A box in the field: modernity and the barn in twentieth-century Ireland

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    This paper argues that the modern barn in Ireland is a complex social and architectural phenomena that is without, or has yet to find, a satisfactory discourse. Emerging in the middle third of the twentieth century, the modern barn – replete with corrugated iron and I-sections – continues to represent a presence in the Irish landscape whose ubiquity is as emphatic as its flexibility. It is, however, its universal properties that begin to suggest connections with wider narratives. The modernising aspects of the barn that appear in the 1920s and 30s begin to conflate with a rhetoric of architectural modernism which was simultaneously appearing across Europe. But while the relationship between high modernism’s critique of what it divined as the inspirational qualities of utilitarian buildings – Walter Gropius on grain silos, Le Corbusier on aircraft hangers etc. – has been well-documented, in Ireland this relationship perhaps contains another layer of complexity.
    The barn’s consolidation as a modern type coincided with the search for a nation’s cultural identity after centuries of colonial rule. This tended to be an introspective vision that prioritised rural space over urban space, agriculture over industry, and imagined the small farm as a central tenet in the construction of a new State. This paper suggests that the twentieth-century barn – as a product of the mechanisation of agriculture promoted by the new administrations – is an iconic structure, emblematic of attempts to reconcile the contradictory forces and imagery of modernity with the mores of a traditional society. Moreover, given a cultural purview that was often ambivalent or even hostile to the ideologies and forms of modernity, the barn in Ireland is, perhaps, not so much the inspiration but the realisation of an architectural modernism in that country at its most pervasive, enduring and unself-conscious.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages10
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010
    EventSociety of Architectural Historians (SAH) 63rd Annual Meeting - Chicago, United States
    Duration: 15 Apr 201018 Apr 2010


    ConferenceSociety of Architectural Historians (SAH) 63rd Annual Meeting
    Country/TerritoryUnited States


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