Taoiseach’s Residence and State Guesthouse Architecture Competition

Fortieth Anniversary Exhibition


In 1979 an international architectural competition was held to design an official residence for the holder of the office of Taoiseach and, in conjunction with it, a State guesthouse to accommodate visiting heads-of-state and other dignitaries. The proposed site was formerly the Under Secretary’s Lodge (later the Apostolic Nunciature) in the Phoenix Park.


Aerial view of the proposed site issued as part of the competition entry pack


Entry to the competition cost £25 and was limited to architects with a degree or diploma ‘awarded on completion of a five-year full-time course at University level in architectural studies’, and no less than two years practical experience. Firms could enter, as could ‘an association of architects created for the purpose of entering the competition’, though at least one of the associates had to have the required qualification and experience. Each entrant was required to submit up to eight A1 size drawings to include a site plan, floor plans of every floor in the proposed buildings, a detail of a part of one of the buildings, an axonometric drawing, and a ‘series of sketch perspectives, internal and/or external, of selected parts, to illustrate the designer’s spatial concepts’. The drawings were to be accompanied by a report providing information on landscaping, construction, materials and finishes, a schedule of accommodation, and a cost plan.


The winning scheme by Eldred Evans and David Shalev The assessors considered that this was ‘the best [entry] and was of a quality which would warrant its adoption and execution’.


Despite an eighteen-week postal strike, almost 300 enquiries regarding the competition, and 97 actual entries, were received (a full list of the entrants is here). The assessors were Richard Stokes, Deputy Assistant, Department of the Taoiseach (chairman), Martin Burke FRIAI, Principal Architect, OPW, Aldo Van Eyck, University of Delft, Maurice Hogan MRIAI and William Maguire MRIAI. They awarded the first prize of £6,000 to the London firm of Evans and Shalev Architects, the practice of Welsh/Israeli couple Eldred Evans and David Shalev (d. 2018). The original drawings for this scheme have been loaned to the Archive by Eldred Evans, and four are included in the exhibition.


De Blacam and Meagher entry. In awarding this scheme joint second, the assessors noted that it ‘was favoured for its distinctive architectural quality and its sensitivity in detail and conception’.


Three designs were placed second, each winning £2,000: de Blacam and Meagher, Dublin, and, Cleary, Farrell, Meagher and Moore with Peter Dudley, UCD School of Architecture, whose entries are each represented in the exhibition by two drawings, and Wickham and Lavery, London. Two further entries were commended by the assessors: Toál Ó Muiré and Emer Ó Siochrú, with Sean Ó Siochrú, D.L. Martin and Anthony Conlon, represented in the exhibition by two drawings, and Ivor Smith and Cailey Hutton. Single items for a further twenty-three entries are also included in the exhibition, ranging from preparatory sketches to submitted drawings.


Moore, Meagher, Farrell & Cleary, with Peter Dudley. The assessors awarded this scheme joint second because it ‘treats the project in an unusual way in that the accommodation is provided in five separate pavilion blocks connected by a continuous link at a lower level’.


The competition had been promoted by Jack Lynch, with cross-party support in the Dáil, but in December 1979 Charles Haughey replaced Jack Lynch as Taoiseach and the project was cancelled on economic grounds. The old Under Secretary’s Lodge was demolished in 1985; only Ashtown Castle, its tower-house core, remains. The Phoenix Park Visitor Centre now occupies the proposed residence site.


Toal Ó Muiré and Emer Ó Siochhrú. The assessors commended this schemes for showing ‘an imaginative approach to the problem, with a very interesting treatment of spaces by the use of a diagonal form’.


The entries to the competition are from a remarkable range of architects, many at the outset of outstanding careers, each of whom approached the brief and the site in their own unique and distinctive way. By presenting a selection of the entries to mark this fortieth anniversary of the competition, this exhibition affords an opportunity to reflect on the architectural culture of the time, the quality of the individual schemes, the legacies of the entrants, and the role of the competition in achieving design excellence, while at the same time considering what might have been had the project not remained unbuilt.

The exhibition runs until February 2020.


The Archive would like to thank the following for their help with this exhibition; Wendy Barrett, Nadja Bartels, David Browne, Liz D’Arcy, Peter Dudley, Eldred Evans, Yvonne Farrell, the Glasgow School of Art, Bill Hastings, Lindsay Johnston, Michael Kelly, Paul Keogh, Hugh Maguire, Shelley McNamara, Ciaran O’Connor, John O’Mahony, Toal Ó Muiré, Cathal O’Neill, Don O’Neill, Patti O’Neill, Emer O’Siochru, Shane O’Toole, Nirvana Pitt, David Spillane, Cathal Stephens, Paula Stone, the Tchoban Foundation and Peter Twamley.