We’re lucky in McCann – we work in a time-zone. Our neighbourhood is a cross-section of wonderful building types from multiple centuries. It contains a rich selection from the canals of the early industrial revolution, through the building booms of the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods right up to the shiny new towers of the 21st Century tech boom in ‘Google Docks’.
Any building takes time and effort to plan and construct. So why would you attempt to build the same building twice? Yet that is exactly what happened to a unique building a short walk from our own offices. On the corner of Grand Canal Street Lower and Erne Street Upper stands a striking and rare Dublin example of the Art Deco movement in architecture from the early 20th Century.
The building, now the offices of the banking organisation KBC, has a cool back-to-the-future retro feel that stands out from the surrounding street. But originally it was Archer’s Garage, a purpose built state-of-the-art motor garage deliberately designed to evoke a sense of movement and modernity. Dick Archer was the first agent for Ford cars in Ireland. This new building had first floor offices located over an open, drive-through forecourt, with a distinctive circular tower with its own flagpole at the street apex giving a sense of dynamism. There is no decoration used at all. Clean straight lines alternate with curved aerodynamic corners and smooth concrete surfaces are punctuated by steel-framed windows. This was all about architecture for a brave new world. The motorcar would be king. The building looks like it should be seen along the autobahn in Dusseldorf or a Californian highway.
For a variety of reasons early 20th century modernist architecture is not common in Dublin and rare enough in Ireland. Therefore, any surviving example, like great Georgian architecture, should be cherished. The original Archer’s Garage was designed by architect Arnold Francis Hendy and completed in 1946. The building was deemed to have unique architectural merit and become a listed building. Such status is not just for old Norman castles or Victorian mansions. The building had of course outlived its original purpose and its use needed to be re-imagined. But adding a building to a list does not guarantee protection. So, one night over a June Bank Holiday in 1999 the building disappeared and was mysteriously demolished.
There was of course a general public outcry. But also from the local community who recognised the building as a familiar landmark and part of the rich fabric of their neighbourhood. Pressure was applied. With the threat of a £1 million fine and a two-year jail term the then owner and developer was prevailed upon to reconstruct the building exactly as it was. So, the same building was built twice.
Of course, it is a copy. Certain details have been inevitably lost. Subtle differences exist. The building is actually set back slightly from its original line on the street diminishing it’s impact a little. The windows are now more modern aluminium and not the original steel. Is it now real or a perfect copy? But no building ever stays the same.
Still, next time you whizz past the building imagine arriving for a gasoline refill in an Art Deco inspired, streamlined 1939 Delage D8 Aerosport Coupe or a 1938 Bugatti Atlantic or even a more prosaic 1934 Ford Model 40 Speedster and imagine a bygone era.