Gibney, Frank (1905–78), architect and town planner, was born 20 April 1905, son of Joseph Francis Gibney, architect, and his wife Eleanor (née Bassett). Aged 18 he went to work for his father (who had been apprenticed to the office of William Kaye Parry), and five years later moved to the offices of Francis P. Russell, who had been consultant architect to the north Dublin rural county council. In 1930 he took over Russell's practice at 16 Westmoreland St. (later at 29 Merrion Square), and in the same year won an open competition offered by Ewarts Limited, through the Association of Architects and Surveyors in London, for a design for a city airplane hangar; the prize was a tour of Spain.
He is known to have submitted plans for building houses (Dublin, 1931), a district hospital (Clifden, 1931), a town hall (Balbriggan, 1937), and a church (Birr, 1937). During the 1930s he was probably the most influential town planner in Ireland and was commissioned to make plans for Waterford, Tralee, Drogheda, Meath, Navan, and Tullamore and a proposal for employment-generating public works in Dublin (which included the building of Dublin airport, Clontarf Marine Boulevard, and riverside promenades, and cleaning the Liffey river bed). Not all of his proposals were actually implemented during those austere years. His surviving publications show he was acutely aware of the financial constraints and the need to rehouse the urban poor in a socially acceptable way. In 1941 he was appointed town planning adviser to Waterford city and made recommendations for an industrial estate, a new bridge, dockyards, car parks, the reclamation of marshlands, and the building of over 1,000 dwellings to replace slum housing.
During the Emergency (1939–45) his proposals became much more ambitious and he had a vision for the redevelopment of the whole of Ireland through a ‘national planning organisation’. He produced a national survey (Suirbhéaracht Éireann), which contained hundreds of maps dealing with the physical, human, and economic interests of the island, and an idealistic new plan for Dublin, which divided the city into eight ‘community units’ each with their own residential and public buildings. The extraordinary language that he used in his accompanying notes is imbued with the spirit of the totalitarian societies of the 1930s. He believed in ‘a concept of our island of Ireland as a healthy and organic body politic, economic, social and spiritual, aiming at full territorial transfusion of the national bloodstream in a virile circulation of coordinated cooperative effort’. He visualised the Irish state as a pyramid with the base being natural resources, the body the population, and the summit ‘the well-being of an individual’ (Framework for an Irish national plan (c.1941)). In complete contrast to these grandiose schemes he submitted a paper to government institutions in 1942 on the need to build new houses in Ireland out of clay as a result of the short supply of building materials. He collected samples of clay from all over Ireland and made a design for a ‘rural clay-built cottage’. Though his proposal was a logical one (well built compacted clay buildings are energy-efficient and highly robust), most planners and the general population at this time were uncomfortable about the idea of living in ‘mud cabins’ like their forebears.
Between 1951 and 1958 he received commissions from Bord na Móna (the turf board) to build more than 700 dwellings for workers and their families in at least eight locations (Kilcormac, Rochfortbridge, Lanesborough, Mountdillon, Cloontuskert, Derraghan, Timahoe, and Bracknagh) in the Irish midlands. This provided him with the perfect opportunity to put some of the ideas that he had developed about ‘community units’ into practice. During the 1930s and 1940s the migrant turf workers, who had been put up in quite primitive temporary hostels, developed a strong sense of identity. Gibney's outstanding achievement was to design imaginative clusters of homes along with public buildings, without eroding this community spirit. In fact, in some places where the turf works were in desolate locations (such as Cloontuskert, Co. Roscommon) he created enclosed spaces that give an impression of being in a small town. The most substantial scheme was at Coill Dubh (Timahoe), Co. Kildare, which consisted of 160 houses along with shops and schools. Despite a very tight budget (an average £800 per house) he was able to add interest to his designs by deploying feature houses (with unusual shapes and varying fenestration), interesting angled entrances to the new estates, which were flanked by small groupings of houses, enclosed spaces akin to village greens, and the use of archways which provided vistas to churches and schools. The designs draw on elements of the Beaux Arts and ‘Garden City’ movements, as well as a revived folk tradition that was popular in Germany during the 1930s. At the opening ceremony of the new scheme at Cloontuskert in 1953 the bishop of Elphin and the bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise praised the comforts of these gleaming new homes with pale rendering and red tiles (which had electricity and running water) and believed that these ‘Christian homes were an essential part of a Christian life’ in Ireland. The turf workers appeared to enjoy living in these houses, which have stood the test of time and all remain in a good state of repair. Gibney was also involved with other housing schemes for various local authorities across Ireland (e.g. large developments at Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, and Clarecastle, Co. Clare).
Gibney's own home at Howth, which he designed c.1948, is more folksy than his commissioned work: it consists of a long, low building linked to a conical tower with a stepped garden. He used a mixture of local stone and the whole structure was originally thatched. By 1937 he was an associate of the Faculty of Architects and Surveyors, an associate of the Incorporated Association of Architects, and a member of the Institute of Registered Architects, and by 1955 he was a full member of the Town Planning Institute. In September 1932 he married Patricia Byrne; they had a daughter and two sons. Gibney died 28 April 1978 in Dublin.