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1759 – West Front, Trinity College Dublin

Architect: Theodore Jacobsen




Until recently it was assumed that two english architects Henry Keene and John Sanderson were responsible for the design of the main west front of Trinity College. However newer evidence points to the english amateur architect Theodore Jacobsen. In 1751, the board of the college asked Parliament across the road for financial help in reconstruction. As any unspent money was returned to the English Parliament, the Irish MPs were very receptive to spending all their money in Dublin and finance was forthcoming. The result was that Trinity was housed more grandly than any college in Cambridge or Oxford.

Originally the 150ft long frontage was to be crowned with three copper cupolas , one at either end and a massive one in the centre, until a returning traveller from Europe who obviously had some political clout objected to them on the ground that no where to be met with in Italy in such buildings’. The cupola on the north side was even constructed and until recently its footprint could be seen from above. The massive vaulting for the central cupola still exists at ground level.

The external design in a modified plainer form was used in the quadrangle known as Parliament Square after the munificence that allowed it to be built. Trinity had close links with Parliament – having two Members of its own and anyone in a college gown had the automatic right of entry to debates in the House of Commons – a privilege revoked by Speaker Foster in 1795.

Originally William Chambers when designing the Chapel and Examination Hall wanted Parliament Square to be completed with a range of monumental building in the area of the present Campanile. This has left the square open at one end losing the sense of a quadrangle and monumentality when viewed from the west. From the east the square with the chapel and examination hall retains a sense of Chamber’s plans.