James Hoban Memorial, County Kilkenny, Ireland

A Catholic University of America architecture studio designed this project in three months, and 23 of the students constructed it in nine days to honor the 250th anniversary of White House designer James Hoban’s birth in rural County Kilkenny, Ireland.

Site and Context

The installation is located near the spot of Hoban’s ancestral home, a two-room thatched cottage, long demolished, but still remembered by the local residents. The memorial is sited along a gentle curve on a country road, which is also a well-traveled heritage corridor.

Design Metaphor and Spirit of Hoban

The memorial to Hoban offers a metaphor for his life’s progression from the servitude and adversity he faced in Ireland, toward freedom in America, where he achieved triumph with the design of the White House, a building that prevails as a recognized symbol of freedom and democracy to this day.

Organized as a processional, the memorial’s path leads up a slightly sloped ramp, to a series of three stone walls constructed of local Kilkenny limestone. The first wall is rough-hewn and reminiscent of the dry-stacked stone walls that divide open pasture and are prevalent in the Irish countryside. This wall represents Hoban’s rough beginnings and roots in this rural domain. Progressively, the walls grow more refined. The second wall is of a chopped limestone marked with fossils and natural circular patterns of embedded granite. The third wall is a coursed peened stone similar to the stone of Hoban’s patron’s manor house.

The paving stones are also of the same peened stone, known as “Kilkenny black marble” for the color it takes on after one of region’s frequent rain showers. The final walls are of white polished Carrera marble to invoke Classical references to the roots of democracy and represent Hoban’s achievement with the design of the White House. The white Carrera walls and floors in the final monumental space create a meditative white cube, with a clear roof plane of glass that appears to hover overhead. The glass is etched with Hoban’s presentation drawing of the White House, which reflects on the adjacent stone walls and, in turn, mirrors the clouds and patterns of the ever-changing Irish sky.

Interspersed along the path, and representing adversities Hoban overcame, are a series of eight-foot etched glass panels. The words float and reflect on the glass and along the path as poetic expressions of Hoban’s character and experience. These lyrics, with English words mirrored in Gaelic, progress from initial invocations of struggle and adversity (rendered in opaque glass), through strength gained, to expressions of triumph and accomplishment. The final space in the procession is open on the side toward the field where Hoban’s cottage stood to “bring the White House home” in a direct visual link to the birthplace site, with the White House image and a plaque inscribed with a short history of Hoban’s life.

By night, the low-voltage LED lighting appears subdued to passers-by along the road. But up close the memorial is brilliantly illuminated, and the spotlights highlight the rough surfaces of the stone in contrast to the clean and smooth glass, the clear light mesmerizing upon the reflective etched text surfaces. Lyrics merge in view along the path leading to the dazzling white Carrera final space, with bright stars as a backdrop to the White House image in the glass panel overhead.

Design and Construction Process

The architecture students undertook a semester-long design process in the spring prior to the construction. They studied Hoban’s experience within the historical and cultural context of Irish, and early American history. They worked individually at first, creating metaphors for the Spirit of Hoban in poetic and sculptural form, and then collaboratively, honing themes into a final design and model. Finally, they developed construction documents.

During the extremely intense nine-day construction phase in early August 2008, the 23 students experienced their own struggles and adversities, testing their strength carrying stone and learning a variety of new construction skills. They worked alongside several local stone masons and quickly learned to build the six walls (representing four different stone construction methods); lay the floor paving; install the glass panels, roof, and lighting; and complete the final landscaping, including leveling the ground and laying sod.

A Final Triumph in the Spirit of Hoban

On the eighth day of construction, the local county council dedicated the memorial to the public, which the local parish pries presiding and leading a gospel choir in song. Hundreds of local commnity members attended the dedication, which was followed by a barn dance in the adjacent farmer’s barn with traditional music and revelry. It was a fitting triumphant and spirited evening in the process of creating a memorial to honor the spirit and triumph of James Hoban. Tour buses rolled in the next day from all over Ireland and America.

Faculty Advisers:
Travis L. Price III, FAIA, and Kathleen Lane, Assoc. AIA

Adam Achrati, Ashley Allison, Bobby Blabolil, Amy Boyek, Jennifer Butler, Allen Custer, Kelly Davies, Chris Demartino, Will Easterlin, Jenna Edelmayer, Matthew Grace, Chris Gummo, Edmond Hardy, Matthew Horn, Andrew Kracht, Victoria Kulbick, Sheila Heather Lee, Gina Longo, Sara Lotz, Corey Mack, Patrick Manning, Ashley Marshall, Megan McGinnis, Michael McGinnis, David Pilkenton, Jeremy Prus, Samantha Ritts, Sarah Spanagel, Jessica Sticklor Lipson, Erik Wyche

Photographs by Travis L. Price III, FAIA

The 2012 Inform Awards jury one honor award in Landscape Architecture, one honor award and two merit awards in Object Design, and two honor awards and one merit award in Interiors. You can read about those projects here. The jury also identified 28 projects as worthy of recognition for design excellence. ReadInform.com will publish those projects throughout the year, and they can be seen in aggregate here.

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