Pearce, Sir Edward Lovett (d. 1733), architect and surveyor, was probably born in the late 1690s. His father was Major-general Edward Pearce (d. 1715) of Witlingham, Norfolk, and Dublin, who was a brother of Major-general Thomas Pearce (d. 1739), and a first cousin of Sir John Vanbrugh. His mother, Frances Lovett, was a daughter of Frances O'Moore and Christopher Lovett, lord mayor of Dublin. His will referred to a sister Frances. Pearce first appears as a cornet in his father's regiment in 1714; he is listed as a half-pay cornet in 1720. His active captaincy seems to date from c.1721: in 1732 he was a captain in Molesworth's dragoons. Details of his education – architectural and otherwise – are scant, but when he travelled to France and Italy in 1723–4 he showed himself, in his annotations to Palladio's I quattro libri dell'architettura and in his drawings, to be a sensitive, learned, and discriminating architectural critic and scholar. How he came by this distinction is unclear: no records have been found to suggest that he was trained by his cousin Vanbrugh (whose drawings he inherited), or that he had first-hand contact with the 3rd earl of Burlington, who played a role in English architecture analogous to that played by Pearce in Ireland. He was, however, in close contact with his kinsmen the lst and 2nd viscounts Molesworth who, with their architect Alessandro Galilei, pioneered a neo-antique style of architecture for some years around 1717.
Pearce was the greatest architect in Ireland in the first half of the eighteenth century, and his greatest building, the Parliament House (latterly the Bank of Ireland) on College Green, Dublin, is a building of international significance. Earlier prominent classical architects in Ireland, Sir William Robinson (qv) and Thomas Burgh (qv), produced no work of a quality comparable with the best of their leading contemporaries abroad, whereas Pearce's Parliament House is a pioneering landmark in British and Irish neo-Palladianism. His career was short: it was noted in 1728 that he was beginning to make a name for himself in architecture, and five years later he was dead.
Among works in England with which he was connected, two stand out: a house for his acquaintance John Ligonier at 12 South Audley Street, London, attributed to Pearce on persuasive stylistic grounds, and an unexecuted project of c.1727 for a royal lodge in Richmond, Surrey, for which his drawings survive. The latter is an eclectic design of great splendour, in which a knowledge of continental Europe inflected more local Burlingtonian and Vanbrughian sympathies.
He was not yet fully established when he was asked to design the Parliament House in Dublin. Thomas Burgh, as surveyor general, had reason to expect the commission: a long tradition that the building was in reality designed for Pearce by his collaborator Richard Castle (qv) probably originated in the resentment felt at Pearce's ousting of Burgh. He must have relied, in his struggle to secure the work, on powerful political support. Advocates will have included Marmaduke Coghill (qv), for whom Pearce had designed Drumcondra House, Dublin, in 1727, and the speaker of the house of commons William Conolly (qv). The details of Pearce's involvement with the building of Castletown, Co. Kildare, for Conolly from 1722 remain to be clarified: it is usual to attribute to him the detailing of the entrance hall and the building of the curved colonnades and wings.
Pearce's design for the Parliament House (at least its internal arrangements) had taken shape by 1728; the foundation stone was laid in early 1729. Progress was rapid, and the building was ready for occupation in autumn 1731, though much still remained to be done on the front to College Green. Pearce was appointed surveyor and engineer general in 1731 following Burgh's death in the preceding year. He was knighted in 1732. On his death he was succeeded by Arthur Dobbs who saw to the completion of the building by the end of 1739. Pearce was assisted by Richard Castle, and a full analysis of Pearce's style awaits a clearer picture of Castle's background and contribution. It is traditional to trace Vanbrugh's influence in Pearce's work to their kinship: an alternative explanation might be that these influences are due to Castle. But however the components of his synthesis are apportioned, the Parliament House was Pearce's vision and triumph. It slightly predates the earliest major neo-Palladian exercise in British public architecture, the York Assembly Rooms (1731–2) by Lord Burlington. It introduced for the first time into Irish classical architecture the full repertoire of free-standing orders and their detailing, and the complexities – on a monumental scale – of vaulting and planning derived from antiquity and Palladio. The esteem felt for Pearce's achievement is reflected in the reverence shown by James Gandon (qv) in his late eighteenth-century additions to the building, and by Francis Johnston (qv) when he converted it into a bank in the early years of the nineteenth century.
Pearce's short career as surveyor general offered few other opportunities for public building. He provided ephemeral decorations for Dublin castle in 1731. Little barrack building was called for during his tenure of the office, though he made plans for the conversion of a house at Donaghmore, Queen's County, into a barrack for dragoons. No doubt ex officio, he was appointed overseer of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, in 1731; the very Pearcean garden house there has so far not been documented as his. With others he laid the foundation stone of his theatre in Longford Street in Dublin on 8 May 1733. Also in the public sphere was his work on the Newry canal. In 1729 Thomas Burgh had been invited to produce a survey and estimate for constructing the canal. After his death, Pearce took over from him and construction began in earnest in 1732. Pearce was succeeded in turn by Richard Castle, Thomas Steers (d. 1750), and William Gilbert. The canal was completed in 1742.
Pearce built few houses, but here too he introduced to Ireland an unprecedented refinement in neo-Palladianism with Bellamont Forest, Co. Cavan, built for his maternal aunt's husband, Thomas Coote. The design grew out of his travels in the Veneto in 1724, when he studied many of Palladio's villas. He designed the See House in Cashel for Archbishop Timothy Godwin (d. 1729). His proposed remodelling of Stillorgan House, Co. Dublin, for Lord Allen may not have been executed, though his obelisk and grotto in the grounds survive. He was a confidant of Luke Gardiner (qv) and his drawings for no. 11 Henrietta Street, Dublin, survive to link him with Gardiner's development of the street. This makes the attribution of no. 9 (for Thomas Carter (qv)) and of no. 10 (for Luke Gardiner himself) plausible. His deanery for Christ Church, Dublin, of 1731 has been demolished.
Attributions of work to Pearce on stylistic grounds, unsupported by documentary evidence, must – as with all architects – be scrutinised. His deserved and solitary eminence, innovative range, and cosmopolitan experience impressed other designers and prompted them to follow his lead. Buildings in Dublin castle (the Bedford tower and the garden front to the state apartments) are a case in point. Sometimes attributed to Pearce (though built more than twenty years after his death), they are more plausibly seen as examples of his influence on lesser figures.
After his return from Italy in 1724, Pearce divided his time between Ireland and England. His passage into parliament was complicated, and ultimately successful with his return as MP for Ratoath in 1728. In the following year he introduced a bill to prevent (among other things) abuses in brickmaking and to regulate the dimensions of bricks. In 1731 he was given land at Stillorgan by John, 2nd Viscount Allen (d. 1742), where he made his residence. He was a member of the Dublin Society from 1731. In April 1732 he was appointed governor of Dr Steevens's Hospital in Dublin.
Pearce married his first cousin, Anne Pearce (d. 1749), daughter of Major-general Thomas Pearce, MP and military governor of Limerick. With her he had four daughters (Frances, Anne, Henrietta – or Harriet – and Mary). His career must have been adversely affected by ill health, to which there are already references in the 1720s. His early death, on 7 December 1733, at his home, The Grove, at Stillorgan, was the result of a ‘violent Cholick in his Stomach’ (Dublin Evening Post, 8 Dec. 1733). He was buried in Donnybrook churchyard, Dublin, on 10 December; though his grave is unmarked, he is commemorated by a tablet. No portraits of Pearce are known; a photograph survives in the Irish Architectural Archive of a miniature once in the possession of the Lovett family. The photograph identifies the sitter as either Sir Edward Lovett Pearce or his father. The most important body of Pearce papers is the collection of drawings, catalogued by Colvin and Craig, now distributed between Elton Hall, Huntingdonshire, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.