#43 What Might Have Been 2

At the start of the year, we looked at a vision of the “Library Extension” from 1957. That was produced in an attempt to give donors something to visualise in the allotted space rather than a serious proposition of what the design should be. But there are many other more fleshed-out might-have-beens from the completion to design the Library – if you are interested in what some of those looked like, the excellent Archiseek website has a page devoted to them

In 1960, International architectural competition for a new library building launched the drive for a real design to fill the space, which by this stage had morphed from being a mere “extension” to the current Library – in fact, the older library was to be a “functional extension” to the new. The completion itself it well documented in a number of sources, notably Trinity College Dublin: The first 400 years and Trinity College Library Dublin: A history, from which the below is drawn:

By the closing date, 218 entries had been received from 29 countries. The panel of judges consisted of the Vice-Chancellor, Lord Rosse; Raymond McGrath, Principal Architect of the Office of Public Works; two non-Irish architects, Sir Hugh Casson and Franco Albini; and an expert on library buildings, Keyes Metcalf, the former Director of Harvard University Library, though he fell ill before the judging and was replaced by Ralph Esterquest, the Harvard Medical Librarian. The successful candidate was Paul Koralek, a young British architect and one of the founder partners of the firm of Ahrends, Burton and Koralek, established in 1961. The decision of the jury was not unanimous, Professor Albini abstaining on the grounds that the proposed building did not harmonise with its surroundings.  

In Decisions and report of the jury of award, published in June 1961, the jury listed the reasons for its awards – as noted above, Albini did not endorse the decision to give Koralek first prize, but neither did he block it. This is a comprehensive document, not only giving information on the jury’s view on the three “premiated” (that is, prize-winning) entries, but also the two Highly Commended and four Commended designs. In addition, brief feedback was given on dozens of the other designs – the jury had taken its job to heart. 

One might wonder if Albini had taken more of a shine to one of the other prize-winning or commended designs rather than just not opposing Koralek’s #123, if they would have been the chosen design – something less radical than what Koralek proposed.

While Koralek’s entry was distinctly modern, the winner of the third prize is particularly interesting and outré – featuring glass reflective walls at north and south. Rather than the granite and concrete facade we currently see approaching the Library from the Pearse Street, you’d have been walking towards a giant mirror. But while a stunning piece of architecture it didn’t strike the jury as particularly usable as an actual library:

In general, the drawback of the building as a working library (as opposed to its virtues as architecture) have prevented it from achieving a higher award.

And a thought was given towards the people who’d have to work behind that sea of glass:

…the Jury has some doubt as to whether the administrative staff would be happy behind such a north-facing curtain wall.