LivingTravelGuide to Georgian architecture in Ireland

Guide to Georgian architecture in Ireland

Georgian architecture is one of the most defining parts of Ireland’s heritage, especially in the urban context. Whole parts of the major Irish cities and some minor towns were also designed and built according to the aesthetic sensibilities of the ‘Georgians’. When people speak of »Georgian Dublin« today, they are generally referring to a smaller area in the southern half of the city, around Merrion Square, Saint Stephen’s Green and Fitzwilliam Square. Because these areas (plus Mountjoy Square on the Northside) are actually defined by an architectural style generally identified with the Georgian period in the history of Ireland (and Great Britain).

What’s in a name

Georgian architecture is not a single, definite style. The denomination is all-encompassing and can often be too general, the name being applied to the set of architectural styles that were in vogue between about 1720 and 1830. The name is directly related to the Hanoverians on the British throne: George I, George II, George III and George IV. These men reigned over Great Britain and Ireland in continuous succession, beginning in August 1714 and ending in June 1830.

Rather than being a uniform style, the Georgian style was more varied. The Encyclopedia Britannica in its entry on the Georgian style notes that ‘the various styles in the architecture, interior design and decorative arts of Great Britain [experienced] such diversification and oscillation in artistic style during this period that it is perhaps more accurate to speak of Georgian styles «.

How the style developed

The Georgian style was the successor, but not necessarily the natural child, of the “English Baroque” so famous for architects such as Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor. There was a transitional period when the buildings still retained some baroque elements, but Scotsman Colen Campbell struck the scene, advocating for a new architecture. And publicizing this in his seminar ” British Vitruvius or the British Architect.”

However, a new unified style was not made in this codex; instead, a variety of styles emerged. Some of them decidedly old-fashioned, but adapted.

The mainstream and perhaps most iconic of the early period of the Georgian style was Palladian architecture. Named for and inspired by the Venetian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). With a strong emphasis on symmetry, and often based on classical temple architecture.

Around 1765, the neoclassical became the way to go: a newly developed style from classical architecture, incorporating Vitruvian principles and still citing Andrea Palladio as the role model for architects. However, it was much more austere than European Rococo, with much less ornamentation.

The third major phase in the Georgian style was the Regency style, again a development from the neoclassical, with a playful addition of a certain elegance. Make the Regency buildings a little less severe than their predecessors. Regency preferred houses to be built as terraces or crescents whenever possible, and elegant balcony hardware, as well as bow windows, were all the rage.

The Greek revival could also be mentioned here, a style closely related to the neoclassical, but with the added contemporary fashion of Hellenism. One of the most important buildings of this style would be the Dublin General Post Office.

Construction practices

Georgian architecture was based on mathematical proportions: for example, the height of a window was almost always in a fixed relation to its width, the shape of rooms was based on cubes, uniformity was highly desirable. Even the basics, such as ashlar masonry, uniformly cut with military precision, was regarded as the pinnacle of design. It all came down to creating symmetry and adhering to the classic rules.

In urban planning, as in the boom times of the 18th century in Dublin, the regularity of the fronts of the houses along a street or around a square was more important than the expression of individuality on the part of the owners respective. The colorful ‘Dublin Gates’, often photographed, would have been uniformly black in Georgian times. As for building materials, the basis was the humble brick or carved stone. With red or tan bricks and predominantly almost white stonework, often with an overall layer of white paint.

How to spot Georgian architecture

The main features of Georgian architecture are difficult to pin down due to the variety of styles within the style. Some distinctive features include:

  • Most houses resemble a simple box, usually two rooms deep, with strictly symmetrical arrangements of all details;
  • A paneled front door (or pairs of doors in larger developments) would be centered, topped with a set of rectangular windows and topped with a more or less elaborate crown, usually supported by decorative pilasters – the famous Dublin Doors are of this style. ;
  • A cornice, most often adorned with decorative moldings or moldings;
  • The windows would be multi-paneled, all the windows would be arranged symmetrically;
  • Smaller paneled sash windows (plus dormer windows) would be used for the upper floors, where the utility rooms were.

Only found in Dublin

Examples of the style, with varying degrees of architectural merit and preservation, can be found throughout Ireland. Generally speaking, the bigger the city, the greater the chances of finding Georgian buildings. The small town of Birr in County Offaly, for example, is famous for its Georgian heritage.

Beware, occasionally these will not be true Georgian buildings, but rather modern buildings that recreate the Georgian style. In its austerity, in its symmetry, it is still quite pleasing to the eye and has therefore become quite timeless. What arguably is the mark of true success.

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