Ireland is well known for ancient ruins and Georgian buildings, but we do have some notable modernist buildings too. Irish architect Michael Scott was a driving force in developing a new look for a new nation in the 1930s and ‘40s.
Born in 1905 in Drogheda, County Louth, Michael Scott was the visionary behind some significant buildings around Ireland as well as the iconic, top rated building representing Ireland at the 1939 New York World Fair. Made of steel, glass and concrete, Scott’s building was sleekly modern. He designed it in the shape of a shamrock, and seems to have had mixed feelings about that, being more inclined to modernism. But being chosen to design the building for Ireland’s first entry to a World Fair as an independent nation was a massive honor. Winning such praise for it must have been the icing on the cake.
Scott was a well-rounded creative soul, like many Irish people of the era. He was an actor. He studied at the Abbey Theatre’s School of Acting, and in 1928 he toured the USA with the Abbey’s production of Sean O’Casey’s The Plow and the Stars. He also appeared on stage in London, but the demands of his architecture career eventually took priority. He worked for the new nation’s Office of Public Works early in his career. Scott was involved with a few different architecture firms before founding his own individual practice. He married Patricia Nixon, and they had five children, one of whom also went into architecture.
Introducing Modernism to Ireland
Scott was a modernist inspired in part by the Bauhaus movement. The modernists rejected the intricate ornamentation of earlier architects. They used clean, asymmetrical lines and flat, bright surfaces such as glass and metal. Focusing on function, their vision of beauty was sleek minimalism with much natural light.
Scott claimed to have designed his own house, Geragh, in a day. It was among the first structures in Ireland to be built with mass concrete throughout. The house is still standing in Sandycove, County Dublin near the 40 Foot swimming hole and the Martello tower made famous by James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. A public path winds behind Geragh, which reflects an ocean theme with porthole style windows and decks at different levels.
While Geragh is widely admired as a stunning example of modernist architecture, it is not Scott’s most famous building. He is responsible for Busaras, Dublin’s glass-faced bus terminal. Scott is also responsible for two other Dublin projects that must have been close to his heart as a former actor. He designed the Peacock Theatre within the Abbey Theatre and did the remodel to create the Gate Theatre from a portion of the Rotunda Hospital.
Most of the visitors to some of Scott’s buildings arrive somewhat reluctantly. At one point he decided he had designed so many hospitals that he had to refuse further invitations or he’d be pigeonholed as a hospital architect for the rest of his career. Scott designed the hospitals in Tullamore, County Offaly; Edenderry, County Offaly; Portlaoise, County Laois; and a wing of St. Ultan’s Children’s Hospital in Dublin. He and his associates were also responsible for drafting the plans for many cinemas around Ireland.