Abercrombie, Sir (Leslie) Patrick (1879–1957), architect and town planner, was one of the most influential figures in the development of town planning in early twentieth-century Ireland. He was born on 6 June 1879 at Ashton upon Mersey in Cheshire, England, seventh of nine children of William Abercrombie, stockbroker, and Sarah-Ann Abercrombie (née Heron). He was educated at Lockens Park preparatory school, Hemel Hempstead, and later at Uppingham. At the age of 20 he was apprenticed to a Manchester architect before moving to Sir Arnold Thornely's practice in Liverpool. His first academic post (1905) was as assistant lecturer in architecture in the Institute for Architectural Studies at the University of Liverpool. In 1915 he became head of civic design at the University of Liverpool.
From 1915 onwards he undertook studies and prepared plans for various towns, cities, and regions in England, Ireland, and elsewhere. In 1916 the Civics Institute of Ireland held a competition, inviting designs for the future development of Dublin. The judges of the competition were Patrick Geddes (1854–1932) and C. J. McCarthy (1858–1947). The purpose of the competition was to stimulate public awareness of the poor housing conditions of Dublin and to initiate the employment of new approaches in town planning techniques as a means to alleviate these problems. The prize of £500 was awarded to Abercrombie, who produced a plan in association with the Liverpool surveyors Sydney and Arthur Kelly. This proved to be the beginning of Abercrombie's lasting association with the development and planning of Dublin.
Abercrombie's work was heavily influenced by Baron Georges Eugène Haussmann and the École des Beaux Arts. The plan can be assessed under three main headings – communications, housing, and metropolitan improvements. In relation to communications, it was envisaged that the city would be served by an integrated transport system, centred on two plazas to the north and south of the River Liffey in the vicinity of Christchurch and the Four Courts respectively. Radial roads would converge on this central area. A new underground rail network would also be constructed with a new central station to the south of the river. The housing strategy sought to depopulate the inner city through the construction of low-density suburban developments in Crumlin, Cabra, and Drumcondra. The proliferation of derelict sites, according to Abercrombie, offered ample scope for metropolitan improvements, much of which could be centred on the proposed plazas to the west of the city centre. The plan was never implemented, owing to the events of Easter 1916 and the subsequent war of independence; by the time it was finally published (1922), the situation had been transformed.
Abercrombie's work influenced a number of early Irish town planners, including Manning Robertson (qv) and Horace Tennyson O'Rourke (qv). In 1922 Abercrombie was appointed as adviser to the Cork civic survey. The methodological approach to survey and analysis of planning data employed by Abercrombie was the driving force behind Horace O'Rourke's more extensive civic survey of Dublin in 1925. Abercrombie, along with Raymond Unwin, influenced and guided the work of Dublin corporation's reconstruction committee, set up under the Dublin Reconstruction (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1924. The aim of the act was to rebuild areas devastated during the period 1916–23. In 1935 he was appointed to the chair of town planning at University College, London, a post he held till his retirement eleven years later.
In 1936 Dublin Corporation appointed Abercrombie, Sydney Kelly, and Manning Robertson to prepare the sketch plan for the Dublin area. The consultants' report was submitted in 1939 and published two years later. It contrasted significantly with the ‘Beaux-Arts'-type redevelopment of the city contained in the earlier plan, although proposals for a new civic centre, a new cathedral, and government offices were prominent. Particular emphasis was placed on open-space provision within the city centre area. The plan also recommended a green belt up to six miles wide and the designation of a number of key settlements within the green belt to accommodate limited expansion. The idea of a strategic green belt was later rejected in favour of urban fringe development to ensure that the citizens of Dublin remained in close proximity to the employment heartland of the city centre.
Abercrombie's long association with the development of town planning in Dublin essentially ended with the publication of the sketch plan for Dublin as he embarked on many notable projects elsewhere, including the County of London plan (1943) and the Greater London plan (1944). He was knighted in 1945 and received the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture the following year. He also received the American Gold Medal for Architecture in 1949. His energies as a writer, editor, designer, and exponent of the principles of modern town planning were prodigious. He died on 23 March 1957. Abercrombie married (1909) Emilia Maud Gordon (d. 1942); they had a son and daughter.