Monday, April 16, 2007

Georgian Dublin


My favourite route through Dublin is to travel up Leeson Street, cross the canal and turn right onto Fitzwilliam. At this point, on a clear day, you have a mile long view of early Georgian town homes that stretches uninterrupted (except for one tragic half block) until it meets Holles Street Maternity Hospital. Coming from a part of the world where most buildings are less than 100 years old, I am in awe of this small stretch of history and it allowed me to understand immediately the current popularity of Georgian homes.

During the 18th century Dublin was transformed from a medieval town into one of the finest Georgian cities in Europe. Peace and stability in the country gave rise to great social and economic activity; and like most eras of economic prosperity, architecture became a huge reflection of this golden period. In the two centuries that followed the year 1800, when the Irish Parliament was dissolved and the MPs moved to England, severe economic decline, terrible tragedy and political upheaval translated into minimal architectural investment. The result of this 200 year period of very little building and development, was the preservation of an incredible number of Georgian homes, streets and squares, which would have otherwise most likely have been demolished in favour of Victorian Gothic style.

What is so striking about early Georgian architecture, is its clean lines and classic scaling. It is characterized by its proportion and balance; simple mathematical ratios were used to determine the height of a window in relation to its width or the shape of a room as a double cube. Large windows, imposing doors and parapets that hide the edge of the roof, all force the eye up off the ground and create a sense of symmetry. When they are placed next to each other and stretch for blocks, as on Fitzwilliam Street, the effect is so dramatic that you can see how the beauty of such precise and streamlined architecture could speak to our modern and contemporary sensibilities.