Richard Pierce

Prolific Fermanagh born architect

Richard Pierce plans to retire as a working architect in September 2005. Already the firm which he established in 1978 is called Maxwell Pierce and will be run in the future by Billy Maxwell.

The Pierce family have been builders in County Fermanagh for seven generations. Richard`s great grandfather built the Convent school for girls in Enniskillen. His grandfather built the Coop Bakery which has now been demolished and his father Bertie built the new buildings at
Portora
Royal
School
. It is 50 years since Bertie
Pierce restored

Florence Court

, following the fire which destroyed the west wing in 1955.

 

Richard Pierce was ‘to the manor born’.  As a young boy he followed his father around building sites familiarising himself with the practical side of the business while appreciating at first hand the beauty of the
lakeland
terrain and drumlin landscapes of his home county.

 

A visit to
Inishrath
Island
where his father was building a home for a wealthy businessman lingers in his mind. The still calm of a hot summer day was broken only by the sound of insects buzzing as their boat ran ashore.

 

Richard`s maternal grandfather who was head gardener at Florence Court lived in a charming cottage in the walled garden. So impressed was Richard by the geometry, the size and scale of that garden in particular and the estate in general that he had no fear of those dimensions in later life.

 

In a gap year between his A Levels at
Portora
Royal
School
and studying architecture at
Edinburgh
University
, Richard worked for Ian Storey, a well known Enniskillen architect. His memories of student life in Harold Wilson`s socialist Britain were a definite release from the stifling class conscious public school atmosphere of Portora.

 

For his year out from university he headed for
America
and found himself at the age of 21 standing in for an ailing employer and shouldering the responsibility of designing not one but four Romanesque churches for the Italian community in north east
Pennsylvania
.

 

When Richard set up his own practice in Enniskillen he gradually built up a faithful

clientele. Looking back he says the majority of his work came through word of mouth and no amount of advertising would have made any difference. In the beginning he feels he was to some degree trading on the Pierce family name. 

 

In architectural terms, Enniskillen, a Planter town founded on an island in the Erne waterway has suffered the same fate as most modernised towns in Northern Ireland with elegant buildings such as Wellington Place, a superb Georgian terrace built in the nineteenth century for British Army officers and their wives, being demolished by town planners to make way for road development.

 

Happily

Willoughby Place

, a similar terrace which runs from the Brook to the gates of
Portora
Royal
School
remains intact. The long main street retains its original layout and even if some modern shopfronts lack the charm of the more traditional stores, the town`s churches, banks and municipal buildings are in keeping with the original market town atmosphere. Some side streets such as
Regal
Pass
and

Middleton Street

have been opened up for new traders.

 

Richard Pierce tastefully restored the Butter Market as a centre for art studios, craft shops and a restaurant. The former Orange Hall has kept its exterior walls but Richard completely rebuilt the interior which is now the town`s Intec Centre.

Following the Rembrance day bomb in 1987 when eleven civilians were killed, Richard redesigned the 1922 War Memorial attaching doves to the pedestal of the bronze soldier.

 

The Clinton Centre, opened by President Bill Clinton, is a modern Maxwell Pierce design. Erected on a bombed site opposite the cenotaph it has received some criticism from local people mainly because of its colour scheme. Richard Pierce is unapologetic. Perhaps a suggested plan to floodlight the war memorial casting a reflection of the lone soldier on the gable wall of the Centre would give added symbolism to the building.

 

While Richard Pierce admires the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Kahn, Corbusier, and Mies Van der Rohe, he feels the International Modern Movement matters only when it expresses a national identity and combines with the spirit of a place. He believes in designing a building for a place rather than imposing a building on it.

 

That is why he so admires the modern churches of Liam McCormick, a Donegal based architect, for they conjure up an ancient
Ireland
; they acknowledge the past and are rooted in the landscape yet they are idiosyncratic which gives them a long lasting appeal.

 

In that sense he is proud of the work he did on Carlow Cathedral where he rebuilt the altar to the dismay of some critics. He describes himself not so much as a great artist, but a professional who has given his life`s work for his own people. He gets most pleasure from the process of architectural creation and his interaction with clients who often become good friends.

 

Richard has designed private houses for Lord Belmore at Castlecoole and for the actor Adrian Dunbar. He is proud of a home he created at the Curragh, Co
Dublin
, for  the daughter of former Taoisach, Charles Haughey. Also, an 8,000 square foot country house set in forty acres of land in Kinsale and a lighthouse converted to a seaside cottage on the Ards peninsula in Co Down. Many of his clients seek his advice on interior design such as wood panelling, bookshelves and furniture, and value his eye for colour.

 

As official architect for the
Church of
Ireland
diocese of Clogher, he has advised on the preservation of churches and church buildings. He designed the new See house in Fivemiletown where the present bishop lives. He has put his particular architectural stamp on new buildings like the Tir Navar visitors centre in Derrygonnelly and an outward bound centre in Garrison.

 

In conjunction with the Pushkin Trust, he has designed a Pushkin house on the Baronscourt estate where young writers will find the leisure and the space to get in touch with their creative selves.

 

The house Richard Pierce designed for himself at Dresternan near Derrygonnelly bears witness to all of his core beliefs. The site was chosen for its views over Carrick lake and Langalinny mountain. The house has been built in the round like an ancient Irish rath. It is certainly idiosyncratic and totally modern yet completely practical.

 

The interior is largely open plan with small circular snugs. The main room receives light from a wall of glass windows which are covered at night by large wooden shutters. Throughout the house, much attention has been paid to the harmonisation of colour: saffron yellows, rust reds, and charcoal greys contrast with the traditional whitewash finish on some of the interior stone walls. A specially woven Irish tapestry, a collection of instruments from around the world and chosen art objects add colour and character to the interior of a most remarkable building.

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