Memorial to Irish architect of White House unveiled in Kilkenny


A MEMORIAL to the Kilkenny-born architect of the White House, James Hoban, is being unveiled this evening, 100 yards from his birthplace near Callan. The structure, commemorating 250 years since the architect's birth, has taken just nine days to build.

The project began when the Thom Penney, president of the American Institute of Architects, came to Ireland in 2004 and spotted the plaque to Hoban and decided that it wasn't really fitting memorial to the man who designed the White House in 1792. He won the commission in a design competition judged by George Washington.

Penney, whose colleague Dennis Blaschke is a decedent of Hogan's, gathered together people to create more substantial memorial. These included Kathleen Lane of the AIA and James Hoban Society, and Travis Price who runs the Spirit of Place masters programme at the Catholic University of America, in Washington.

This involves architecture students designing and building monuments across the world, including five in Mayo, that take the essence of Modernism and mix it with the "cultural and mythical emotions at the base of us all" to create "archaeology of tomorrow".

Around 25 American students paid for their flights and lodging and have built the monument - on the Kilkenny-Cashel road - with around 15 Irish people in just eight days. Kilkenny Council has facilitated the project and laid the concrete foundations.

The monument is designed as a metaphor for Hoban's life: which mirrors the American dream, from rags to riches.

He was born on a large estate and the Cuffe family who owned it paid for his architectural education with the Royal Dublin Society who once owned Leinster House, a building which the White House is said to be inspired by.

Hoban is also thought to have designed the Palladian style Rossenarra House in Kilmoganny, Co Kilkenny.

The Callan memorial starts as a simple stone wall which gradually becomes more refined. "The walk along those walls goes through Hoban's character from rough low ground to high ground, to end in white carrera marble that is symbolic of the White House.

That carrera marble takes us back to the heart of Roman classicism," says Price, who points out that Hoban was designing in the style required by his client and that, if he were designing today, he may have created something more like this memorial.

Hogan's graduation through the ranks is more literally spelled out in frosted glass screens which bear adjectives such as 'struggle', 'rough' and 'polished' in both Gaelic and English.

At the end of the walkway is a white cube with a glass roof carrying a drawing of the main façade of the White House, which reflects onto the white wall on sunny days.

Hoban's birth place has been demolished but it is hoped that stones from his - or the estate house - can be dug up and used to make a memorial to Hoban in Washington, perhaps at the White House itself.