Hurley, Richard (1932–2011), architect, was born in the family home at Vernon Avenue, Clontarf, Dublin, on 8 June 1932, the sixth child of four daughters and three sons of James Hurley, a professor of rural science in St Patrick's teacher training college in Drumcondra, Dublin, and his wife Agnes (née McGuinness). He grew up in Clontarf and attended the O'Connell School in North Richmond Street, Dublin, and Kostka College in Clontarf, Dublin. After studying architecture in the College of Technology, Bolton Street, Dublin (1950–5), he graduated with a diploma in architecture and established a general practice, working from his parents' new home in Rathfarnham, Dublin, during a tough time for his profession.
Elected a member of the RIAI in 1956, he was also that year a founding member of the RIAI's church exhibition committee. This placed him within a vanguard of young architects seeking, in alliance with liberal priests, to modernise catholic church design in Ireland against the wishes of a hierarchy wedded to hulking revivalist constructs cluttered with gaudy repository art. His outlook was shaped by the stark minimalism of post-war German and Swiss church architecture, archaeological evidence of early Christian house churches, and his friendship with leading clerical proponents of liturgical reform like Austin Flannery (qv).
An increasingly prominent member of the church exhibition committee, serving as its secretary for at least three years from 1961, he helped organise exhibitions, lectures and seminars aimed at promoting a wider appreciation of the modernist churches sprouting up across continental Europe. In 1962 he won an Arts Council award for his design of a prayer room at Bettystown Oratory, Co. Meath, which was exemplarily modernist in its simplicity of ornamentation and focus on the altar. His practice developed sufficiently to acquire a central Dublin office in Merrion Square in 1962 before moving to nearby Lower Baggot Street in 1966. In 1963 he married Bernadine Carroll, a doctor's daughter from Northumberland Road in Ballsbridge, Dublin. They had five sons, living first in Loughlinstown, Co. Dublin, then from the late 1980s in Northumberland Road, Dublin.
The modernist cause received unassailable backing in December 1963 when the Second Vatican Council ('Vatican II') promulgated liturgical changes that subverted existing church architecture by encouraging the congregation's participation in masses. In 1965 he was appointed to the committee that advised the Irish hierarchy on sacred art and architecture. Well versed in liturgical matters, he was by then regularly giving public talks, mainly on church architecture, which he also lectured in at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, in 1966. He was a stimulating public speaker and conversationalist, regaling listeners with a sophisticated mix of sermon and sales spiel. A tall, imposing figure, he combined self-confidence with a gracious manner, and was a willing listener, though not always a receptive one.
He was also active in the Architectural Association of Ireland, being its secretary (1960–2) and president (1967/8). His presidency was characterised by attention-grabbing speeches that advocated the modernisation of architectural education and condemned housing and planning standards amid a building boom. He attracted further notice when his design for an accommodation complex for nurses in Drogheda, Co. Louth, was commended in the competition for the 1965–7 RIAI Triennial Gold Meal. In 1968 he became a partner at the renamed firm of Tyndall Hogan Hurley, which was based in Mount Street Crescent and flourished over the next twenty years. Churches aside, he designed houses, schools, hospitals and other public institutions, and was the architect for Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, built between 1977 and 1985. He practised successfully as Richard Hurley and Associates, still based in Mount Street Crescent, once Tyndall Hogan Hurley dissolved in the late 1980s.
From the late 1960s, he was busy either building or renovating churches, cathedrals, chapels or prayer rooms in line with the Vatican II ritual, ultimately being associated with over 120 such projects in Ireland, Britain, Kenya and Australia. Highly competent, he strove for plainness, domesticity, authenticity and abstraction in designing bright, spacious and low roofed edifices where the congregation, if not fully enveloping the austerely furnished sanctuary, were arrayed around it on three sides. Ample in terms of depth, much less so in width, so as not to disperse the visual focus, his sanctuaries left enough space between the altar, ambo and celebrant's chair for the ritual to manifest itself. His eschewal of decorative ostentation curtailed assorted popular devotions and involved removing artworks, statues, florid plasterwork, stained glass and the high altar while marginalising the tabernacle, preferably relegating it to a side chapel.
Local circumstances dictated the extent of his iconoclasm and the level of accompanying protests from lay parishioners and conservationists. His renovation of St Mel's cathedral, Longford (1975–6), was particularly contentious and thus subject to an unusual degree of wrangling and revision, resulting in an inharmonious compromise. Eventually quitting the project when Bishop Cahal Daly (qv) overruled him on what new artworks were to be installed, he issued a statement dismissing the original ornamentation as 'bric-a-brac' and asserting that he had been trying to give 'a dimension of Christianity' to 'a very large pseudo classical building with a distinct air of the pagan about it' (Catholic Standard, 14 May 1976). He always wanted the artworks and furnishings to be in the contemporary idiom and to exhibit high standards of craftsmanship.
The overt modernism of his bizarrely shaped Church of Our Lady of the Nativity in Newtown, Co. Kildare (1975), pushed the boundaries of Irish church design. Apart from the jarring retention of the old tower, the structure was low, sprawling and bereft of neo-archaic grandeur. Inside the walls were given a rough, external finish while the altar, crucifix and stone ambo were dropped seemingly at random into a generic meeting hall. A reviewer approvingly described the attendant sensory deprivation as an anti-architectural experience, aimed at drawing attention to the liturgy rather than the building. Hurley's emphasis on function over form typically produced undistinguished, bunker-like exteriors with his new churches in the Dublin suburbs of Knocklyon (1980) and Wyattville (1982) blending all too well into their dreary concrete surrounds.
Reflecting the belief that churches should be designed from the sanctuary outwards, his interiors were more successful, especially when done on a small scale and in his preferred antiphonal configuration. This entailed parallel rows of seats facing each other across a central aisle where the altar, ambo, celebrant's chair and baptismal font comprised a spaced central axis. First attempted in his renovation of the chapel in St Patrick's College, Carlow (1969), he perfected this arrangement in his loosely antiphonal design for the Eucharist Room at the Institute of Pastoral Liturgy, Carlow (1980), which dissolved the sanctuary into the assembly while achieving a serene and hospitable ambience. The Institute of Pastoral Liturgy was the principal body in Ireland for promoting liturgical reform and he lectured there in church art and architecture, being close to and influenced by its director Fr Sean Swayne (qv).
His international work included the reordering of the Cathedral of Our Lady and St Philip Howard in Arundel, Kent, England, and liturgical consultancies in Australia for St Mary's cathedral, Sydney, and St Stephen's cathedral, Brisbane. He executed over a dozen church commissions in Kenya, including one for a new cathedral at Eldoret, dedicated in 1987. Both the low roof sloping gradually upwards towards the tower located asymmetrically towards the back and the fan-shaped plan, culminating in a sanctuary illuminated by sunlight filtering from above, evoked St Fintan's church in Sutton, Co. Dublin (1973), by Andrew Devane (qv). Hurley regularly visited Eldoret over eight years from 1979, as the cathedral's fitful construction proceeded.
Latterly he moderated his reductionism, partly because of constraints imposed by stricter conservation laws, which he argued infringed upon religious freedoms. Gaining renown for sensitive refurbishments that facilitated the better enactment of the Vatican II rite without undermining the building's established character, he applied a light but sure touch to St Mary's Abbey in Glencairn, Co. Waterford (1990), and UCC's Honan Chapel (1997). The more invasive renovations of the cathedral of St Mary and St Anne, Cork (1996), and of St Mary's Oratory in St Patrick's College, Maynooth (1999), adroitly blended the older artefacts with the new and the Vatican II sanctuary with the Tridentine superstructure. Conservationists and catholic traditionalists continued to decry him as a vandal, with the latter further accusing him of misinterpreting the Vatican II decrees.
Winning RIAI awards for the Honan Chapel, St Mary's Oratory and the cathedral of St Mary and St Anne, he also won the UK Civic Trust Award for his sanctuary design and furnishings in St Brigid's church, Belfast (1994), and another RIAI award for Glenstal Abbey Library, Co. Limerick (2001). Made an RIAI fellow in the early 1980s, he served the institute as its treasurer (1984–5) and as chairman of its Board of Architectural Education (c.1988–95). A sometime member of the Dublin diocesan advisory committee on sacred art and architecture, he also remained on the art and architecture advisory committee to the Irish hierarchy from 1965 to 2008, becoming its first lay chairman (1996–2005). He was awarded an honorary professorship of architecture by the RHA and, in 2006, an honorary doctorate by the Pontifical University of St Patrick's College, Maynooth. He wrote numerous pieces for religious journals and co-wrote with fellow church architect, Wilfred Cantwell, Contemporary Irish church architecture (1985), which treated a sample of forty churches. Hurley's Irish church architecture in the era of Vatican II (2001) then surpassed it as the standard reference work, confirming his status as Ireland's leading authority on post Vatican II church architecture.
The commissions flowed to the end with his refurbishments of St Augustine's church, Galway (2005), and St Mary's church, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim (2009), being fine examples, successful in terms of what he sought to accomplish. He was working on what was intended to be his last project, the restoration of St Mel's cathedral in Longford, gutted by a fire in 2009, when he died suddenly in St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, on 6 December 2011. He was buried in Mount Venus cemetery, Rockbrook, Co. Dublin. St Mel's reopened in 2014 bearing all his hallmarks: quality materials, austerely beautiful furnishings, more space and light, and an axial plan aligning most of the liturgical poles.