Irish Inspiration

2013-03-14T21:30:00Z 2013-03-19T12:57:13Z Irish InspirationMichelle Kreuger Times Correspondent
March 14, 2013 9:30 pm  • 

They say everyone's just a wee bit Irish on St. Patrick's Day. So, on the eve of this year’s celebration of Irish heritage, I thought it would be interesting to report on the influence of famous Irish architects here in America.

With the landscape of their homeland dotted by classic castles, a pair of Irish immigrants demonstrates how the lure of those traditional styles can be masterfully captured and reinvented in a new land.

The White House, one of the most recognizable “homes” in our country, was designed by James Hoban, an Irish-born and-trained architect who won a competition organized by the Commissioners of Washington, D.C., President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.

Hoban's design was inspired by Leinster House – the former palace of the Duke of Leinster, then the headquarters of the Royal Dublin Society where he apprenticed in architecture and now home of the national parliament of Ireland.

Although President Washington oversaw construction, he never lived in the house. While the exterior of the residence looked finished by 1800, it took another two years to complete the interior’s monumental architectural details - pediments over the doors, wainscoting and ornamental mantelpieces plus a distinctive row of ionic columns separated by arches across the formal Entrance Hall. Even so, President John Adams, elected in 1796, was the first resident on November 1, 1800.

The next year, President Thomas Jefferson moved in and began making some structural changes under architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Then, while James Madison was President from 1809 to 1817, the British torched the house during the War of 1812.

As the fire was put out by a summer thunderstorm, all that remained were charred exterior walls and the interior brick walls. President Madison brought Hoban back to restore the house, which took three years. It was during this construction that the house was painted white and became known as the White House. Hoban later added the South and North Porticos, using a slightly altered design by Latrobe.

Even as different occupants altered the White House in many ways – it now has 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms and 28 fireplaces - the image of this famous home and office for the President of the United States remains Hoban's entirely.

In New York, “green” does not mean just sustainable these days, it signposts a whole generation of emerging talents from Ireland operating right at the cutting edge of the most challenging architectural environment in the world, according to Dr. Con Power, vice-chairman of the Irish Nationwide Building Society.

Kevin Roche, FAIA, a third-generation modernist and 1982 Pritzker Prize winner, leads the way.

Still working on projects after celebrating his 90th birthday last June, Roche is well known for embracing the transition to an information-based economy, introducing systems analysis into US architecture early in his career. His designs were also some of the first to carefully consider transportation needs and infrastructure.

“I’ve always been very much interested in the natural environment, and the effect it has on our lives,” he said in a recent interview with Power. “In architecture we try to always introduce that in some form or another. I think people like to establish a community, because humans need that. I think they feel the need to belong to something.”

To date, Roche has designed a variety of institutional and corporate projects including 38 corporate headquarters, three hotel/apartment buildings, eight museums, numerous research facilities, theaters, schools, factories, performing arts centers, houses and the Central Park Zoo in New York.

One of his most recent designs, the Spencer Dock Convention Centre in Dublin, a contemporary facility committed to long-term sustainability, was completed in 2010 and has been reported to neatly bridge the gap between contemporary New York design and Celtic Tiger Ireland.

Roche, who became a principal design associate when he joined Eero Saarinen and Associates when it was established in 1950 (the firm became Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates LLC (KRJDA) in 1966), also played a significant role in the design of Miller House.

Located in Columbus, IN, Miller House was commissioned by industrialist J. Irwin Miller and his wife in 1953. Declared a national landmark in 2000, the classic modernist home is now the property of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

As one of very few family homes designed by Saarinen’s firm, Miller House features a flowing open plan, floor-to-ceiling windows in stone walls and flat roof. The interior’s remarkable sense of soft, even light is the result of a skylight system that crosses the roof along the lines of the structural grid, which allows the panels of the ceiling to appear as if they are floating, unsupported by the adjacent walls.

Based around entertaining guests, the plan features a huge sunken conversation pit in the lavish central living area, which flows into a dining area to the north, sitting room to the south and outdoor terrace overlooking a magnificently landscaped piece of property to the west. Four private areas for adults, children, guests and house servants plus kitchen and laundry spaces, spoke off the hospitality hot spot.

Approximately 6,838-sq-ft, the construction of Miller House took four years, and it was complete in 1957. Along with Roche, landscape architect Dan Kiley and interior designer Alexander Girard rounded out a talented team of collaborators.

Since Miller House and Garden opened to the public in May 2011, the Indianapolis Museum of Art has found a significant increase in interest in the property, most likely because it had been largely inaccessible as a private residence. Named America’s most significant modernist house by Travel + Leisure magazine, tours of Miller House and Garden are now the highlight of architecture, interior design or landscape meetings in the Indianapolis area.

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