Butler, Rudolph Maximilian (1872–1943), architect, professor, and editor, was born 30 September 1872 in Dublin, only son of John Butler (d. 1882), barrister, and Augusta Butler (née Brassart), a German from Schleswig-Holstein. He was educated in Dublin and (after the death of his father) in Germany, returning to Dublin c.1888. Articled (c.1891) to the architect W. G. Doolin, he later became his assistant and partner (1896).
He developed an extensive practice including hospitals, schools, libraries (including the Carnegie library, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, completed 1912), and many catholic churches, notably the Hiberno-Romanesque church of St Patrick, Newport, Co. Mayo (design accepted 1914) and churches in Paris, London, and Glasgow. Appointed consulting engineer to Rathdown rural district council (1902), he designed over 500 cottages in Co. Wicklow and Co. Dublin. In 1912 he won the competition for the UCD building, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin (part of which later formed the foyer of the National Concert Hall); one of the earliest neo-classical public buildings in Ireland, monumental, severe, and built in limestone, it has a main façade composed of a colonnaded entrance, flanking wings, and pavilions. Commercial buildings included Gorevan's store, 1–4 Camden St. Lower, Dublin (1925–7), which expressed his approach to modernism with its undisguised use of concrete combined with such traditional features as a classical balustrade.
A promoter of the professionalisation of architecture and the development of architectural education, he was a founder member (1896) and officer of the revived Architectural Association of Ireland, represented the RIAI on the RIBA council and board of architectural education (1925), and gave evidence before the technical education commission (1927). He became NUI examiner in architecture (1923) and is credited with persuading UCD to revive its school of architecture which had been in abeyance since the death of W.A. Scott (qv) in 1921. During his professorship at UCD (1924–42), the number of students rose from three to over 100, the curriculum was expanded, studios provided, and a five-year course was instituted in the mid 1930s; the RIBA recognised the UCD degree in 1937.
Butler served as editor of the Irish Builder (1899–1935), changed its title to Irish Builder and Engineer (1903), and modernised its format; it greatly increased in size, was wide-ranging and progressive in its coverage of all aspects of building and engineering, and quoted extensively from foreign journals. He contributed well written leading articles and an anonymous column, ‘Topical touches’, which showed his keen interest in architectural history and contemporary architecture. Independent and forceful in his views, important as an observer and critic, he frequently attacked new movements in art and architecture and often spoke of the ‘lunacy’ of modernism; he favoured an evolving approach, arguing that a great modern architecture will never grow out of a complete disavowal of the past. Impatient with the fashion for a revival of the Celtic tradition in architecture, he argued that a modern Irish architectural style could be original and distinctive, given its native building materials and traditions, and should be ‘simple. . . bold and vigorous, but very refined – indeed almost severe’ and sensitive to modern requirements ([Butler], ‘A native style of architecture’, Ir. Builder, lxvii, no. 19 (19 September 1925), 770). Though he was considered conservative, his early enthusiasm for new methods and materials – as in his appreciation of steel and of concrete used either as a skeleton and faced with stone or brick or in its own right, ‘visible and unashamed’ – has been seen as a significant contribution to modern architecture in Ireland.
He held membership and office in the RIAI, the RIBA, the ICEI, the RSAI, and the RHA, was a founder member of the Georgian Society (1908), and was elected MRIA (1919); his distinctions included the award of the ICEI Mullins silver medal (1926) for a paper on architectural engineering, and an honorary NUI M. Arch. (1931). The IAA holds a collection of his drawings and documents.
Known as ‘R. M.’ and as a ‘character’, he shunned all publicity. Austere in speech and manner, unwilling to suffer fools gladly, among his friends he was an agreeable conversationalist, hospitable, and appreciated for his sound advice. A protestant, he married (1911) Annie Gibbons, a catholic; their son and three daughters were brought up as catholics. He lived in a house of his own design at 73 Ailesbury Rd, Dublin. He died 3 February 1943 in Dublin and was buried in St Mary's church, Donnybrook, Dublin. His practice, R. M. Butler & Co., was continued by his son, John Geoffrey, and his daughter Eleanor (qv), later countess of Wicklow.