James Gandon and His Times
James Gandon shaped Dublin as no other architect, before or since. His monumental buildings define the popular image of our capital city even today. In their time, they helped create the impetus for the city's expansion to the east, signalled the decline of the medieval city, and confirmed the ascendancy of 'Georgian' Dublin.
Hugo Duffy's biography of Gandon brings the man - and his times - closer to us. We can see that the professional architect's life has changed little in two hundred years. We recognise Gandon's alarm at the difficulties to be contended with in laying the foundations of the Custom House, his regret in being compelled to start building before the plans had been completed, and the public controversy and 'planning' difficulties surrounding the project. Human nature is constant. Here, in the form of the Malton letters, is professional jealousy on a grand scale. There is scandal, in the shape of John Beresford, the 'king of Ireland', whose development of the Custom House opened up his brother-in-law, Luke Gardiner's lands for fashionable redevelopment. We are reminded, too, of the surprising fragility of heroic architecture. As Maurice Craig pointed out fifty years ago, all Gandon's major work has been bombarded, burnt, rebuilt or at best added to: the nearest approach to work as he left it is the restored exterior of the Custom House, and the Benchers' Dining Hall in the King's Inns.
Above all, this is a human story. Of great triumphs matched by equal disappointments. Of the fragile character of Gandon, a man constantly on the edge, often resentful, and troubled by gout. Of his enduring friendships. And of the decisive difference particular individuals - patrons, such as Beresford, the Wide Streets Commissioners and the Duke of Rutland - can make to the carrying out of the great works that determine the futures of cities. It is a lesson we should not overlook in our own times.
Author: Hugo Duffy
Publisher: Gandon Editions