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Georgian Architecture

I don't often write about architecture, but Dublin has such a rich preserve of Georgian-style buildings, indeed they so define the city's aspect and ambience, that after two and a half years it'd be slightly unfair not to have reported on them. By Georgian architecture I mean the 18th Century English design of (terraced) townhouses of flat and regular frontage with Palladian/fanlighted doorways, sometimes running for the entire lengths of streets; with a below-street basement storey (fenced off), a stepped access to the door (brightly coloured, sometimes flanked by columns) leading to a generous but compact entry-level, a series of high-ceilinged rooms on the first floor with larger windows, and usually two floors of decreasing height above that. As mentioned elsewhere, the general impression is of regular conservatism: the British design is thoroughly practical in terms of strong, easy construction and resistance to spreading fire (no balconies or extruding windows, and thick walls). But the external minimalism is betrayed by an inner opulence which can de staggeringly acute: fine plasterwork, chandeliers, elaborate marble fireplaces and of course huge paintings or panelling – in rooms whose height and sheer dimension profess a nobility we no longer cherish. These were, after all, the ordinary townhouses of the normal middle class as well as the excessively monied. The contrast between inner/outer is the crux of this typically British design (just don't remind Dublin too often… that what so solidly defines the city (after its people) is or was thoroughly British). The added Irish contrast to which is that the vast majority of Georgian buildings have now been taken over by businesses and commercial lets, eager to get historical frontage whilst gutting the noble interiors and squeezing in sublevels and subletters and cruel lighting. Which, residentially, was nothing new either over Dublin's last 150 years of poverty and crowding; now it's slightly odd to think these houses enjoyed their best years as residential homes. There has been a lot of senseless destruction and wilful decay, and some of the acts of preservation seem limited to the street-face or lip-service to the spirit of design, but there are cases of amazing restoration (see the James Joyce Centre on North Great George's Street).

The web is rather poor on reading materials on the experience of living in these buildings, and frankly I can't afford the rent to even begin conceiving a work on the subject, but I have to admit that after two years of mild bafflement and occasional slow drives down streets of sheer British planning, or sneaked peeks at normal lives under noble ceilings (and alas, so few interiors seen and experienced), I have warmed and melted to the aesthetic purity and elegance of the design, especially as part of a consistent, uninterrupted street of townhouses. With silver grey cast-iron streetlights, stone pavements flanking a broad street, and of course the cold black chill of Dublin winter casting an abstract stillness. There's an air of logical townplanning and coherence, the pleasing ideal of uniform exteriors and inner individualism, as well as the only-remaining vestiges of a sensibility appropriate to what JJ called the Second City of Empire. Because the Georgian buildings attest to the only Golden Age of Dublin (that is, by a retro-definition of sorts: a nation's Golden Age can be determined by its strongest architecture, cf Amsterdam, Venice, Vienna, Paris etc) which peaked in the 18th Century.

So, with all that in mind, I set off late on a weeknight to take some photos of Georgian buildings. Possibly with an eye to a future small-format coffee table book, stacked prominently for tourist's eyes ("Georgian by Night"). There are moments in winter especially where the crisp chill and the amber-yellow floodlights on some buildings seem wholly congruent for a Northern city, especially with a skinful of brew. There is a calmness, a wet blackness, and a reassurance that people can live like noblemen in these. That these buildings are carriers of a continuity with the past, in starkest contrast with thoughtless oblivion...

posted by rino breebaart  # 6:50 pm
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Alternatively, read about it at: The Slow Review or the long blog. Or even Nurture Health

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