A bold and controversial architect who left his mark on Dublin

Sam Stephenson: Sam Stephenson, who has died suddenly aged 72, was one of Ireland's best-known architects

Sam Stephenson: Sam Stephenson, who has died suddenly aged 72, was one of Ireland's best-known architects. He left his mark through a series of striking buildings around Dublin, such as the Central Bank and the Civic Offices, which gave rise to praise and criticism.

His warmth and generosity attracted many loyal friends from all walks of life.

Critics associated him with some of the destruction of Georgian Dublin, often unfairly. He designed the new ESB offices in Fitzwilliam Street but the decision to demolish a block of the original houses had been already taken. Similarly with the redevelopment of the corner of Hume Street, where his design was a Georgian reproduction.

What was denounced as the "bunker" design of the new Civic Offices on Wood Quay behind Christ Church was harder to defend. But to Stephenson's chagrin, the then Corporation refused to implement his plans for the second phase, which would have softened the effect of the original towers. This phase was later carried out by a rival architect, Ronald Tallon. Stephenson was not allowed to enter the competition.

Stephenson shrugged off the storm of criticism, saying that James Gandon, who designed the Custom House, was also pursued around Dublin for his Custom House and Four Courts designs.

It is often overlooked that Stephenson was responsible for other brilliantly designed structures in addition to the Central Bank, which has an international reputation. There was much controversy when it was discovered that the height was going to be 30 feet higher than approved and the firm was fined about £200,000. The copper roof was left off but put on 18 years later.

His other designs include the former Bord na Mona headquarters in Baggot Street, the prizewinning Currency Centre or Mint in Sandyford, the Institute of Advanced Studies, Fitzwilliam tennis club and the Fieldcrest factory in Kilkenny. Most of his big projects have won awards, national and international.

Sam Stephenson was born in Dublin on December 15th, 1933. His father, Paddy Stephenson, was the city librarian and a founder of the Old Dublin Society. He had fought in the 1916 Rising. He was later involved in the restoration of Kilmainham Gaol. It was not surprising that his son would also be involved actively in Fianna Fáil in the early stages of his career.

Sam was the youngest of five brothers, the others being Patrick, Dan, Desmond and Noel, all of whom made reputations in various careers but predeceased him. Sam was educated at Belvedere College, where he won a Leinster Senior Cup medal in 1951. He had an uncle, Fr James Stephenson, who was a well-known Jesuit. He studied architecture at Bolton Street College of Technology. In 1956 he won a travelling scholarship and did not sit for the diploma in architecture - he was granted an honorary diploma in 1972. In the meantime he had taken the examinations of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, which later awarded him a fellowship. He set up in practice in 1957 and won the competition for the new ESB building. In 1960 he and his former classmate, Arthur Gibney, set up practice together as Stephenson, Gibney Associates.

Sam at this time was an active member of Fianna Fáil, as part of a think tank, and also in Taca, the fundraising organisation for the party among wealthy business people, many of them in the construction industry. He also became friendly with Charles Haughey, a friendship that survived up to the latter's death earlier this year. He served for a time on the Film Censorship Appeals Board and on the board of Kilkenny Design Workshops. He once ran for a seat in the Seanad but dropped out when he discovered his brother was also running on a different panel.

He was married in 1958 to Bernadette Flood, with whom he had two sons and two daughters. Their first home was in a mews coach-house in Leeson Close, which he restored. It later became famous for parties and social occasions. A striking feature was a sunken area in the living room giving a Roman bath effect.

In 1970, Stephenson designed the Irish Pavilion for Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan. He also re-modelled a Huguenot church in Bride Street as his new offices, which at one time employed 140 people.

The partnership with Arthur Gibney ended but Sam arranged a merger with a British company called Stone Toms. The new company was called Stone Toms Stephenson. It entailed Sam spending much time in London and travelling around the world but he kept on Stephenson Associates and eventually came back fulltime to Dublin. He had a house in Islington and kept up a vigorous social life in London, where Princess Margaret is said to have asked for a recording of his rendering of Raglan Road.

When his marriage broke up he married Caroline Sweetman and they had two sons. He eventually moved his practice first to Bloomfield Avenue and then to Leixlip.

He was never afraid to take on critics and could win them over at times. Frank McDonald, the Environment Editor of this newspaper, wrote scathingly about some of Stephenson's buildings in a book about 20 years ago but they later became good friends.

McDonald has described him as "one of the most generous people I have met. He never held a grudge and was a great raconteur." He was a frequent guest on radio and television programmes. At the time of the death of Charles Haughey, whom he visited frequently at Kinsealy, he recounted some humourous episodes from the time they campaigned together in the 1960s for Seán Lemass.

When he was interviewed by investigators into Ansbacher account holders, he was quoted in the subsequent report as saying: "I understand the Cayman Islands are a kind of lump of sand in the middle of the Pacific." He insisted that his money invested in Ansbacher by the late Des Traynor had been taken out before such investments became illegal.

In later years, his architectural style changed. As he put it himself: "I used to be an apostle of modern architecture but I've given up that religion completely and am now an atheist. I go to bed with Palladio in the evening and get up with Lutyens."

He is survived by his wife Caroline, and their two sons, Sebastian and Zachary. He is also survived by his previous wife Bernie, their two daughters, Karen and Bronwyn, and two sons, Mark and Sam.

Sam Stephenson: born December 15th, 1933; died November 9th, 2006