParticipant
Did you ever hear of Ansbacher Caymen?!!!!!
Some people ought to keep a low profile….
Some architects are infamous for things other than buildings!!!!
March 31, 2003 at 4:27 pm #725591
Yeah – but I thought it best not to open a thread with CJH being mentioned!!!
March 31, 2003 at 5:15 pm #725592kefuParticipant
Still has a practice out in Lucan or Leixlip as far as I know. Definitely alive.
March 31, 2003 at 10:01 pm #725593
Oh alive alive o by all accounts. He appears on radio from time to time (if thats not a contradiction in terms) He also featured on RTE’s only ever production/series to deal with architecture ‘Nation Building’.
He now regrets Fitzwilliam St, Wood Quay and the battle for Hume St, although still fiercly proud of the Central Bank, and rightly so, (location aside!)
April 1, 2003 at 8:53 am #725594JJParticipant
He just recently got planning permission for an office development in Tara Street I think.
April 1, 2003 at 9:11 am #725595
Yeah, poor looking project on the corner of Tara Street and Burgh Quay.
April 1, 2003 at 9:16 am #725596Andrew DuffyParticipant
I know someone who works for him. Does anyone have a rendering of that project? It’s some sort of pyramidal office building I believe.
April 1, 2003 at 10:46 am #725597
I think Central Bank is perfect where it is. Stephenson’s work was (I’ll have to use past tense) so confrontational – and bang there it is. Wood Qy is overkill though.
I guess the guy and his commissions faded with Charlie, huh?
April 1, 2003 at 10:55 am #725598
Here is some descriptions Andrew
April 1, 2003 at 1:27 pm #725599urbanistoParticipant
“I guess the guy and his commissions faded with Charlie, huh?”
Funny that eh!?
I read the aplnning notive ages ago for the development on Burgh Quay somewhere. I think its 6 stories in total with 4 stories facing the street and the top two penthouse (nice view!) floors set back gradually. Which should mean it looks completely in keeping with the other balls-ups on B Q behind the old Corn Exchange.
April 1, 2003 at 4:19 pm #725600SimonParticipant
I worked in Stephenson Associates in the late 70s early 80s. It was the most unique design office in Ireland at the time and it has not been equalled since. There we were in a unique building, the old convertred Molyneux Church (Molyneux House) along Bride St, the only inner city design office in Dublin at the time. We were all young excited graduates in architecture, structural eng, building services eng, civil and the QS boys. Sam broke the mould by doing the whole package and broke the ultra conservative set up between separate architectural and consultant engineers. I must say the site meetings were pretty civilised affairs with the usual warfare kept for the office. We were the Celtic cubs of the time, working all hours and only stopping to go to the first Mc Donalds on Grafton St. or party in White Horse, the old Underground bar or Nicoeâ€™s of Dame St. and we had the best Christmas parties in town thanks to Sam.
As a young engineer I have to say I worked with the finest of young architects on some great projects- Fieldcrest in Kilkenny (the biggest project in Ireland at the time). Those two years on site in Kilkenny were the most exciting time of my career. All young engineers and architects with big responsibility and all doing a great job and having great craic in Kilkenny after work. Coming home each weekend like a sailor from sea and my Cavan parents who worked so hard to get me through college â€œwaiting and wanting to hear all the newsâ€ and them so proud of their son who works for the architect Sam Stephenson !!
Also Bord Na Mona head office (now Esat Digifone) on Baggot St and all the Westinghouse plants from Shannon to Dundalk, Great times, great projects, great experience, great responsibility and great friends we were the original band of brothers wearing our distinguishing flashy silver coloured safety hats !! and we were in awe of Sam and had a great loyalty to each other and Stephenson Associates. I have to thank my tenure in Stephenson Associates for instilling in me great confidence and an awareness of my built environment and introducing an inner city Dublin kid into a social and professional scene that I would never have experienced otherwise.
So thank you Sam for thrusting youth and I only wish every young architect and engineer could experience the so special feeling of working for Stephenson Associates.
April 1, 2003 at 4:35 pm #725601
Great comments Simon. I guess it’s easy for all of us on the outside to make the obvious snide remarks.
What a great time to be working there!
April 1, 2003 at 4:40 pm #725602
Nice eulogy…. I hope every young architects gets to experience something like that at some stage….
April 1, 2003 at 4:48 pm #725603DesmundParticipant
that’s not the station redevelopment is it?
April 1, 2003 at 4:54 pm #725604
Originally posted by Desmund
that’s not the station redevelopment is it?
April 1, 2003 at 5:16 pm #725605LOBParticipant
its on the west side of Tara Street beside mulligans
April 1, 2003 at 6:59 pm #725606DesmundParticipant
April 1, 2003 at 10:04 pm #725607merriman mickParticipant
His central bank has got to be the most successful structutre that has been erected in town over the last 30 years.
I know a lot of people don’t like it’s location, but it’s there now and it’s stunning.
It looks like it was put up yesterday, it just won’t age, unlike a lot of the work from the same period.Top quality work Sam.
April 2, 2003 at 10:39 am #725608AnonymousInactive
True the Central Bank is top-notch – its a pity about his other work though which is disasterous.
April 2, 2003 at 11:57 am #725609AnonymousInactive
Permit me please, as an outsider to express a view.
Sam Stephenson is radical architect, no doubt about it. His work is considered. forceful and opinionated, like all pioneering work should be.
He is like our own Basil Spence and people will have a love hate ralationship with his work, which is exactly as it should be.
He is also a witty commentator, from what I’ve read. For me his best project is the Institute of Advanced Studies
April 2, 2003 at 2:06 pm #725610
……any remember the Bord Na Mona offices having a unique little sculpture of a turf cutter outside …..alas now gone!
April 2, 2003 at 2:27 pm #725611urbanistoParticipant
I wonder of they resited it? Doesnt this building have someone hanging of it instead now?
April 6, 2005 at 9:50 am #725612
I wonder of they resited it? Doesnt this building have someone hanging of it instead now?
It went to their new offices in Newbridge a number of years ago
April 6, 2005 at 12:31 pm #725613vinnyfitzParticipant
Wow ! I’m impressed by your tenacity.
Have you really been researching this issue for 2 full years Diaspora? 😉
July 4, 2006 at 7:08 pm #725614wolfieParticipant
Does anyone know whether Stephenson Associates’ work, particularly the former Bord na Mona building in Baggot St in Dublin, is covered in any books- for example have Gandon Editions published anything about Sam Stephenson, like a monograph? Or perhaps it’s mentioned in some of Frank McDonald’s books? I’m based in Scotland, so I don’t have ready access to Irish arch. books… and Gandon (who seem the most likely to publish about Irish architects) don’t seem to have a website. I saw a postage stamp with the Bord na Mona building on it years ago, but nothing since. Curses!
July 7, 2006 at 3:05 pm #725615FairfieldParticipant
Sam is the architect for Blooms Hotel in Temple Bar, which is due a decision any day from An Bord Pleanala after receiving a grant from DCC.
Development involves demolition of existing structure (with the exception of the faÃ§ade and some internal features of the VAT House pub (protected structure) ) and the provision of a 9 storey over double basement Hotel.
July 7, 2006 at 3:14 pm #725616
Is he involved on a project on Tara St?
July 7, 2006 at 3:23 pm #725617AnonymousInactive
“Red brick and lavatory windows ” still typifies his 1970s work for me. Reading Simon on previous page was quite nostalgic, Before Nico’s it was Marios (Bernardos) in Lincoln Place, where Nico once was head waiter. They were some parties! Whatever happened to the conversation pit?
July 7, 2006 at 7:06 pm #725618
November 10, 2006 at 10:53 am #725619
Not an once of PVC on any of his projects it was a pity that his peak hit when Ireland was broke and only for that he may have acheived a lot more.
November 10, 2006 at 11:41 am #725620
PVC King, do you have to be so facetious – it is extremely poor taste considering.
Death of leading architect at age of 72
Ireland’s best-known architect, Sam Stephenson, has died suddenly following a heart operation at St James’s Hospital in Dublin. He was 72 and had been working on a number of major projects in the weeks prior to his death, writes Frank McDonald, Environment Editor.
Chiefly known as the architect of the ESB headquarters in Fitzwilliam Street, the Central Bank in Dame Street and the first phase of the Civic Offices at Wood Quay, he was one of the most colourful figures in the architectural profession.
His long-time partner in practice, Arthur Gibney, died last May.
For many years, their firm – Stephenson Gibney and Associates – dominated the architectural scene in Ireland, rivalled only by Scott Tallon Walker.
“It’s very sad news”, said painter James Hanley, secretary of the Royal Hibernian Academy. “I had met him at the RHA gallery only last Friday when he looked a bit poorly and he told me he was going in to St James’s for an operation.
“It’s shocking to think that Arthur, Sam and Charlie Haughey have all now passed away within months of each other”, Mr Hanley said.
Arthur Gibney had been president of the RHA, while the former taoiseach was a great friend and patron.
Sam Stephenson’s eldest son, Sam junior, is administrator at the RHA’s Gallagher Gallery in Ely Place. His wife, Caroline Stephenson, is a daughter of the late Fine Gael senator Alexis FitzGerald. The couple had two young sons.
“Caroline wanted me to do a portrait of Sam, but I just hadn’t got around to it”, said Mr Hanley, who recently painted Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
Â© The Irish Times
I am flumoxed – Arthur a couple of months ago, and now Sam… both of whom I had had the pleasure of meeting, both of whom were of assistance at different points although they were under no obligation to be.
November 10, 2006 at 1:07 pm #725621
Do not mis-interpret what I said; Sam Stephenson is one of the most talented designers of his generation Internationally and but for the fiscal backdrop he would have had much larger budgets to play with.
Rodgers in this context is lucky he is based in London at a time when there is virtually unlimited funding and China are completing projects on a scale that heretofore was unthinkable.
The Central Bank could have been only one of a large number of his iconic contributions had there been more money around.
November 10, 2006 at 1:32 pm #725622PVC King wrote:Do not mis-interpret what I said]
Point taken. Btw its not so much that I am/ was a fan of his work – Woodquay was a disaster, while the Central Bank saga was an afront to planning – but nonethelesss if he was a rogue, as an individual he was very much a likeable rogue!
Despite the divisiveness of their birth, some of his schemes in retrospect will be regarded highly – not least the former Bord Na Mona building on Baggot St. I am not sure if I agree with yourpoint regarding the fiscal landscape in which he operated – he seemed to get a lot done anyway.
Is there any news yet on the funeral arrangements?
November 10, 2006 at 4:12 pm #725623
His best (in my opinion!)
November 10, 2006 at 6:15 pm #725624SueParticipant
i agree. the central bank has aged incredibly well, and from several vistas, including the above, looks the business. also a big fan of the bord na mona building. not so much of others. But Sam was a pleasant fellow to deal with. RIP
November 10, 2006 at 8:47 pm #725625CTRParticipant
The Central Bank his greatest built design? Agreed.
It would be great to pay tribute on this board by posting photos of his other buildings (good and not so good). I don’t have any myself, but there are a few people here who will undoubtedly have loads!
November 10, 2006 at 9:04 pm #725626
Bord na Mona
Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
November 11, 2006 at 1:08 am #725627publicrealmParticipant
He was an artist – maybe wrong sometimes – but confident in his vision.
I hope we may see his likes again – we are the poorer for his passing imho.
November 11, 2006 at 3:45 am #725628
Very sad news, and shocking – one could never imagine Sam as being less than larger than life and in full health. Only heard it on the radio this morning, ironically on the exact same programme as the very last time I heard him – booming in tandem with Tom McGurk in debate, waxing about Dublin’s development past and present. As far as I recall, he had come round to the opinion that all tall buildings ought to be centralised in the Docklands.
You can listen here to Frank McDonald on the radio this morning, as well as a clip of Sam recalling sleeping with Charles Haughey – twice 🙂
He always came across as casual and rather tongue in cheek in his later media dealings – as if bemused that people would want to listen to what he had to say. And frankly he did have very little to say when in conversation – tended to ramble, ironically like Charlie. But he was surprisingly never exasperated about mindlessly repeated questions about all the sagas through the years – always willing to talk about them. There is no question that he had mellowed.
Just like the Central Bank, I think the Civic Offices have matured significantly since construction. Indeed one would have to question the extent to which the design of these buildings was ever despised – perhaps it was more their association with the destruction of the site than anything. Though their bombastic nature was admittedly not exactly a conciliatory gesture at the time…
If anything, the recent comparatively fussy STW addition (though decent) has only made the original blocks all the more sparse and elegant. They appear cool, crisp and confidently modern. And in spite of their enormously domineering nature, from a distance they are surprisingly humble structures. Being so isolated and detached, they’d remind you of a humble salt and pepper set 🙂
Stephenson’s less noted work is perhaps his most refined – the Dublin Institute building is an elegant solution for an awkward site:
There are many of these wine-bricked office buildings about the inner city, some better than others – presumably Sam’s firm was responsible for a number of them. Another discreet example would be the office opposing Connolly Station’s ramp – possibly by S.G&A too.
Whatever about his at times misguided ambition in the 1960s and 1970s, he made a significant contribution to the betterment of Irish architecture in the 20th century.
Both in terms of projects he was working on, and his wit and charm, he will be sorely missed.
November 11, 2006 at 9:07 am #725629PraxitelesParticipant
To-day’s irish Independent:
Both charming and caustic, he helped reshape capital’s skyline
SAM Stephenson was a gifted architect with decided stylistic views, great charm and an inexhaustible capacity for wit and anecdote.
He was very much a Dubliner, and could be caustic in his comments, particularly about politicians. He was bonded for much of his life to Fianna Fail and was a close friend of Charles Haughey.
His lament over Haughey’s death, earlier this year, was one of genuine grief. Sadly, he also lost his former architectural partner, Arthur Gibney, who died in the spring.
His architectural style was essentially defiant. In a city of predominantly Palladian lines, elegant and vertical, he adopted a strongly horizontal scheme – most obvious in the Central Bank building in Dame Street.
The controversial building proved a source of humour to its creator who referred to it as his “biggest erection”.
He was intelligent enough and determined enough to want his own signature on the city.
His earlier building, the ESB offices in Fitzwilliam Street, though much more controversial, since the office block destroyed one of the finest uninterrupted 18th century streetscapes in Europe, was less dramatically intrusive.
Much cruder and more forceful was the block beside Sir Patrick Dunne’s Hospital in Grand Canal Street, the epitome of lateral architectural thinking. It has since been demolished.
He was responsible also for the Bord na Mona building and the Civic Offices.
Time, and the explosion of more extreme examples of architectural adventure and innovation, have given a certain degree of restraint to his work and legitimacy to the decided egotism of style it represents.
The partnership of Sam Stephenson and Arthur Gibney faced competition principally from Scott, Tallon, Walker.
Together, during the first phase of new buildings in the 1960s and 1970s, these two firms reshaped modern Irish architecture.
Both Sam Stephenson and his partner, Arthur Gibney were painters, mainly in watercolour, and both exhibited regularly with the Royal Hibernian Academy of which they were members, Arthur becoming the academy’s president.
Sam Stephenson was great company and had wide interests. The last time I met him was at a book launch in Newman House earlier this year. The long wait for guests of honour culminated in the Taoiseach’s arrival at the top of the stairs where we were drinking together. “Ah!” said Mr Ahern, shaking our hands and no doubt repeating what he had said on several occasions that day, “the two most powerful men in the room!”
November 11, 2006 at 10:19 am #725630PraxitelesParticipant
From to-day’s Irish Times:
A bold and controversial architect who left his mark on Dublin
Sam Stephenson: he was responsible for designing the Central Bank and the Civic Offices in Dublin, which gave rise to praise and criticism. Other designs include the former Bord na Mona headquarters in Baggot Street.
Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Sam Stephenson: Sam Stephenson, who has died suddenly aged 72, was one of Ireland’s best-known architects. He left his mark through a series of striking buildings around Dublin, such as the Central Bank and the Civic Offices, which gave rise to praise and criticism.
His warmth and generosity attracted many loyal friends from all walks of life.
Critics associated him with some of the destruction of Georgian Dublin, often unfairly. He designed the new ESB offices in Fitzwilliam Street but the decision to demolish a block of the original houses had been already taken. Similarly with the redevelopment of the corner of Hume Street, where his design was a Georgian reproduction.
What was denounced as the “bunker” design of the new Civic Offices on Wood Quay behind Christ Church was harder to defend. But to Stephenson’s chagrin, the then Corporation refused to implement his plans for the second phase, which would have softened the effect of the original towers. This phase was later carried out by a rival architect, Ronald Tallon. Stephenson was not allowed to enter the competition.
Stephenson shrugged off the storm of criticism, saying that James Gandon, who designed the Custom House, was also pursued around Dublin for his Custom House and Four Courts designs.
It is often overlooked that Stephenson was responsible for other brilliantly designed structures in addition to the Central Bank, which has an international reputation. There was much controversy when it was discovered that the height was going to be 30 feet higher than approved and the firm was fined about Â£200,000. The copper roof was left off but put on 18 years later.
His other designs include the former Bord na Mona headquarters in Baggot Street, the prizewinning Currency Centre or Mint in Sandyford, the Institute of Advanced Studies, Fitzwilliam tennis club and the Fieldcrest factory in Kilkenny. Most of his big projects have won awards, national and international.
Sam Stephenson was born in Dublin on December 15th, 1933. His father, Paddy Stephenson, was the city librarian and a founder of the Old Dublin Society. He had fought in the 1916 Rising. He was later involved in the restoration of Kilmainham Gaol. It was not surprising that his son would also be involved actively in Fianna FÃ¡il in the early stages of his career.
Sam was the youngest of five brothers, the others being Patrick, Dan, Desmond and Noel, all of whom made reputations in various careers but predeceased him. Sam was educated at Belvedere College, where he won a Leinster Senior Cup medal in 1951. He had an uncle, Fr James Stephenson, who was a well-known Jesuit. He studied architecture at Bolton Street College of Technology. In 1956 he won a travelling scholarship and did not sit for the diploma in architecture – he was granted an honorary diploma in 1972. In the meantime he had taken the examinations of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, which later awarded him a fellowship. He set up in practice in 1957 and won the competition for the new ESB building. In 1960 he and his former classmate, Arthur Gibney, set up practice together as Stephenson, Gibney Associates.
Sam at this time was an active member of Fianna FÃ¡il, as part of a think tank, and also in Taca, the fundraising organisation for the party among wealthy business people, many of them in the construction industry. He also became friendly with Charles Haughey, a friendship that survived up to the latter’s death earlier this year. He served for a time on the Film Censorship Appeals Board and on the board of Kilkenny Design Workshops. He once ran for a seat in the Seanad but dropped out when he discovered his brother was also running on a different panel.
He was married in 1958 to Bernadette Flood, with whom he had two sons and two daughters. Their first home was in a mews coach-house in Leeson Close, which he restored. It later became famous for parties and social occasions. A striking feature was a sunken area in the living room giving a Roman bath effect.
In 1970, Stephenson designed the Irish Pavilion for Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan. He also re-modelled a Huguenot church in Bride Street as his new offices, which at one time employed 140 people.
The partnership with Arthur Gibney ended but Sam arranged a merger with a British company called Stone Toms. The new company was called Stone Toms Stephenson. It entailed Sam spending much time in London and travelling around the world but he kept on Stephenson Associates and eventually came back fulltime to Dublin. He had a house in Islington and kept up a vigorous social life in London, where Princess Margaret is said to have asked for a recording of his rendering of Raglan Road.
When his marriage broke up he married Caroline Sweetman and they had two sons. He eventually moved his practice first to Bloomfield Avenue and then to Leixlip.
He was never afraid to take on critics and could win them over at times. Frank McDonald, the Environment Editor of this newspaper, wrote scathingly about some of Stephenson’s buildings in a book about 20 years ago but they later became good friends.
McDonald has described him as “one of the most generous people I have met. He never held a grudge and was a great raconteur.” He was a frequent guest on radio and television programmes. At the time of the death of Charles Haughey, whom he visited frequently at Kinsealy, he recounted some humourous episodes from the time they campaigned together in the 1960s for SeÃ¡n Lemass.
When he was interviewed by investigators into Ansbacher account holders, he was quoted in the subsequent report as saying: “I understand the Cayman Islands are a kind of lump of sand in the middle of the Pacific.” He insisted that his money invested in Ansbacher by the late Des Traynor had been taken out before such investments became illegal.
In later years, his architectural style changed. As he put it himself: “I used to be an apostle of modern architecture but I’ve given up that religion completely and am now an atheist. I go to bed with Palladio in the evening and get up with Lutyens.”
November 11, 2006 at 12:43 pm #725631
Stephenson funeral set to take place on Wednesday
The funeral of the noted architect Sam Stephenson, who died suddenly on Thursday, will take place on Wednesday.
Mr Stephenson died suddenly in St James’s Hospital following a heart operation. He was 72.
The removal of his remains will take place on Tuesday evening to St Francis Xavier Church on Gardiner Street, arriving at 5pm, and the funeral will be held on Wednesday after 11 o’clock mass before moving to Glasnevin Crematorium.
Mr Stephenson is survived by his wife Caroline, his first wife Bernie, his children, Karin, Mark, Bronwyn, Sam, Sebastian and Zachary, and by five grandchildren.
Mr Stephenson is known for his work as architect of the ESB headquarters on Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin; the Central Bank on Dame Street and the first phase of the Civic Offices at Wood Quay.
The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, John O’Donoghue, yesterday expressed his “great sadness and regret” at the death of Mr Stephenson, saying he would be sadly missed.
Â© The Irish Times
STEPHENSON (Sam) (Leixlip and Dublin) – November 9, 2006 (suddenly and peacefully), at St James’s Hospital, the most wonderful beloved husband of Caroline, adored and adoring father of Karin, Mark, Bronwyn, Sam, Sebastian, Zachary, grandfather of Stephen, Charlotte, Louisa, Dylan and Luke; will be deeply missed by first wife Bernie, mother-in-law Barbara, sisters-in-law Helen, Michele, Nuala and Rachel, brothers-in-law Patrick, Christopher, Timothy, David and Chris, nieces, nephews, extended family, friends, colleagues and all those who loved him. Fought the brave battle to the end – you will always be with us, our darling Sam. Requiescat in pace. Removal on Tuesday evening to St Francis Xavier Church, Gardiner Street arriving at 5 o’clock Funeral on Wednesday after 11 o’clock Mass to Glasnevin Crematorium. Family flowers only, please. Donations, in lieu of flowers, to the Los Angeles Society for Homeless Boys.
Date: Thursday, 9 November 2006
Published: Saturday, 11 November 2006
November 11, 2006 at 4:02 pm #725632
i need a good photo of Sam for a long item i’m publishing on archiseek… anyone got one?
November 11, 2006 at 8:41 pm #725633
One of his better and lesser known designs (imo) was the Horse Shoe Bar in the Shelbourne – where on occasion he could also be seen enjoying and adding to its ambiance. Fond memories.
On the Dublin Institute building, as photoed by Graham, the architect Alan Dunlop of Gordon Murray and Alan Dunlop Architects, Glasgow wrote “Recently, I spotted a simple modernist building – the Institute of Advanced Studies, on Burlington Road, designed by Sam Stephenson. Unlike the British Embassy, it is both clear and concise in its architectural lineage and its influence can be traced back directly to Louis Khan. The building also reminded me of Alvar Aalto’s National Pensions Institute in the clarity of its structure and immaculate detail.”
Heres a few articles I came across online –
The Sunday Tribune, 2nd May 1999 – Interview with Colin Coyle
Architect Sam Stephenson learned a number of hard lessons when he found his first home in Leeson Close in the late 1950s.
There was the mortgage of Â£700 he had to scrape for from the Irish Permanent. There was the protracted planning permission row. There was also the small problem of coming up with the other Â£300 that was required to buy the converted mews at the back of 31 Fitzwilliam Place.
And there was the drinking. I had more time than clients, so I decided to do the conversion work myself. I had studied carpentry and bricklaying in college but the demolition work was killing me.
Stephenson employed the services of two “iron men” labourers that he knew from his first job in a display firm. “One of them had fought in the Spanish Civil War and they were great workers. They’d burst through the work and then I’d have to bring them to O’Brien’s pub for their pay. They’d always insist that I come along and I’d have to try in vain to keep up with them as they’d demolish pint after pint of Guinness.
“It was my first real introduction to serious pint drinking and since those sessions, I’ve developed a serious distaste for Guinness,” he said. The conversion work took Stephenson the whole of 1958 to complete. “The place was in fairly bad shape when I found it. It had been used for horses up until I bought it and the first time I saw it the layers of dust were inches thick. At the back of the mews I came across a newspaper from 1933 and realised that no one had even set foot in the place for 25 years. The owners were a firm of accountants who had paid Â£4,000 for No 31 Fitzwilliam Place and the adjoining mews. They reckoned that they were pulling a fast one making Â£1,000 for the mews.”
“On the day I arrived home from my honeymoon, all we had in the flat was a cooker, bed, and a round table and chairs that I had built myself. At the time Brendan Behan was living upstairs. He barged in one morning to use the phone; he wanted to ring the pawn shop to see how much he’d get for his typewriter and when he saw the state of the place he gave my young bride some typical Behan advice – ‘don’t worry, he told her, ‘all you need is a bed, a table and a corkscrew anyway’.
“When the mews was eventually ready, we piled everything into a cart and moved down. It wasn’t very fashionable to live down a lane and the interior was unusual for the time – a double height livingroom with lots of timber and exposed stonework. When my mother-in-law saw it, she told us that we’d have awful trouble getting the wallpaper up.”
A few years later, the interior was photographed for the New York Times magazine as an example of modern interior design. “The firm of accountants I bought it off finally realised that 1,000 was a bargain because of the development potential of the mews. Whenever I meet any of them, they tell me that selling the mews was the greatest mistake they ever made.”
Colin Coyle, The Sunday Tribune, 2nd May 1999
The Sunday Times, September 29th, 2002 – Reveiw of 31 Leeson Close
Despite it’s association with poverty and insularity, the 1950s represented something of a golden age of modern design in Ireland, and included Michael Scott’s superb Busaras, the innovative Aer Lingus posters and what is still probably Dublin’s coolest interior, 31 Leeson Close. Originally designed as a domestic residence, it is now a guest house.
Situated down a lane off Lower Leeson Street, this former mews building was converted in 1958. The small entrance hall is conventional enough, but just beyond is the house’s most spectacular feature – the downstairs living room, which looks like it belongs more in an Austin Powers film than in a 1950s Irish interior.
In layout, use of materials and furnishings, the room is both slinkily relaxed and bracingly modern. This modernity is set up by geometry: spatially by a central rectangular sunken area and graphically by the flooring, which is covered with white mosaic tiles that set up a strongly ordered grid.
The sunken area has a large fireplace at on end and is fitted with continuous leather seating around the other three sides. The dedication of the majority of the space in the room to an area that seems devoted to lounging indicates a living room as a place to relax, an idea not really designed into conventional Irish homes until the 1970s. Behind this lounging pit is a small bar, decorated in mirrored mosaic tiles that lighten up the room. The walls are of painted rough stone, again providing a bit of textural relief.
The overall scheme communicates confidence in a chic urban lifestyle, firmly situated in a modern age.
Sam Stephenson, now better known for his desecration of Wood Quay, designed 31 Leeson Close as his home. If the blank brutality of his civic offices gave public modern architecture a bad name, the interior of 31 Leeson Close shows that in private he was capable of creating a generous version of modernism.
The Irish Times – Aug 15, 03 – Architect says Haughey adored Abbeville – By Christine Newman
Mr Charles Haughey adored Abbeville and the Kinsealy estate, the architect Mr Sam Stephenson said yesterday. Mr Stephenson did some work on the house when Mr Haughey bought it in 1969.
Yesterday, speaking on RT
November 11, 2006 at 9:03 pm #725634wolfieParticipant
Sorry to hear the news about Sam Stephenson- I’m sure that posterity will look kindly on him. Agree with publicrealm- we’re poorer for the passing of architects of that generation who had real flair…
November 13, 2006 at 4:59 pm #725635
Pictures of the interior of the Central Bank after completion:
November 15, 2006 at 11:52 am #725636
I did’nt see much news over the weekend but there wasn’t much about him passing away recently, was there? For such a controversial architect who made his mark (or scars) on Dublin city. I’d consider him more of a detriment than a contributor.
As well as Fitzwilliam Street, Wood Quay and Dame Street schemes, (include Baggot Street’s Bank of Ireland, although designed by STW) this invasive and brutal style of architecture rather ruined parts of old Dublin city’s established streets. It’s ugly legacy has hindered today what could be radical contemporay develpments in less sensitive areas.
November 15, 2006 at 2:04 pm #725637altotudeParticipant
Has anyone seen the latest “newsletter” distributed by Jim O’Callaghan, a Fianna FÃ¡il candidate (Dublin South East) for the next general election? The local news section has a paragraph on Fitzwilliam Street. I don’t have the exact text and it’s not on his website.
It’s hard to understand, for a number of reasons. In short, he says that the street was ruined “many years ago” by the ESB headquarters (fine), and says he thinks it should be reconstructed to it’s original plans (what?).
- What is the impetus for this? Is this really a priority? And if he is to campaign on design/urban planning, is ESB HQ the most pressing issue in Dublin?
- How could anyone justify destroying the existing buidling to reconstruct fake Georgian houses? The streetscape is gone, long gone. Surely by demolishing ESB HQ a second act of vandalism would be carried out – both by demolishing the current building and by trying to erase part of the city’s history.
- How is this timely? He does not mention Sam Stephenson, but surely there was no need to raise this redundant and irrelevant “issue” as a political campaign just after the death of the architect?
This really left me scratching my head, and turned me absolutely against him as a political candidate. (That and the fact that he tries to present the Consumer Protection Bill as some form of Fianna FÃ¡il innovation, when in fact its most important provisions are all derived from an EU Directive which we are required to implement.)
November 15, 2006 at 3:13 pm #725638AnonymousInactive
Frank McDonald of the Irish Times proposed something along the same lines a few years back:Irish Times Friday February 15th 2002 wrote:A unique chance to restore Dublin’s ‘Georgian Mile’
The ESB has a chance to atone for what was probably the worst single crime perpetrated on Georgian Dublin, writes Frank McDonald, Environment Editor
The ESB’s planning application for a major office development in Leopardstown opens up the intriguing possibility that the damage it did to Dublin’s “Georgian Mile” more than 30 years ago could be undone.
For it was in the late 1960s, in the teeth of bitter opposition from conservationists, that the ESB demolished 16 Georgian houses in Lower Fitzwilliam Street to build its new headquarters on the site, sanctioned by the late Neil Blaney, then minister for local government.
The board claimed that the late-18th-century houses were structurally unsound and commissioned Sir John Summerson, an English architectural historian, to condemn them in ringing tones. The doomed terrace, he said, was “simply one damned house after another”.
Nearly 1,000 Dubliners packed into the Mansion House in January 1962, to protest against the plan. Se
November 15, 2006 at 7:03 pm #725639
I’d like to think a regulated utility has more pressing concerns than some pastiche puff piece facade.
November 15, 2006 at 7:18 pm #725640
I agree………and Sam’s Hume Street Georgian reproductions consisting of lob sided blank gables is quite fucking awful.
November 16, 2006 at 11:24 am #725641
November 16, 2006 at 6:22 pm #725642
Here’s Sam’s effort at Georgian reproduction……awful is ‘nt it!
I dont think its that bad at – the destruction of what was originally there was awful, but thats a separate matter. Sam also rebuilt the corner of Mount St & Merrion Square (as the front walls fell down during the works – oops 😮 ), and they fit in fairly well.
For real pastiche shite, go round the corner from GregFs photo onto Leeson St where there are real gems to find :rolleyes: … And of course for total dross, have a look at Fitzgeralds crap on the Parnell Square East – concrete 70s style steps; lovely 😮
November 16, 2006 at 6:34 pm #725643
Did I read recently that there was a small fire in one of these buildings, resulting in the repro doorcase melting and having to be replaced?! 😀 😀
There was also a wonderful irony recently in the case of the above building, recently offices of IIB Bank. The bank recently sponsored Duncan Stewart’s ‘About the House’ programme, and hence had a life-size grinning cardboard cut out of him in their lobby, doing a thumbs up gesture or sumesuch though their reproduction front door.
Duncan Stewart of course was one of the most vociferous campaigners for the saving of the original townhouses.
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