Former Parliament House


26th February, 8th and 15th June 2020

Built to the designs of Edward Lovett Pearce from 1728, the former Parliament House at College Green, Dublin is the most significant public building of the Palladian era constructed in Britain and Ireland. Although much of the external fabric survives, the interior was damaged by a devastating fire in the late eighteenth century, and later reconfigured following the purchase of the building by the Bank of Ireland in 1803. 

From a research perspective the building offers some of the finest examples of early eighteenth-century craftsmanship in these islands. Although some financial records survive in parliamentary reports, which offer interesting details concerning the material finishes, as well the craft practitioners involved, documentation of the process of making and the experience of the makers remains elusive. Close scrutiny of the building fabric during a series of visits, which were generously facilitated by the Bank of Ireland, has provided new insights into these craft processes, as well as raising further questions. 

At CRAFTVALUE we want to understand more about the crafting of its spectacular Portland stone colonnade, whose columns are composed of alternating courses of deep and shallow drums. While problems in sourcing large blocks often dictated irregularity in construction, the pattern established here was followed in other prominent buildings such as the west front of Trinity College and the entrance front of Leinster House. Was there a structural logic at work? Did this composition aid in achieving the gradual narrowing of the column from lower shaft to necking, as prescribed by classical architectural theory? Or was a single pragmatic solution simply imitated because of its monumental pedigree?

Likewise, the craft processes which produced the surviving House of Lords chamber are no longer easily understood. How were Edward Lovett Pearce’s drawings of its Ionic order fashioned in oak by the Parliament House joiners? The finished, polished outcome appears deceptively simple but these were not simply tree trunks smoothly fashioned into columns but rather complex assemblages of painstakingly carved and jointed timber.

The lost House of Commons, damaged by fire and dismantled in the early 19th century was the most ambitious classical interior of the period with a plaster coffered dome ultimately derived from the Pantheon in Rome. Documented in original architectural drawings, a late 18th century painting, surviving fragments of the interior colonnade, as well as fragmentary written records, it is an optimum subject for digital reconstruction of stone, plaster and timber crafted surfaces.

Further reading

Christine Casey, Dublin, New Haven & London, 2005.

Howard Colvin and Maurice Craig, Architectural Drawings in the library of Elton Hall by Sir John Vanbrugh and Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, Oxford, 1964.

Edward McParland, ‘Edward Lovett Pearce and the Parliament House in Dublin’, Burlington Magazine 131 (Feb, 1989), 91-100

Edward McParland, Public Architecture in Ireland: 1680-1760, New Haven & London,2001

Edward Watson. ‘The Irish Parliament House. Who was the architect?’, Irish Builder,  71, 8 Jun 1929 

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