Dublin is one of the world’s most beloved cities. The Irish capital welcomes over 5.6 million tourists every year from around the world, seeking out the city’s red brick rows, cobblestone streets, and lush green parklands.
Dublin has good reason for being on any architect’s travel list. Modest Georgian tenements, sensitively altered by local architects, stand alongside major civil and public works by some of the world’s most renowned international firms, while warm art nouveau and art deco cafes sit alongside the sleek, modern headquarters of the world’s largest tech firms.
A hotbed of architecture and design, the city is home to some of the world’s most celebrated practices, including RIBA Gold Medal winners O’Donnell + Tuomey, and 2018 Venice Biennale curators Grafton Architects.
What follows in an architectural guide to Dublin, written off the back of a recent visit to the Irish capital. Documented during the city’s annual Open House Dublin festival, the guide offers a blueprint for visitors and residents alike hoping to uncover the city’s diverse fabric. From what to know before you go, where to stay, where to eat, and what to do, the buildings and events mentioned here only scratch the surface of what Dublin has to offer.
Dublin is situated on Ireland’s east coast – a one hour flight from London, two to three hours from European cities, and eight hours from New York. The city, home to 1,170,000 people, is centered on where the River Liffey meets Dublin Bay and the Irish Sea. Debate on the city’s origin sways between Celtic-speaking people in the 7th century, and the Vikings in the 10th century.
Dublin’s climate is typical to Northwestern Europe, with cool summers and mild winters. The city can host four seasons in one day, so rainfall is a possibility at any time of the year. Temperatures range from 4 to 9 degrees Celsius in the depths of winter, and 14 to 20 degrees at the height of summer.
Ireland is overwhelmingly English-speaking, however the country’s historic Gaelic language is still firmly embedded in almost all aspects of Irish culture, from shopfronts to schools, music to politics. Common phrases include the greeting "Cead Mile Failte" (“One Hundred Thousand Welcomes”), the farewell and toasting “Slainte” (“Health”) and the word “craic” (“fun”) which when used in conversation, will endear you to any Dubliner!
While planning your architectural itinerary, be sure to consult the websites of the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF) and the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) for the city’s latest architectural happenings.
Arriving in Dublin
Ireland’s premier airport was originally designed in 1937 by Desmond Fitzgerald and the Office of Public Works; a curvilinear symmetrical building praised as “the most elegant, graceful, and majestic example of the International Style in Ireland.”
One of the fastest-growing airports in Europe, a contemporary addition by Pascall+Watson was completed in 2010, inspired by the geometry of aircraft wings, and capable of handling up to 15 million annual passengers.
Busáras is Dublin’s most important bus terminal, connecting the capital with towns and cities across the island. Another example of the International Style, the terminal was designed by Michael Scott under the influence of Le Corbusier, and completed in 1952. Constructed of reinforced concrete, and clad in Portland stone adorned with mosaics by Patrick Scott, the building originally contained amenities such as a top floor restaurant, and a newsreel cinema.
What Not to Miss
Open House Dublin is Ireland’s largest architecture festival, occurring every October. Organized by the Irish Architecture Foundation, the festival seeks to “showcase outstanding architecture for everyone to experience,” joining sister events in cities across the world, including London, New York, and Sydney. The 2017 edition attracted over 30,000 building visits, while this year’s edition featured over 170 free building tours, talks, and events, including almost every building featured in this article.
While the architectural wonders of Dublin can be marveled all year round, the Open House festival offers visitors the opportunity to experience buildings with the guidance of architects from noted firms such as Grafton and Heneghan Peng, while also offering a platform for local architects and designers responsible for the city’s enduring architectural charm.
Trinity College Dublin
One of Ireland’s richest architectural sites, the campus of Trinity College Dublin offers a host of architectural styles, from the imposing neoclassical Old Library and its sleek contemporary Hub, to the Brutalist Berkeley Library, and the campus’ stately public squares.
The college was founded under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in 1592, modeled on the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The campus’ must-see attraction, the Old Library, was designed by Trinity graduate Thomas Burgh, and constructed between 1712 and 1732. Behind a façade of Corinthian pillars and underneath a neoclassical mansard roof, the ornate interior contains 200,000 volumes including Roman, Greek, Egyptian, and Celtic scripts.
The library is noted for housing the world-famous Book of Kells illuminated manuscript, the Brian Boru Harp, officially the symbol of Ireland, and an original copy of the 1916 Declaration, an important document in the ultimate formation of the Irish Free State. The library was also the inspiration for the Jedi Archives in the Star Wars prequel films.
Other notable campus buildings include the Brutalist-style Berkeley Library, regarded as one of Ireland’s finest modernist buildings. Designed by Paul Koralek, without setting foot in Ireland, the library was constructed of in-situ concrete and opened in 1967. One year later the Arts Building was opened, designed by Ahrends Burton Koralek, and featuring a sheltered campus entrance, a glazed, stepped façade, and deep plan internal courts.
For a more contemporary addition, check out the Trinity Long Room Hub, a slim rectangular building with a honeycomb granite surface and crisp deep window details, designed by Mccullough Mulvin Architects in 2010.
The River Liffey
The city of Dublin owes its existence to the River Liffey, which historically supplied the city with water, food, transport, recreation, and protection. Today, 19 bridges span the river, the construction of each telling a story of its time. While the first bridge spanning the river was built in 1000AD, the oldest surviving today is Mellows Bridge, built in 1764 with three elliptical stone arches.
21st-century bridges include the Samuel Beckett Bridge and James Joyce Bridge, both designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, which mark the two boundaries of the Liffey bridges series. The youngest bridge, the elegant, post-tension Rosia Hackett Bridge, is the only Liffey bridge to be named after a woman.
Where to Eat and Drink
Breakfast/Lunch at Bewley's Grafton Street
Dating back to 1870, and significantly altered by Henry J. Lyons in 1925, Bewley’s Grafton Street is one of Dublin’s most spectacular destinations for a morning or afternoon treat. An Italianate, renaissance interior adorned with mahogany paneling, marble tables, and velvet upholstery contrasts with an Art Deco neo-Egyptian façade designed by A.G.C. Millar.
A recent 1,000-day, €12million refurbishment from 2015 to 2017 by Meagher & Moloney O’Beirne and Paul Arnold included the addition of a 24-hour bakery in the basement. Famous patrons have included acclaimed writer James Joyce, the author of Ulysses.
Dinner at The Church Bar & Restaurant
A former church dating from the early 18th century, The Church Bar and Restaurant retains original features such as a Renatus Harris organ, and spectacular stained glass window. Reopened in 2005, the listed building now contains a restaurant, café, nightclub, and terrace barbeque area.
Famous Irish figures associated with the church include Guinness founder Arthur Guinness, who was married there in 1761, and Irish rebel leader Theobald Wolf Tone, baptized there two years later. Author Jonathan Swift attended services in the church, as did George Frederic Handel, who would use the organ to practice his masterpiece “Messiah.”
Evening Drinks in Temple Bar
A long day of architreking should be rewarded by an evening in Temple Bar, Dublin’s cultural quarter. Situated on the south bank of the Liffey, the area is famous for its buzzing nightlife, hosted by the area’s Georgian brick rows and cobblestone streets.
Don’t miss the area’s recently-renovated Meetinghouse Square, and its architecturally-pleasing rainscreens by Sean Harrington Architects. The €2.4million project was commissioned by the Temple Bar Cultural Trust, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the area’s regeneration, and hosts everything from organic food markets to open-air concerts.
Where to Stay
Described as an “oasis of peace and quiet” among Dublin’s busy Georgian core, Number 31 consists of two distinct buildings: a classic Georgian townhouse with ornate stucco ceilings, and a modernist coach-house mews. The two buildings are linked via a central landscaped courtyard.
The interior features a sunken lounge with leather seating fronting onto an open fire, decorated in light colors and textures to capture the guesthouse’s peaceful, calm ethos.
The Marker Hotel
Designed by Aires Mateus & Associados, and further developed by McCauley Daye O’Connell Architects, the Marker Hotel confidently overlooks the regenerated Martha Schwartz-designed Grand Canal Square, beside the Daniel Libeskind-designed Grand Canal Theater.
Inspired by the elemental nature of the Irish landscape, with references to the limestone Burren National Park to the unique hexagonal stones of the Giant’s Causeway, the Marker’s clean lines open a dialogue with the angular theater. A plain, rhythmic façade is interrupted only by the cave-like entrance, an atmosphere continued inside the ground floor cocktail bar.
Designed by Irish architect Tom dePaor in 2016, this contemporary home is formed of interconnecting internal and external spaces hidden behind a 1930s terrace. Available for booking on Airbnb, the timber frame structure contains five floor-to-ceiling trusses are supported by vertical posts interspersing the space, offering an open network of rooms contrasting with the compact solidity of the existing building.
DePaor was awarded an International Fellowship of the RIBA in 2017, and had his work featured at the 2010 Venice Biennale.
Where to Relax
St. Stephen's Green
Open to the public since 1880, St. Stephen’s Green is one of the largest and most beloved green spaces in Central Dublin. The 22-acre park, still with its original Victorian layout, offers 3.5 kilometers of pathways along waterfalls, rock works, lakes, trees, and sculptures. During the summer months, the park hosts lunchtime concerts from a bandstand in the southern section.
The north-east corner of the park is marked by the Fusiliers’ Arch, a 10-meter-high monument to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who fought in the Second Boer War from 1899 to 1902. The granite arch features inscriptions carried out in limestone along with a bronze adornment.
The Phoenix Park
The Phoenix Park is the largest enclosed public park in any European capital city. Open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, the 1,750-acre park has been open to the public since 1745. The park contains 350 plant species, centuries-old woodlands covering 30% of the land, 72 species of birds, and approximately 450 fallow deer.
The park is home to Dublin Zoo, hosting 700 animals and tropical birds. Founded in 1830, it is the third oldest zoo in the world. The park is also home to Áras an Uachtaráin, the residence of the Irish President, built in 1754.
The Grand Canal
Completed in 1803, the Grand Canal is one of a series of waterways connecting Dublin with the River Shannon, Ireland’s longest river. An 80-mile pathway along the canal bank is a local favorite for walking, idling, and cycling, and was the inspiration behind the poem “Grand Canal Walk” by Patrick Kavanagh.
The Grand Canal Square is a focal point of the Dublin Docklands regeneration project, a reclaimed industrial area now home to apartments, hotels, recreational areas, and the Libeskind-designed Grand Canal Square Theater.
The 18th-century neoclassical Custom House is situated on the north bank of the Liffey, designed by James Gandon and completed in 1791. Originally built for the collection of customs duties from shipping, the relocation of Dublin Port made the building obsolete.
During the Irish War of Independence in 1921, the building’s dome was destroyed along with a large amount of irreplaceable historical documents. Evidence of this is still visible today, with the rebuilt dome’s Ardbraccan limestone notably darker than the original building’s Portland stone.
Dublin Castle can be read as a “living building” which has been adapting for over 1000 years. The center of state ceremony for hundreds of years, the building has hosted Ireland’s presidency of the European Commission, state visits, and the inauguration of Irish presidents.
The complex fell into disrepair in 1941 following a fire, before being regenerated following extensive renovations by the Office of Public Works from 1986 to 1996, who now maintain the buildings.
Originally designed by Richard Castle, and built in 1745, Leinster House has been the seat of the Irish Parliament since 1922. Built in a Georgian style, the building has undergone regular renovations since Victorian times, with a notable extension built in the 1960s to house parliamentarian offices.
The design, following the plan of a Palladian country house with a double height hall and picture gallery, was influenced by the White House in Washington DC, in particular with a projecting bow on the north side.
Bank of Ireland – Irish Parliament Buildings
Originally built in 1728 to house the Irish parliament, the Palladian-style Parliament House underwent significant works in 1785 with the addition of a prominent Portico by Hames Gandon. Made redundant following political change in 1800, the Bank of Ireland purchased the building in 1803 and used it as a head office until the 1970s.
Located beside the main entrance to Trinity College Dublin, Parliament House was the first purpose-built bicameral parliament house in the world, splitting legislators into two separate chambers. The principal entrance of the semi-circular scheme features curved walls adorned with Ionic columns.
The National Gallery of Ireland
The National Gallery of Ireland has recently been restored by the Office for Public Works, in collaboration with Heneghan Peng. Opened in June 2017, the scheme forms part of a four-stage masterplan by Heneghan Peng, seeking to address the original 19th-century building’s lack of natural light and level access.
The extensively renovated Dargan and Milltown Wings are for the first time capable of hosting paintings from Europe, previously impossible due to internal climatic conditions. A new central courtyard is shaped to allow diffuse light into the galleries, while forming visual connections between spaces to maintain visitor orientation.
The Mansion House
The Mansion House was designed by Joshua Dawson in 1710, and has been the residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin since 1715, hosting visiting dignitaries including Queen Victoria and Nelson Mandela. The “Round Room” is where the first free Irish Parliament met in 1919 to proclaim the Irish Declaration of Independence.
Grand Canal Square Theater
Designed by Studio Libeskind in 2010, the Grand Canal Square formed an important milestone for the redevelopment of the Dublin Docklands area. The 2000-seat theater is based on the concept of stages: the stage of the theater, the stage of the piazza, the stage of the multiple lever lobby above the piazza.
The form seeks to “build a powerful cultural presence expressed in dynamic volumes sculpted to project a fluid and transparent public dialogue” with the surrounding piazza, offices, and hotel.
Government Buildings 7-9 Merrion Row
Designed by Grafton Architects, the Department of Finance building on Merrion Row was completed in 2000. The limestone-clad scheme terminates a row of 18th century brick terraces on one side, and a historic cemetery on the other, resulting in an elegant, contemporary, yet sensitive addition.
The new building follows the features of a typical Georgian house with a sequence of entrances, and fenestration matching the parapet and rhythm of the adjacent buildings. The redevelopment also features the restoration of a 1912 stone and steel building linked to the new scheme, serving as dining and office space.
Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
The 10-level, 12,000 square mater new wing of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland was designed by Henry J. Lyons, and opened in May 2017. Envisioned as “three buildings in one,” the library/surgery/auditorium building features the deepest basement in Ireland, housing a 600-seat auditorium and sports center.
The six levels above round feature a library spanning three floors, and Europe’s most advanced simulations suites. Polished terrazzo is common to circulation spaces, while exposed concrete in various finishes reveals the structural anatomy of the building.
14 Henrietta Street
Dating from the 1720s, 14 Henrietta Street is one of the most intact mid-18th-century houses in Dublin. Originally built as a townhouse for the elite, the building was split into tenements for the working class, housing 100 people by 1911.
Derelict since the 1970s, a renovation by Shaffrey Architects over 10 years has turned the building into the primary artifact of a new museum, with walls, floors, banisters, old gas pipes, fireplaces, and fragments of wallpaper all telling stories of Dublin’s industrialization.
Designed by Heneghan Peng in 2014, Airbnb’s European Operations Hub is one of several buildings in the docklands area dedicated to the world’s largest tech firms. Meeting rooms in the building are inspired by Airbnb listings around the world, channeled into individual pods dotted throughout an otherwise open-plan office.
The scheme also features a bench from the 2012 Pavilion of Ireland at the Venice Biennale, designed by Heneghan Peng. Constructed of 6 interlinked sections, 6 rotation-only fulcrums, and 5 pivots, the 12-meter-long bench can be adjusted by height at each section, creating dips and peaks for user interaction.
Influential Dublin Architecture Firms
About the Author: Niall Patrick Walsh is the News Editor at ArchDaily, who recently visited Dublin on ArchDaily’s behalf to explore the city during the Open House Dublin architecture festival. He wishes to extend his sincere thanks to the Irish Architecture Foundation and Anna Fitzgerald for their warm hospitality and deep-rooted knowledge of the city.