Robinson, John Joseph (1887–1965), architect, was born 17 October 1887 at ‘Rathruadh’, Marlborough Rd, Glenageary, Co. Dublin, son of John Loftus Robinson, architect (see below), and Mary Josephine Robinson (née Ryan). Shortly before John Joseph's seventh birthday, his father died; several years later he moved with his mother to 17 Ardeevin Rd, Dalkey, Co. Dublin. He was educated by the Dominican nuns in Co. Wicklow (1896–9), and at Clongowes Wood college, Co. Kildare (1899–1903), then studied for the catholic priesthood in the seminaries at Clonliffe (1903–5) and Maynooth (1905–7). Deciding against a priestly vocation, he apprenticed (1907–11) to architect George L. O'Connor, who had taken over his father's practice at 198 Great Brunswick St. (latterly Pearse St.). After working in the London office of Leonard Stokes, a leading architect for the catholic church (1911–12/13), he returned to Dublin and formed a lasting professional partnership with R. C. Keefe. In 1919 the pair entered a joint practice with Donnelly and Moore, whose practice Robinson had minded during the first world war, in which the two men, and Keefe, had served. Joined in 1920 by W. S. Keating, the new firm engaged in extensive reconstruction work in the area of central Dublin destroyed in the 1916 Easter rising, including the American Chambers in Lower Sackville St. (which housed the firm's offices) and the Irish Independent building, Middle Abbey St. Robinson designed several public housing schemes, notably in Dún Laoghaire and Blackrock, Co. Dublin.
Severing from their partners, in 1925 Robinson and Keefe moved to an office at 8 Merrion Sq. North, home of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) and the Architectural Association of Ireland (AAI); a member and sometime president of both organisations, Robinson was also elected a fellow and council member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Concentrating on commissions for church buildings and for catholic schools, convents, and abbeys, his firm quickly became one of the most successful in Ireland. The favourite architect of the catholic hierarchy, Robinson designed numerous churches for the new parishes of Dublin's swelling suburbs, including those in Killester, Foxrock, Palmerstown, Clogher Rd, Larkhill, and Skerries. The small church in Lusk, Co. Dublin (1922–5), his first completed church commission, represents his early interest in the Hiberno-Romanesque style, regarded for a time as the most appropriate for a distinctly Irish expression; the building, which includes windows by Harry Clarke (qv), was among five churches selected by the RIAI to represent twentieth-century Irish church architecture at the 1936 Glasgow exhibition. Robinson, however, rapidly converted to a preference for the Lombardic Romanesque style, the historic revival mode most amenable to accommodating large congregations at minimal expenditure while satisfying the hierarchy's uncompromisingly traditionalist tastes. Within these strictures, Robinson was adept at designing variations on a standard theme that, while stylistically unadventurous, were functionally competent, aesthetically pleasing, and ably adapted to modern building materials and technologies. An interesting variant of his standard design is the brick-faced church of Christ the King, Cabra (1931–3). More innovative are the cubist forms and art-deco inflections of Corpus Christi church, Griffith Avenue (1938–41), where the soaring elevations, faced in undecorated white granite and pierced by tall slender lancet windows, veer cautiously toward the modernist. Robinson was a founding member (1929) of the Academy of Christian Art, which interpreted its mission to further ‘Christian and catholic’ artistic concepts as a defence of historic revival styles against the creeping infection of modernism. Official architect to the 1932 eucharistic congress, he received an honorary master of architecture degree from the NUI for his services (1932).
Despite his ready accommodation to the fiercely conservative bias of his primary patron, Robinson skilfully indulged in modernist flavours in his secular designs. Through the 1920s and 1930s Robinson and Keefe were the foremost Irish exponents of art deco, which they utilised for commercial buildings, vocational schools, and cinemas. Their first exercise in the style was Robinson's gas company offices, D'Olier St., Dublin (1928), where the smooth surfaces and etched window-glass, chrome-framed showrooms and entrance, and highly polished stone facing rendered a suitably gleaming, jazzy home for a modern industry; the rear elevation on Hawkins St., a bizarrely contrasting hybrid of arts-and-crafts and English Tudor, represented the eclecticism of Robinson and his firm. The smaller gas company showroom in Bray, Co. Wicklow (1929), was an even more faithful application of the principles of the 1925 Paris exposition that spawned the art-deco style. Of Robinson's many commissions under the Irish Free State's ambitious vocational-schools-building programme, the finest are Marino technical school (1935–6) – a smartly streamlined composition with curved façade facing Fairview park, and flat sweeping roof (eliminated by a later mansard addition) – and the college of domestic economy, Cathal Brugha St. (1938–9), notable for the softening effect of its curved corners and a superb art-deco entrance hall. As the country's most prolific cinema architects, Robinson and Keefe employed art-deco motifs in their designs throughout Ireland; their most impressive cinema façade, that of the Carlton, O'Connell St., Dublin (1935–7), was a neo-classical statement, inflected by art deco in the detailing. Robinson experimented with the international style in the exteriors of a row of semi-detached houses at Dollymount, Dublin (1930). His foremost venture in this most daring of modernist modes was the hospitals' trust sweepstake building, Ballsbridge, Dublin (1937–8; demolished, 1990), an asymmetrical edifice with a glazed tower at one end of a low horizontal elevation.
As president of the RIAI in 1938–9, Robinson held office during the association's centenary. Reconstituted as Robinson, Keefe, & Devane (1945), his firm moved to new offices at 22 Lower Baggot St.; their subsequent designs included renovations to St Joseph's chapel, Maynooth, and several of the college's residential buildings; new buildings for the Jesuit colleges of Gonzaga and Clongowes Wood; and the church at Dublin airport. For his last major commission Robinson returned to the Hiberno-Romanesque style of his early years, applied on a monumental scale: Galway cathedral (1957–65) was a last, and grandiose, stand of traditionalism in Irish ecclesiastical architecture, soon to bend before the modernising winds of Vatican II and the exigencies of liturgical reform.
A papal knight of the order of St Gregory, Robinson was active in the knights of Malta and in the Maynooth layman's society, Vexilla Regis. As president of the Clongowes Union (c.1940) he promoted social action by launching a boys' club in Dublin city centre. He belonged to Portmarnock golf club, the United Services Club, and Royal St George Yacht Club. After residing in Blackrock (1920s) and Monkstown (1930s), from c.1940 he lived at ‘Inniscorrig’, 24 Coliemore Rd, Dalkey. He died on 30 January 1965, survived by his wife Kathleen, their four sons and three daughters. His son Patrick J. Robinson, who was taken into partnership along with Andrew Devane in 1945, won an RIAI commendation for his design of the Carroll's building, Grand Parade, Dublin (1962–4).
His father, John Loftus Robinson (1847/8–94), architect, was probably the son of John Joseph Robinson, a tailor and draper on College Green, Dublin. By his early manhood he was living in Booterstown, Co. Dublin. As a student of E. H. Carson (father of unionist politician Edward Carson (qv)), he assisted on the design of Pembroke town hall, Merrion Rd, Ballsbridge. Founding his own practice on Great Brunswick St. by 1872, he remains noteworthy for his considerable work in Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire), Co. Dublin, which imparted a lasting imprint on the architectural fabric of the town. His design of St Michael's hospital (1874–6) for the Mercy sisters – a three-storey structure in grey Dalkey granite – placed the entrance in a projecting end bay, thus allowing for eventual addition of a balancing five-bay wing (executed, unhappily, in a conflicting style in 1938). The Magdalen asylum (1878), also for the Mercy nuns, comprising convent house, chapel, and laundry in a drab institutional style, is now a nursing home. Kingstown town hall (1877–80) is a stately embodiment of the seaside town's contemporary confidence and prosperity. A Ruskinesque Venetian palazzo, faced in red-and-grey Scottish sandstone, with arched windows and circular pierced balconies, the structure is punctuated by a 120-ft (37-m) clock tower on the side facing the harbour. Robinson had won a competition for the commission with a design for a simple brick building with stone dressings; when the town commissioners opted for a more costly stone edifice, he modified his plans. He also designed the adjoining granite post office (1879). His Kingstown work also includes the five-acre People's Park (1890), with gardens, bandstand, iron fountains, entrance gates, and lodge. His renovations to St Michael's church (1892) included an elegant tower and spire, the only part of the building to survive a 1966 fire. Moving to Kingstown in 1878, Robinson settled in 1882 at ‘Rathruadh’ in neighbouring Glenageary.
Robinson's work elsewhere included the Dominican priory adjoining St Saviour's church, Dominick St., Dublin (1885); the chapel of Dublin's Mater Misericordiae hospital (1886); the chapel and neo-classical brick oratory in the Loreto convent, Bray, Co. Wicklow (1887); the school adjoining the Carmelite church, Aungier St., Dublin (1890); and the chapel altar in the Loreto abbey, Rathfarnham (1894). His work at St Patrick's training college, Drumcondra (1885–91), includes a red-brick and stone extension to an early Georgian house, and an adjoining Italianate belvedere. A member of the RHA, Robinson was an associate of the RIAI from 1871, and a member from 1875. An ardent Parnellite, he was active in local politics on both Dublin corporation (1886–94) and Kingstown town commission (1886–92; chairman, 1889–91). He designed a house for himself, ‘Moytura’, on Barnhill Rd, Dalkey, but before its completion he died at Rathruadh, Glenageary, Co. Dublin, of typhoid fever on 12 October 1894.