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Building of the Month - November 2014

Hendron Brothers aka The Hendron Building, 36-40 Dominick Street, Broadstone, Dublin 7

Hendron Brothers, Broadstone 01 - Representative View

Henrdron Brothers was established in 1911 by Francis Patrick Hendron and his four brothers, Felix, Henry, Thomas and Vincent.  The company was a supplier of electrical equipment, machinery, plant, pumps and sundry tools.  These they imported from Europe and the United States and sold to building contractors, engineers, harbour authorities, local authorities, and state and statutory bodies as well as to farmers and individual customers.  They also supplied an after sales service.  The company therefore needed premises that would provide a polite showroom as the public face of the business; a workshop for repairs, servicing and tool making; and offices and storage space.  Having purchased a site near Broadstone Station in 1935, construction did not start until 1946, continuing in fits and starts for thirteen years.

Václav Gunzl (1900-82) was the designer of the new Broadstone building.  An engineer rather than an architect, Gunzl was employed by Hendron Brothers as the manager of the machinery workshop.  Gunzl relocated to Ireland in the early 1930s, apparently following an invitation from the Free State government.  He was certainly in the country by 1937 when he is listed among those who offered their condolences to the Chancellor of the Czechoslovak Consulate on the death of Dr. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryrk.  Having previously worked on Jan Diederik Postma's alcohol factory (1938) in Labadish, County Donegal, Gunzl joined Hendron Brothers around 1939, remaining with the company until around 1960.

Progress on the building was slow for a number of reasons: there were two fires on site; there was a legal dispute with the owner of the adjoining house; and the building was built by direct labour with Hendron Brothers using their own workforce.  In addition, there were difficulties obtaining building materials following the Second World War with the cement and steel needed for reinforced concrete in short supply.

Hendron Brothers, Broadstone 02

Reinforced concrete emerged as a popular building material in Ireland in the first quarter of the twentieth century and many banks and public buildings of the period show thoroughly modern skeletons with flat roofs, albeit behind conservative Classical façades.  So the use of reinforced concrete per se was no longer innovative by the 1940s, but its frank expression at Hendron Brothers was by no means the norm.

The building comprises a four-storey front block concealing long, relatively lower engineering workshops to the rear.  The street frontage is well-ordered, undecorated and clearly functional.  The walls are rendered with subtle detailing in the form of buttress piers dividing the front along the plot lines of the four houses the new building replaced.  The rear walls, including the rear wall of the elevator tower, have an unfinished appearance, not only due to the unpainted surface but also because there are starter bars which indicate provisions for the future expansion of the premises.  Already four bays deep, it is possible that the building could have been extended to at least double this depth.

Hendron Brothers, Broadstone 03 - Engineering Workshops

A single-storey projection at street level forms a simple shopfront.  Symmetrical in itself, its asymmetrical positioning gives it the impression of a later, ad hoc development although it is most likely contemporaneous with the building.  In fact, the building itself is not quite symmetrical and the windows on the far left are slightly narrower than their neighbours.

The large windows demonstrate the modernity of the construction: walls are reduced to mere frames around each window and are clearly not load bearing in the traditional way.  The reeded glass blocks are said to have been specially imported from Czechoslovakia.

Hendron Brothers, Broadstone 04 - Windows   Hendron Brothers, Broadstone 05 - Windows

The influence of Modernism on Hendron Brothers is readily apparent.  The "New Architecture", as it was referred to in early twentieth-century Ireland, was not just a style, but a design philosophy that proposed that buildings be appropriate to their function with each individual component fulfilling its specific purpose.  Bearing this in mind, the Broadstone building can be set within a broader tradition of utilitarian structures in Ireland – farm buildings; garages; handball alleys – whose forms are dictated by their function rather than by decorative or fashionable concerns.  Its robust massing, spacious fenestration and lack of ornamentation can be interpreted as simply the most practical solution to the needs and requirements of the business.  Its reinforced concrete construction and gleaming white finish, meanwhile, appear to reference such iconic buildings as the Villa Tugendhat (1928-30), Brno, Czechoslovakia, by Mies van der Rohe; and the Villa Savoye (1929-31), Paris, by Le Corbusier.

The completion of Hendron Brothers was met with muted enthusiasm: there were no architectural awards; it was not the subject of architectural tours; and there was little or no mention of the building in contemporary architectural journals.  Nevertheless, it has attained iconic status and is rightly regarded as an outstanding example of the twentieth-century architectural heritage of Ireland.

Natalie de Róiste is a town planner and architectural historian.  She is working on a collaborative research project on twentieth-century architecture in Dublin, commissioned by Dublin City Council Heritage Department in association with the Heritage Council, and would like to acknowledge Shane O'Toole's contribution to the research on the Hendron Building.  She has worked on several surveys for the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage including Phase 2 of the Dublin City Survey and she is currently working on Phase 7 of the Dublin City Survey

FURTHER READING

O'Toole, Shane, "Rearview: The Hendon Building" in Architecture Ireland Number 249 (November-December 2009), p.75

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