• Friday , 15 November 2019

Picture Box – Kodak House

01 - Kodak House CMView of Kodak House on Rathmines Road Lower. Photo by Cormac Murray.

On the Lower Rathmines road the vista is dominated by the dome of the Chuch of Mary Immaculate. This dome was added in 1922 as part of reconstruction works to the church which was destroyed in a fire. The patinated copper adds a splash of luminous green to the otherwise muted tones of red auburn and grey brick and stone on the street. Across the road from the church, there is another impostor in the streetscape. A striking white, pedimented structure sits on the corner of the Rathmines Road and Blackberry Lane. It features a bulky corner tower with vertical slit windows and a mesh of elegant steel windows punching through the depth of its mass concrete walls. Kodak House, designed by Donnelly Moore and Keatinge, once a factory and head office of the Kodak company in Ireland, looks like a stray project from Miami Beach that found itself cast adrift in Dublin.

Its arrival in Rathmines was due to a tax building control that made the suburb a popular location for industrial buildings[1]. The arched gateways to the former Brittains factory on the top of the street is a testament to this legacy – here passers-by could once observe the steel carcasses of Morris Minors on the assembly line. Kodak House’s decorated facades with extensive glazing may have been a reaction to complaints that many of the factories in Rathmines turned their backs on the street.

03 - Rathmines Road Facade CMRathmines Road Lower Elevation. Photo by Cormac Murray.

The facade achieves a depth of layering and minimalist ornamentation. The classical motifs of plinth, pediment, pilasters and entablature are expressed in a twentieth century re-interpretation. The window line is recessed in the depth of the wall and the ornamentation is limited to the architraves and door-casing, giving the facade a picture-frame quality. The monolithic quality of the corner tower with its slit windows shows an admiration for Egyptian temple architecture; a strong influence on both Art-Deco and the public imagination after the  discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.

The building was a smaller project in a suite of Art-Deco Industrial buildings being built in Great Britain and Ireland in the 1920s and 30s, such as the Wrigley’s factory in North Wembley (1927), the Firestone Factory and Pyrene Factory in Brentford (1930), or the India Tyre and Rubber Factory, Inchinnan (1930). A sister project to Kodak House was Vincent Kelly’s Transformer station in Temple Bar, finished a year before, also on a corner site, described by the Irish Times as ‘Neo-Egyptian'[2]. In 1932 the newspaper noted how both these projects evidenced the influence of ‘the revolutionary development in architecture on the continent of Europe… and the rise of a generation of designers having little veneration for the past, filled with a strong desire to accomplish something new'[3].

The exciting decorative features of Art-Deco in Ireland were typically associated by the public with the modern luxury of theatre and cinema design. However the examples above evidence how a number of industrial or telecommunications projects adopted Art-Deco facades, typologies later favoured by modernists for their machine-quality and technical innovation. Ellen Rowley notes that: ‘Art Deco was an interesting mix of ornate symmetry (classicism) with modernist materials and demeanour. This might be suggestive of the tentative nature of architectural modernism in Dublin at this time'[4].

02 - Doorway CMEntrance Door. Photo by Cormac Murray.

As a factory, the building also embraced principles championed by Walter Gropius in the Bauhaus movement, in particular the original ungalvanised multiple pane metal windows, which maximised natural light and ventilation for improved working conditions. The interior of the building was more akin to a recognisable factory space. Steel trusses span over a double-height space with a clerestory of north-facing patent glazing.

This separation between industrial interior and decorative exterior was commonplace in the early 20th century. The founder of Kodak, George Eastman, would often employ ‘slipcover’ architects in the United States for his various projects. Here prized architects would be tasked with designing a decorated exterior only and the practical, utilitarian interiors would be designed by Eastman himself, in collaboration with a trusted draughtsman. Eastman once described a celebrated architecture firm as ‘the finest decorators in the country… but I wouldn’t let them near the plans’, explaining to one of the partners in the firm: ‘a floor plan is an engineering proposition, and must take precedence over the architecture in any commercial scheme'[5].

The divorce of a pragmatic engineering-minded interior architect and artistic-minded exterior architect was not necessary in the Rathmines project, with the entire project designed by one firm, Donnelly Moore and Keatinge. The chosen firm were more than capable of delivering both aspects of the Kodak brief. Their portfolio is wide-ranging in style, with both projects of a decorative nature, such as 16-17 College Green, which became the Guinness Mahon Bank, and projects of an engineering character, such as the concrete stadia at Lawnsdowne Road, Baldoyle Racecourse and Dalymount Park.

04 - Kodak House and Church of Mary Immaculate - CMKodak House. Photo by Cormac Murray.

Their solution is much admired today by the architectural community and public alike. It has a quirky yet refined character that Paul Larmour describes as ‘stripped-classical character'[6]. Kodak moved out in the 1980s and, after a period of vacancy, the interiors were restored by Paul Keogh Architects, with a new mezzanine loft, curved rooflight and roof terrace. It is now occupied by an advertising agency and at the beginning of the twenty-first century was designated a protected structure.

[1] Róiste, N. & Rowley, E. (2016). More than concrete blocks : Dublin city’s twentieth century buildings and their stories. Dublin: Dublin City Council.

[2] Author not credited. (1930, March 15). Prominent Irish Personalities. The Irish Times, p. 4.

[3] Author not credited. (1932, January 21). Architecture. The Irish Times, p. 81.

[4] Róiste, N. & Rowley, E. (2016). More than concrete blocks : Dublin city’s twentieth century buildings and their stories. Dublin: Dublin City Council.

[5] Brayer, E. (2011:311). George Eastman : a biography. Rochester, NY: University Of Rochester Press.

[6]  Larmour, P. (2009). Free state architecture : modern movement architecture in Ireland, 1922-1949. Kinsale: Gandon Editions.

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