Friday, August 31, 2012

IFI20: Finding home in Temple Bar

Epiphanies are uncommon. Mine happened in the company of the architect John Tuomey,  of O’Donnell and Tuomey, in late Spring of 1986.
The Quaker community was offering for sale its place of worship on Eustace Street, just beside the site for the new bus station for the entire country, and we went to see it. 
It took ten minutes – “the big cinema goes here, the smaller in the women’s meeting room; one projection box for both cinemas; offices on top; the bar and restaurant go there at the front; the archive and education officer in the toilet block”.
John saw the opened up courtyard in the middle if we raised the roof, which I had not noticed, and the building went from being perfect to beautiful as well. 
IFI A.D. 2011

The National Film Institute, as it was then called, had a debt, its own building on Harcourt Street and a very committed Board as it’s rather limited supply of assets.  We had conceived the idea of a new building some time earlier.  As an eccentric planning exercise we identified a site on Trinity Street that we did not own, (and could not buy) and commissioned O’Donnell and Tuomey to design a theoretical film centre to see what we might need.  The drawings won an AAI award in 1986.  So we knew in some detail what it was that we wanted.  That the Quakers had spent decades building our exact building was something of a surprise.
Architectural model for the IFI by O'Donnell and Tuomey Architects

The Quaker community asked for closed bids which had to describe the intended use of the building.  We proposed the lowest price we thought feasible – which we did not have – and had to ask the Quakers to allow a delay in payment while we raised the money to make the purchase. 
The Opening of the Irish Film Centre, 23rd September 1992

My memory, I’m relieved to say, is something of a blur after that.  A good deal of blood (much of it mine), sweat and time - six years - was expended, very much more that any of us thought when we set about building the place.  The bus station morphed into Temple Bar; we sold Harcourt Street, moved briefly into Eustace Street, hosted occasional gigs to raise money, spent some time in North Frederick Street, then Burton Chambers in Dame Street; every time we turned around the price went through the roof; the toilet block had to be knocked down; everybody who put money in extracted a price (see reference to blood and sweat above); when it looked like it was failing, which was often, everybody knew who to blame; when it looked like it was succeeding the number claiming credit was greater than the number in the GPO in Easter 1916. 
IFI events: screening of Some Like It Hot in Meeting House Square

The truth of course is that it is a fantastic success and a credit to the very large number of people who committed to the idea; who raised the funds; built the building and provided services to audiences and the film community for the twenty years of the Institutes life in its new building. 
David Kavanagh
Former Director of the Irish Film Institute (1986 - 1993)
Celebrating 20 years at our premises on Eustace Street in Temple Bar, join us for a host of special events, screenings, previews, tours (many of them free!) and the IFI Open Weekend in September - see full IFI20 Schedule online or follow our updates on Twitter via #IFI20

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