A Found Tradition In 1987 Niall McCullough and Valerie Mulvin published A Lost Tradition: the nature of architecture in Ireland. This trailblazing and beautiful book traced the evolution of Irish architectural forms for the ‘mound and circle’ of prehistoric sites, through ecclesiastical monuments, fortified plantation enclosures, vernacular farmhouses and bravura Georgian mansions, to the institutional architecture of modernity. The book demonstrated the importance of seeing Irish buildings as ‘icons reflecting ideals of cultural worth’, the necessity to recognise the contextual integrity of architecture and landscape, and the manner in which European influence was adapted into idiosyncratic Irish architectural forms.

Linked Projects
  • Trinity Long Room Hub
    Trinity Long Room Hub

    Dublin, Ireland

These lessons have not been universally taken to heart in modern Irish architecture and planning, but in their own buildings McCullough and Mulvin have adhered to them with a unique combination of rigour and panache. The Niland Gallery in Sligo, Waterford City Library, the Ussher Library in Trinity all met the challenge of introducing a new building into an established and venerable contect, but the Trinity Long Room Hub presented an even more daunting prospect. The new building must simultaneously address Burgh’s great early 18th-century library block, the massive granite rear of the Provost’s House, the angular 1937 Reading Room, and the most distinguished Irish building of the 1960’s – Paul Koralek’s Berkeley Library. The triumphantly successful outcome is the result of those principles set out by the architects nearly a quarter of a century ago, and presents a marvellous combination of function and form.

Throughout a building dedicated to research in the humanities, light pours down through top-lit spaces, everywhere you look out, not in. The dramatically stepped and syncopated exterior creates windows framing exciting conjunctions on every side; the Victorian theatricality of the Campanile, the Palladian Dining Hall, the art-deco rooflight of the Read Room. Illumination is present in every sense. And the tall, thin building also commands a bold prospect across the roofscapes of Dublin. This reminds us that Niall McCullough has written brilliently on the planning of the ciy and the need to preserve a symbiotic relationship between innovation and conservation. But it also demonstrates a central theme in the conception of the Long Room Hub, which is the interdependence between an ancient urban university and the cultural riches of the city which surrounds it.

In A Lost Tradition, McCullough and Mulvin wrote evocatively of ‘Meeting Houses’, those classically derived buidlings where people came together for intellectual as well as spiritual enlightment, in surroundings whose architecture mirrored decisiveness, simplicity, a certain severity, and a confident use of volume, space and light. The Long Room Hub building is just such an achievement. It is a ‘meeting house’ in its own way, construction for the purposes of bringing together international scholars in an environment combining intellectual resources, cultural stimulation and precious time. This building is not only a worthy addition to Trinity’s great architectural palimpesest; it beautifully represents the fusion of imagination and tradition in a manner both districtively Irish and determinedly outward-looking. And that is exactly what the Hub is setting out to achieve as a brand new institute of humanities research embedded in Ireland’s oldest university.


—Roy Foster

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