FitzGerald, Desmond (1911–87), architect, was born 5 November 1911 at Saint-Jean-du-Doigt (Finisterre) in Brittany, France, eldest of four sons of Desmond FitzGerald (qv), writer and future minister for external affairs in the Irish Free State government, and his wife Mabel, daughter of John McConnell (1844–1928), managing director of Dunville's Royal Irish Distillery, Belfast. Owing to the peripatetic existence of his parents after their return to Ireland, he attended a number of primary schools, including Gavan Duffy's, Scoil Bhríghde, and Fr John Sweetman's (qv) in Wexford; spent two years or so at Clongowes Wood College and Belvedere College; and then went to Switzerland, where he attended the Collège Cantonal Saint-Michel at Fribourg and the Collegio Don Bosco, Maroggia, on Lake Lugano, thus acquiring a good command of French and Italian. He entered UCD to study architecture (October 1930) and graduated B.Arch. Finding employment in Dublin with the Department of Industry and Commerce, he was appointed designer of the terminal building at Dublin (Collinstown) airport (1937). After its completion (1940), owing to the government's need to keep it secret for security reasons during the Emergency, the design did not receive the recognition it deserved, but in 1943 FitzGerald was awarded the triennial gold medal of the Royal Society of Architects of Ireland for the work, its admirers viewing the terminal as an elegant gateway to postwar Ireland.
On his appointment as president of the Architects Association of Ireland, he gave an inaugural address focusing on a definition of modern architecture, and noted: ‘It is possible that if public interest in architecture is lacking, it will be produced in such a rarefied atmosphere that it will gasp for breath amidst subtleties of interest only to architects themselves. If this should happen, illusion and vulgarity will readily fill the place – illusion to meet the nostalgia of some and vulgarity the aspirations of others.’ In keeping with these sentiments, the architectural practice that he established in Merrion Square, Dublin, after the war was responsible for the design of the Moyne Institute, TCD (1953), a compromise that pleased both modernists and traditionalists. In defending his selective use of aspects of the modernist movement, he suggested that the originality sought by some planners reduced architecture to the level of fashion. His business acumen and concern for cost control prevented financial risks through architectural radicalism, an approach that brought him much success among office and housing developers in the 1950s and 1960s. He was involved in major developments including O'Connell Bridge House, D'Olier House, St Ann's (a block of luxury apartments in Donnybrook on the south side of Dublin), and a Dublin corporation scheme of flats in Dominick St. Among other significant projects were the headquarters of Cement Ltd at the corner of Pembroke St. and Fitzwilliam Square, the EEC commission's Dublin office in Molesworth St., and what became for a time the Department of Justice building on Stephen's Green.
Whether Fitzgerald's passion was ever directed towards architecture is debatable. An oft-repeated comment was that he could have been so many things, and never gave his heart to any one course. Early in his life he had expressed an ambition to be an astronomer; he had a reputation as an exceptional mathematician and confided occasionally that he should never have been an architect, but an economist. Perhaps it was this lack of conviction that made him an ineffective professor of architecture at UCD, the position to which he was appointed in 1951, beginning a tenure that was devoid of innovation and witnessed him waiting for a consensus to emerge among the professional institutes as to how the UCD school of architecture should develop. A reluctance to see the merits of education for the profession in modern conditions led to conflict with students determined to ensure external recognition of their architecture degrees. They initiated a successful campaign to have him replaced, and castigated his failure to ensure sufficient resources to guarantee that recognition of their qualifications in Britain would not be put at risk. His brother Garret (qv), who later served as a Fine Gael taoiseach, suggested that ‘he was simply too lacking in aggression to force the issue with the [UCD] president of the day’. He relinquished the professorship (June 1969), was appointed to a newly created research chair of architecture and town planning, and also served as a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute. A committed conservationist and antique collector, Fitzgerald played a leading part in the unsuccessful effort to save Frascati House in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, once the home of Lord Edward FitzGerald (qv). He remained in practice till shortly before his death in Dublin, 14 January 1987.
He married (July 1938) Kay, daughter of Christopher Gore-Grimes, a Dublin solicitor, and from 1945 the couple lived in what he called ‘the largest cottage in Ireland’, St Declan's, Killiney, Co. Dublin. They had three children: Catherine, Desmond and Caroline.