Distinguished architect and valued teacher

 

The distinguished architect, Deirdre O'Connor died on October 3rd. She was an architect of conviction, a teacher by instinct and in practice, and, to her premature end, she was an inspiration in her intellectual honesty and rigour.

Born in Greystones, Co Wicklow, in 1951, her father died when she was 13, leaving her mother with five young children of whom she was the eldest. Her mother, Sheelagh, re-married in 1967 and died of cancer in 1994, soon after Deirdre's own diagnosis, in 1993, with the same disease. Her step-father, Dermod Rush, died in 1999.

Deirdre O'Connor studied in the College of Technology, Bolton Street and qualified as an architect in 1973. She worked with Robinson Keefe and Devane from 1973 to 1976, then won a Housing Research Fellowship at University College Dublin and, in 1978, published Housing in Dublin's Inner City. That same year, she joined Arthur Gibney & Partners and became a partner in the practice in 1981.

Her projects included an impressive range of buildings at Dublin City University - notably the James Larkin Lecture Theatre, the renovation of Dr Steevens' Hospital, Patrick Guilbaud's restaurant at the Merrion Hotel and the Bookend apartment building at Essex Quay, Temple Bar. She worked with commitment and dedication until August 31st 1999, the date of her retirement from full-time practice.

She was elected to membership of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland in 1976 and to fellowship in 1988. She served on the council of the RIAI for 15 years, including two years as vice-president: she was also the first female president of the Architectural Association of Ireland.

With the RIAI, she was joint editor of the Phaidon Architectural Guide to Dublin and a longserving member of the editorial board of the RIAI publication Irish Architect. To her roles as adjudicator of architectural competitions and as chairman of the RIAI Regional Awards and Gold Medal juries, she brought her hallmark traits of honesty, probity and integrity.

Deirdre O'Connor was a tutor in the School of Architecture, UCD from 1977 to 1990 and a visiting critic at the DIT School of Architecture, Bolton Street, from 1989 to 1992. She was an external examiner at the latter school in 1993, 1995 and 1996.

Her academic and professional record should be construed against the back-drop, in time and attitude, of the profession and industry in which she worked: while not a feminist, she was a distinctive and sometimes intimidating role model for younger women architects. Some who knew her in health sometimes - with good reason - feared her intellectual rigour and her occasional asperity. Deirdre O'Connor was concerned only with essential things, the rest to her were banal.

She was a house of many rooms. In the fullness of her health and the height of her considerable influence within the profession and on architectural culture, she allowed some - but not all - to see into one or two of those rooms. In her illness, this complex and contradictory character lowered her defences and cautiously allowed her innate warmth and generosity to shine through and invited us into the heart and hearth of her house.

She is survived by her brothers and sisters-in-law, her well-loved nieces and nephews, her friends, a grateful profession and, of course, her buildings.

Deirdre O'Connor: born 1951; died October, 1999