Pretty as a Picture: pattern books from Palladio to Fitzsimons

Designs for Cottages, Cottage Farms and other Rural Buildings, Joseph Gandy (1771-1843), 1805.

Recently the architectural critic Shane O’Toole donated to the Irish Architectural Archive a book which had belonged to his father, a copy of Designs for Cottages, Cottage Farms and other Rural Buildings, published in 1805 by the English architect Joseph Gandy (1771-1843). This ostensibly simple work contains page after page of designs, some of them deceptively modern in appearance, displaying ideas for ‘modest’ country residences. It is an important addition to the growing collection of architectural pattern books held by the Archive.

Residence for a Curate and Family, with a Cellar under the Parlour, and two or three Bed-chambers above. Plate XVII, Designs for Cottages, Cottage Farms and other Rural Buildings, Joseph Gandy, 1805.

The history of the pattern book is a long one. Its origins can be traced to the Ten Books on Architecture of the Roman architect Vitruvius (c. 80-70 BC). However, the idea of pattern books really came of age with the publication of I Quattro Libri dell’ Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture) by Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) in 1570. Villas and palazzi of refined elegance and beauty were displayed on his pages, and through the wide dissemination of the book, available from the 1660s in English translations, the Palladian style became an inspiration to architects from Christopher Wren to Inigo Jones to Edward Lovett Pearce. The Archive holds a copy of the 1742 edition of Giacomo Leoni’s translation of the Quattro Libri  which once belonged to James Gandon, and later to William Henry Byrne.

Part of the title page of 1742 edition of Giacomo Leoni’s translation of Palladio’s Quattro Libri with the signature of James Gandon. The William Darcy who also signed the page is otherwise unknown.

Architectural treatises soon developed into more than discussions on the use of the classical orders for grander houses and public buildings, so that by the late 18th and early 19th centuries they became a means for architects to display their suggestions for more modest buildings.  British architects such as John Plaw, Francis Goodwin and John B. Papworth produced books on rural residences, villas, cottage ornée, gate lodges, cottages and farm buildings. Irish examples of the genre are quite rare but include Twelve Designs of Country Houses by ‘A Gentleman’, published in Dublin in 1757, and Lady Helena Domvile’s Eighteen Designs for Glebe Houses and Rural Cottages, 1840, all the rarer because of the gender of the author.

House 4 from Eighteen Designs for Glebe Houses and Rural Cottages, Lady Helena Domvile, 1840.

Gandy stated in his introduction to Designs for Cottages that he was influenced by a Board of Agriculture publication discussing the need to improve ‘the conditions of the Labouring Poor’. He notes that ‘we should combine convenience of arrangement with elegance in the external appearance’, and says his designs are ‘offered as hints for the consideration of Country Gentlemen, and others, who build, and who are sufficiently aware of the use and importance of consulting Architects upon these occasions, by which disappointment, and eventually great expenses, may be avoided’. For Gandy, the pattern book is an architectural calling card, advertising an architect’s abilities and encouraging potential patrons to seek out his professional services. He never intended that anyone would actually build from these published drawings.

Bungalow Bliss, Jack Fitzsimons, first edition, May 1971.

Guides, manuals and pattern books didn’t die away after the 19th century, and thanks to another recent acquisition here at the Archive we are reminded of that. In 2013, Jack Fitzsimons placed in the Archive a set of each of the published editions of his seminal Bungalow Bliss, a series of design books that served as a template for so many houses in the Irish countryside, later donating many of the original drawings for the first edition. From 1971 to 1998, through at least twenty-six reprints and twelve separate editions, Fitzsimons’s books included drawings, details of services, information on grants, town planning, contracts and decoration for modest two- to four-bedroom homes. For a fee (£10 in 1970) the full set of measured drawings and specifications could then be ordered. Robert Molloy TD, the Minister for Local Government, noted in the introduction to the first edition that, while property developers provide housing for the urban dweller, for the rural and small town resident the site, design and construction of a house had to be done ‘on his own initiative’ and therefore help was needed. Fitzsimons added that ‘while [the book] is intended primarily for those with little or no knowledge of the subject it is hoped that it may also prove a useful reference book for those already engaged in any sphere of housing’. Here was a pattern book from which the author did intend people to build. And build people did.

Design No. 1. Bungalow Bliss, Jack FItzsimons, 1971.


Aisling Dunne,
Irish Architectural Archive,
October 2014.

An experiment in sustainable architecture

Frank Gibney (1905-1978) was an architect and planning consultant whose career spanned the period from the early 1930s to the early 1970s. A planner before the profession really existed in Ireland, he prepared detailed plans for several towns including Tralee (1939), Drogheda (1940), Navan (1943), Waterford (1943), Cavan (1945), Listowel (1947), Ballina (1950) and Tullamore (1950). Although perhaps now best remembered for the villages and developments which he designed for Bord na Móna workers in the 1950s, the connections he established when working on these town plans led him to work as a housing architect for at least sixteen different local authorities. From dozens of ‘one-off’ rural cottages for Kerry County Council to large urban housing estates for Waterford Borough, Gibney’s houses are to be found right across the country.

Layout drawing for Bord na Mona housing scheme, Ardra, Bracknagh, Co. Offaly (St Broughan’s Park). Frank Gibney Collection, IAA (2014/63).


St Broughan’s Park, Co. Offaly. (c) Google.

Gibney’s working method for both the local authority and Bord na Móna housing was to set out schemes using a basic palette of generic house designs. Lay-out drawings show the placing, in block plan, of houses on particular sites, with an indication of which house types are to be built. This approach led to obvious efficiencies in design and construction costs. While the houses themselves are basic and repetitive, distinction and variety was given to each scheme by the use of ‘feature’ houses, more elaborate versions of the core types, inserted to add emphasis or punctuation. But what really makes Gibney’s schemes stand out are the distinctive layouts. His oval design for a small estate of 20 houses in Stradbally, Co. Laois (Brockley Park), or the tadpole shaped Bord na Móna estate at Bracknagh, Co. Offaly (St Broughan’s Park) are just two examples, both deriving their curving forms from Gibney’s careful consideration of site, aspect and orientation.

Layout drawing for housing scheme for Laois County Council, Stradbally, Co. Laois. (Brockley Park), 1950. Frank Gibney Collection, IAA (2014/63).


Brockley Park, Stradbally, Co. Laois, 2014. IAA

During the construction hiatus enforced by the Second World War, Gibney had time to indulge one of his many interests – building with clay. ‘Emergency conditions’, he wrote,  ‘have forced us to look inwards upon our own natural resources and to extract therefrom the maximum substance for the primaries of life – Food, Fuel, Clothing and Shelter’. When it came to the last of these, shelter, Gibney proposed a ‘practical… simple’ solution – the clay cottage. After all, he says, ‘there is nothing new here, for the building of dwellings in rammed earth and thatching of roof with straw, reeds or heather, was at one time a thriving Craft in our country’.

Proposed Clay Cottage for Castlecomer Collieries, 1943. Frank Gibney Collection, IAA (2014/63).

In 1943 he produced a drawing for a Clay Cottage for Captain Prior-Wandesforde of Castlecomer Collieries. This was to be no mere paper exercise; a sample cottage, based on the drawing, was in fact erected at Cloneen Co. Kilkenny, a few miles outside Castlecomer. A basic bungalow, traditional in plan yet – as Gibney was anxious to point out – nearly twice as large as contemporary local-authority-built labourers cottages, the Clay Cottage was finished in early 1944 and was ’warm, dry and comfortable.’

Construction was straightforward: ‘the walls, two feet thick, are constructed with sub-soil clay from the Cottage garden, removed immediately from excavation without watering and rammed hard between timber panelling. Straw reinforcement was only used in the internal partition walls, they being twelve inches thick. Surfaces of walls were plastered and lime washed white. The windows are timber double hung sashes fitted into wood jamb linings and cills built in the walls as part of the panelling.’ The fireplaces and chimneys were brick-built and the cottage was supplied with a flushing toilet, hot and cold water, ventilated sub-floors and a ‘modern drainage system’. The thatch was treated with ‘fire and vermin solutions’.


What made the building truly practical for Gibney – and particularly ‘sustainable’ in the modern sense – was the fact that ‘practically all material was found on site – clay from [the] garden, timber from nearby oak-trees, straw from harvest, and all work executed by local Craftsmen’. Even the boiler, located in the living room, was made by a local blacksmith. So fired was he by the success of the Clay Cottage that Gibney could see nothing but a bright future: ‘the writer believes that this mode of construction could be considerably developed in alleviating Rural Building problems, both in housing, farm buildings, workshops, Community halls, and even small Churches’. Alas it was not to be. The increasing availability of more modern building materials after 1945 meant that even Gibney himself had to abandon clay for concrete. But perhaps the Clay Cottage was an idea ahead of its time.

Copies of Frank Gibney’s town plans (2013/9) and drawings from his architectural practice (2014/63) were donated to the Irish Architectural Archive by his son, also Frank Gibney. Work is ongoing to catalogue and make accessible this record of the work of a remarkable and fascinating man. All quotations above come from an unpublished note by Frank Gibney attached to his Clay Cottage drawing. For more on Frank Gibney and his work see his entry in the IAA’s Dictionary of Irish Architects.

Colum O’Riordan,
August 2014