Huge output mirrored by profoundly spiritual persona


The architect, Andy Devane, who died in Calcutta on January 15th, aged 83, wrote to Frank Lloyd Wright in 1946. Citing his low opinion of the works of Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus, he ended his missive with a provocation: "I cannot make up my mind whether you are in truth a great architect or just another phoney." Wright responded: "Come along and see." Andy Devane, to the consternation of his family and partners, Johnny Robinson, Dick Keefe, and his great friend Paddy Robinson, did just that. The rest is history.

The critic, Brian Fallon in his Age of Innocence confronted the stereotype of Ireland as a backwater in this period. In our fumbling way we were producing a generation of nation builders, engaging with the centres of global ideas. Robin Walker sought out Mies Van der Rohe and Le Corbursier. Luan Cuffe sought out Groupius. This diaspora was to result in shaping the architecture of the young state.

Andy Devane would never have consciously promoted himself, nor seen himself, as a shaper of Irish lives and places. But he was that, and a lot more. His prodigious output was mirrored by a generous, private and profoundly spiritual persona. He led by example - galvanising the design and construction process towards a holistic vision. His capacity to be "economical" while imbuing his work with warmth, light and tactility was remarkable.

He was educated locally in Limerick, where his father was a respected GP, and at Belvedere College, Dublin, Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare and UCD. It is no coincidence that a huge proportion of Andy Devane's energy and output was in the realm of caring, learning and the spirit.

His hospital work in Dublin included Tallaght (for which he dispatched concept drawings, by courier, from Rome to his competition project team in Dublin); Mount Carmel; The Meath and St Vincent's Private Hospital. St Patrick's Training College, Gonzaga College and the Wrightian vocational school in Emmet Road, Inchicore are among his educational projects.

His urban projects, notably Dublin's Stephen's Court and the Irish Life Centre, heralded the renaissance of Dublin. His AIB Centre in Ballsbridge combined classic urban ideals with Wrightian principles, particularly in its employment of quality landscaping.

He designed the Irish Pavilion at the New York World Fair, 1964. His hidden hand divined a way of directing millions through Bunratty Folk Park.

His churches, including St Fintan's in Sutton, rank among the finest in Ireland.

In late 1999 he designed a boys' home in Calcutta where he spent the last 19 years of his life in the service of the destitute. Wright's dictum: "What a man does, that he has" could be an epitaph. The gift of his spirit lives in a prophetic extract from his reflections on architecture as contained in the publication About Wright - An Album of Recollections by Those who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright (1983): "Surely it is high time that all artists and architects with integrity consciously and courageously abandon our mushy wordy golden gods and gurus, and wade out of the swamplands into a clear, spare, better post-materialist world. It is truly here now for any individual who has the faith and heart to enter it, live it and share it in small, simple and sane ways."

Andy Devane was predeceased by his wife, Maureen, in 1977. He is survived by his sons Richard, Martin and Tony, and his brother and sisters.

Andrew Devane: born 1917; died January, 2000