Hanging in the Archive

The opening of the Architectural Association of Ireland Awards on 27th May last marked an important milestone in improved options for exhibitions in the Irish Architectural Archive. In March of this year the Archive installed a new picture hanging system in two of our first floor rooms, the Rachel McRory Meeting Room and the Model Room. Until now, it was not possible to have temporary exhibitions in these spaces as attaching objects to the walls with hooks or nails would have interfered with the historic panelling in the rooms. The walls would have had to be repaired and repainted on a regular basis, something which would have been neither desirable nor affordable.

AAI Awards exhibition panels in the IAA
AAI Awards exhibition panels in the IAA

A number of considerations needed to be taken into account when the decision was taken to install the hanging system. First and foremost, the system had to allow for the maximum number of hanging options. Secondly, it was a requirement that the system have a minimal impact on the historic interiors of No. 45 Merrion Square. Given the rooms are over 5m in height, the system needed to have a low visual impact in the rooms. And finally, the system had to be straightforward for Archive staff and other exhibition installers to use.

The system chosen consists of a narrow high-level rail installed just below the decorative plasterwork frieze. As it is only 1cm deep and installed 4.5m above floor level, the rail is barely noticeable, especially when not in use. From the rail, long transparent cables are suspended. Attached to the cables are secure hooks from which objects can be hung. The transparency of the cables allows them to ‘disappear’ against the walls, minimising the impact on the architectural features of both rooms.

IAA Model Room with AAI Awards installation screen and bench, and photographs handing on new system
IAA Model Room with AAI Awards installation screen and bench, and photographs handing on new system

One final piece of equipment was needed to complete the system, a tall ladder with a working platform to allow for the attaching of the cable to the hanging rail.

Simon Lincoln adjusting hanging cables during exhibition installation, with Steven McNamara of Roji Designs and Elspeth Lee of the AAI

It is intended that these first floor spaces will feature regular exhibitions of material from the Archive’s photographic collections, while exhibitions of original drawings and documents will remain in the Architecture Gallery on the ground floor. It is also hoped that the flexible new hanging system will encourage more outside use of the rooms for events and exhibitions, providing opportunities for the Archive to generate much needed revenue. Enquiries about the use of the rooms can be sent to slincoln@iarc.ie.

Simon Lincoln,
Outreach and Exhibitions Officer,

Name that building

As part of our work here in the Irish Architectural Archive, we welcome researchers and readers through our doors, people with questions and requests for information of many different kinds. At times these come in the form of a visual test – a photograph of an unidentified building. ‘Where is this?’ is the question most often asked, followed by ‘who built it, when and for whom?’

Recently we had just such a request for help from a reader. Could we identify a building in an old photograph, a handsome Victorian house with adjoining green house.


Happily, Simon Lincoln, our Exhibitions Officer, recognised it as Sharavogue, a large detached house in Glenageary, Co. Dublin. In our own collections we had photographs of the house at the time of its sale in the mid 1980s looking remarkably unchanged from the earlier image and so we were able to confirm the identification.


So what else could we tell about ‘Sharavogue’ – did we have any other documents in the Archive to tell us the story of this suburban villa? Could we procure a date for its construction or even an architect’s name?

We didn’t have drawings for the house, so the search started with old postal directories to see when Sharavogue was first mentioned. The style of architecture suggested a date pre-1900 but when we checked our collection of Thom’s Street Directories for the late 1800s we encountered a problem: the house did not seem to appear at all. Of course house names often change. A quick check on an old Ordnance Survey map of the area confirmed that the house was originally named St. Andrew’s and the directories indicated that it was built sometime between 1875 and 1883.

From the map we could see that another house sat on the neighbouring corner plot, seemingly of the same dimensions and shape. Could we be looking at twins, houses built to identical designs at the same time? Today the neighbouring plot is occupied by a housing estate, Kilcolman Court, named after Kilcolman, the possible twin of St. Andrew’s/Sharavogue. Kilcolman no longer stands, (having been demolished by 1972) and, while there is no mention of either St. Andrew’s or Sharavogue in the Archive’s Dictionary of Irish Architects (www.dia.ie), there is a record of alteration work being done to Kilcolman in 1911 by the architect James Purcell Wrenn.

We know something of James Purcell Wrenn, as his letter books are held in the Archive, but the name Wrenn struck a further chord. The directories listed Andrew Wrenn as the original owner of St. Andrew’s. He was a successful merchant and proprietor of a number of businesses in Dublin, including the Bleeding Horse Tavern at the top of Camden Street. James Purcell was in fact Andrew’s son. He inherited St. Andrew’s, ran an estate management business from the house and carried out some work on his neighbour’s house.

However, the question of who originally designed the pair of houses still remained. Turning again to the Dictionary of Irish Architects, we found a reference to the fact that in 1877 the architect Robert J. Stirling invited tenders for the erection of ‘two new villas’ in Glenageary – could these be our two houses? On looking at Stirling’s list of works in the DIA we can see that in 1871 he carried out alterations and improvements to the Bleeding Horse Tavern, Upper Camden Street, for none other than Andrew Wrenn. Also worth considering is that the original owner of Kilcolman was a Mr. Gleeson, a merchant and businessman with properties on Thomas Street. Did Wrenn and Gleeson have a professional relationship and decide to invest in land to get away from the busy city? Having already employed Stirling on his commercial premises, did Andrew Wrenn now ask him to design two fine new villas near the sea?

These are tantalising questions and we have yet to fully answer them. But, in a way that is completely typical of even the most cursory search in the Archive, the identification of a previously unknown building in an old photograph leads to a web of interconnections, filling in some details of the history of the house and opening the possibilities of more to come.

Aisling Dunne,
Irish Architectural Archive,
February 2014