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Archive for June 10, 2011

Spirit of Place

Spirit of Place

James Holban - Spirit of place, Callan Co.Kilkenny

Photograph by Kilkenny photographer : Nigel Borrington, Kilkenny photography series

James Hoban , Spirit of Place

James Holban, Spirit of place

Photo by Kilkenny photographer: Nigel Borrington, kilkenny photography series.

From the Kilkenny People:

“James Hoban memorial now set in stone

A GROUP of American students and a few locals have spent the past week and a half constructing a memorial to James Hoban at his native Desart, Cuffesgra-nge and it will be celebrated tomorrow (Thursday) with an evening of festivities starting at 6.30pm.

The American group arrived in Callan on the Saturday night and “got our Irish sustenance quota”, then visited the site the next day and got to work at 7am on the Monday morning, explained architect Travis Price, director of the Spirit of Place Competition, which resulted in the design of the memorial to the man who designed the White House in Washington DC. The group then worked through last week, making the most of the long evenings and “working like banshees”, and expect to be putting on the finishing touches today (Wednesday).

Those taking part included the 24 architecture students from the Catholic University in Washington DC who designed the memorial; Kathleen Lane, who works for the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and is president of the Washington DC James Hoban Society; three master masons from the Callan area; neighbouring farmer Ned Brennan who was out helping with his tractor; and seven or eight local craftsmen.

Although not native to the area, the group does have a few Irish connections. Some of the students had visited Ireland previously, and about two-thirds of them are of Irish descent. Ms Lane’s cousin owns Dempsey’s pub in Kilkenny, “and Jennifer Butler kissed the Butler castle when she got here”, Mr Price said.

The structure they have created is 30 metres long and as high as 3 metres, incorporating all local stone except for some Italian marble, and glass panels shooting up into space.

As you walk up, the first section is made of rubble and rough stone, like the stone walls built between fields, early technology where “the stone does all the work”, Mr Price explained. The second section features more refined, cut stone to reflect emotions that were more refined. The third is made of Kilkenny limestone, ending with Italian marble which, like the White House, is “a lot more pure and polished”.

“Hoban’s inspiration was Leinster House originally, that kind of Georgian design – not that we thought much of George ourselves. We had a rough time with the British too,” the architect said in reference to George I, George II and George III, who ruled Britain from the era of America’s 13 colonies through to when it gained its independence. In fact it was under George III’s reign that the White House was set on fire by the British during the War of 1812, which is also referred to as a second war of independence.

This Georgian influence makes it appropriate to incorporate Italian marble into the Hoban memorial, Mr Price said. “The Georgian period had a strong Greco-Roman influence; it’s this classical architecture that Leinster House and the White House are emulating.”

Etched onto the glass panels are also words such as ‘perseverance’, ‘struggle’, ‘triumph’ and ‘rising’, as large as 15 inches and as small as two inches high. Written in English and as Gaeilge, they are a reflection of the bond between Irish and American culture and history.

A design of its time

The design for the James Hoban Memorial was created by the Catholic University students for the annual Spirit of Place Competition, which has also resulted in four projects in Mayo and others in British Columbia, Katmandu, Italy and a star-gazing temple in Machu Picchu. For this annual project the students take a cultural metaphor and create a modern abstract design.

“It’s about, how do you grab the essence and refine it down to something quite minimal,” Mr Price explained. In the case of James Hoban, they incorporated “the struggle and hard work, the perseverance and then that happy moment when George Washington said, ‘I like this Hoban guy. Bring him here to build the president’s home’.”

When the competition was being run to design the White House, Thomas Jefferson had also entered it under a false name, but George Washington was able to spot his design, and preferred Hoban’s work. “Washington was more of a plain soldier,” Mr Price explained, whereas Jefferson was more influenced by the French.”

James Hoban

    James Hoban was “something of the stately and the common man, and very much of his time”.

    It was this characteristic which shaped the spirit of the memorial to celebrate the architect. During the design phase there was much discussion with the Office of Public Works (OPW), people in Callan and Hoban’s heirs. Some people suggested that it should be a more literal representation, perhaps a copy of the White House.

    “That is the last thing Hoban would have done, to copy something that was not of his time,” Mr Price said.

    Hoban, James (c.1758–1831). Irish-born, he emigrated to America in 1785. He won the competition to design the President’s House, Washington, DC, with a proposal (1792) originally based on Leinster House, Dublin, but altered at the request of Washington and Jefferson. As built, the White House, (1793–1801, rebuilt 1814–29) was derived from plate 41 of Gibbs’s A Book of Architecture (1728). His other Washington buildings (hotels, houses, and Government buildings) no longer exist.


    Architecture, xi (1981), 66–82;
    ARe xi (1901), 581–9;
    Dictionary of American Biography (1932);
    Goode (1979);
    Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, xxviii/2 (May 1969), 135–6;
    Maddex (1973);
    Reiff (1977);
    Ryan & and Guinness (1980)