The housing issue across the city was very
severe. In 1932 we really focused in on slum clearance, and that’s where our friend Herbert Simms
comes into the story. These buildings have become grained in our
DNA, and the citizens walking around. To me, these communities are the heart of
the city. The housing has stood the test of time. That’s one of the reasons Herbert Simms is
so compelling, because he seems so hard working, and this
tragic end, really violent. This is Herbert Simms. If you live in Dublin, there’s a chance you
passed one of his buildings on your daily commute. Simms was the son of a London train driver, he studied architecture at Liverpool University, He came to Ireland in the 1920s on a temporary
contract and was eventually appointed, a newly created post of housing architect at Dublin Corporation in 1932. Tenements were still widespread in the city
he was tasked with housing. According to the census in 1901 this house came to be occupied by seventeen families. That amounts to over 100 people living in
this house. In the whole of the street according to the
census records there was 897 people living on the street. In the 1920s we have Cumann na nGaedheal politically speaking it’s much more of a middle-class maybe approach to the problem. Fianna Fail comes in in 1932 on the national
stage and that’s when you get this real push for
slum clearance. So Simms, spearheads this very important development of housing and a concerted effort to tackle
the slums. I was born in a tenement house on the third
floor, you only had one room in the tenements. And the one room was the bedroom, living room, dining room every other room you can think
of. I came here on the 25th February 1960, a blushing bride. Sort of. Even though the bath was in the kitchen, it was a bath, and they had a toilet which
we never had, so I didn’t have to listen to
my mother. So all in all, it was a good change. Between 1923 and 1931 new dwellings were being erected at an average rate of 555 per annum. The housing crisis was still severe, and housing tenements littered the city. In 1935 alone, 1,552 dwellings were completed and during the 16 years he was in office, Simms was responsible for the design and erection of some 17,000 new homes. One scheme that is generally fairly lauded and was published in a British Journal in
the 1940s is the Marrowbone Lane scheme which is behind
Guinness’s. Popular Row in Ballybough, Oliver Bond, Mary Aikenhead House, House which is protected at Townsend Street and Pearse Street, or Hanover, which again
is a protected scheme. So, These are the buildings, that form our backdrop as Dubliners, in a way a different type of backdrop to the Georgian Squares and
Terraces. But they have become ingrained in our DNA as citizens walking around, to the extent
that we don’t notice them, they’re such everyday experiences. Such backlots to our streetscapes. We’re in Pearse House flats and my grandmother was one of the first residents in the 1930s. And Pearse House is actually the largest municipal housing structure in the state. For its footprint it has more people living
here than anywhere else. So when people were moved into the flats from
tenement houses they were actually moved into the flats in
the same order it was a great way of maintaining communities. When I started taking photographs my mother always talked about the community here being special I did think think was all rose-tinted glasses but when I held an exhibition here, people flocked back from all over the world, actually. To me, these communities are the heart of
the city. If you look at the 1946 census, there’s still quite a lot of people in Dublin that are sharing toilets with other families. But if you look at the areas where the new
housing developments were, you can see, that they were actually living in better housing, than a lot of private homeowners. You see an awful lot of correspondence around Simms is providing people with the
best possible home they could have, even if it’s very pedantic, and he’s saying, ‘We have no
bakelite, we’re no timber, but I refuse to sign off
on this house until there are skirting boards and at least
two plug points.’ So, he seems to be really conscientious, and
possibly to his detriment. In Mary Aikenhead House his detail and consideration for the inhabitants extended to air raid precaution bomb shelters, and balconies that could accommodate beds which could have catered for the TB crisis
at the time. Chancery House dates from the end of the 1930s and it would seem that the scheme is made
when Simms and his team gained a bit of confidence. They’re certainly more playful with materials than you get in the earlier schemes. What we have here is the two-range scheme, the shorter side is fronted by this public
park, so there’s this beautiful moment of giving
back to the city, and even when you look at this
particular block, while we see it’s four storeys and flat roof
is overhanging we see that the four storeys are medicated
by a three story brick block, so it’s really kind to a city that likes low-rise architecture. It introduces people living on top of each
other in a city that had been ridden with tenements, which had become stigmatised in a fairly successful
manner. Simms also worked on expanding suburbs in Cabra, Ballyfermot and Crumlin. By the early 1950s, 6000 dwellings were built
in Crumlin alone, housing a population at the
time greater than Galway City. The twenties and the thirties were hungry
times in Ireland, and yet there was a political
will to tackle it. It wasn’t being pushed to private builders, and private developers to solve, that the
state was actively engaged in seeking solutions
to that problem, rather than say, ‘well, we can’t afford it,’ we couldn’t afford it, but we did it anyway. While we can turn around as architects and architectural historians and be superior and talk about this ambivalence of public space and private space, and design leads of ghettoisation and socio-economic problems contribute to
that further. The reality is that Herbert Simms and his
team whatever the dynamic was, it remains tantalisingly
unknown that they are heroes. But the 28th September 1948 an exhausted Simms threw himself in front of a train at Dún
Laoghaire. He died later that day from his injuries. A note found in his pocket read:- ‘I cannot stand it any longer, my brain is
too tired to work anymore, it has not had a rest for nearly
20 years. I think I’m going slowly mad. I haven’t designed the first floor fireplace yet, you see, I’ve
already gone barmy in the top storey myself’. Standing in contrast to the housing and flats
he helped design, his grave in Deansgrange cemetery lies neglected.

Herbert Simms: The architect who changed the streets of Dublin
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One thought on “Herbert Simms: The architect who changed the streets of Dublin

  • August 1, 2018 at 2:12 am
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    Wtf awful buildings Christ

    Reply

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