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 guest house to accommodate visiting heads-of-state and other dignitaries. The proposed site was former the Under Secretary’s Lodge (later the Apostolic Nunciature) in the Phoenix Park.
Despite an eighteen week postal strike, almost 300 enquiries and 98 entries were received. There was considerable disappointment at the time that the competition had not been restricted to entries from Ireland but very many Irish architects did entry, either individually or in collaborative groups. The Irish Architectural Archive holds several of these entries including this one by Arthur Gibney, partner in Stephenson Gibney Architects. Among the non-Irish participants were such future architectural luminaries as David Chipperfield, Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas. The assessors, who included Richard Stokes, Deputy Assistant, Department of the Taoiseach, Martin Burke FRIAI, Principal Architect, OPW, and Aldo Van Eyck, University of Delft, 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). Three designs were placed second, winning £2,000 each: de Blacam and Meagher, Dublin; Wickham and Lavery, London; and, Cleary, Farrell, Meagher and Moore, UCD School of Architecture.
In December 1979 Charles Haughey replaced Jack Lynch as Taoiseach and promptly cancelled the project, citing the dire economic position of the country. The fact that he lived in a Gandon designed villa himself, and hence had no need for State supplied housing, may have had some bearing. 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.
To mark the fortieth anniversary of the competition, in November 2019 the Archive will mount an exhibition featuring some of the entries. We are anxious to hear from anyone who entered the competition or who might have copies of entry drawings. Please contact the Archive’s Exhibitions Officer, Simon Lincol, at email@example.com or 01 6633040.