While the story of an Irishman heading to America in search of a glorious future may seem pedestrian by today’s standards, director Mark Noonan’s (You’re Ugly Too) new documentary, ‘Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect’ is a captivating visual feast that describes a man who is quietly, determinedly responsible for much of what we take for granted in today’s increasingly urban landscape.
Born in Dublin in 1922, but raised in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, Kevin Roche studied architecture at UCD, and received his first solo commission at age 19. Even at this early stage in his career, Roche thought deeply about the requirements of the 5,000 porcine inhabitants of his father’s new commercial piggery. And, while considering the needs of the user may be a foundational part of today’s design processes, it was still only one of many considerations when Roche first put pen to paper. That would soon change.
Shortly after leaving Dublin in1948, Roche moved to Chicago to study under Mies van der Rohe, something of a messianic figure in the world of architecture. While Mies was a hard taskmaster, and somewhat outspoken and strong-willed, the results of his forceful nature seem to have produced, at least in Roche, a student with the opposite demeanor.
Over the course of a career that continues to this day (at age 95) Roche seems, from Noonan’s portrayal in this film, to be a gentle, philosophical, soft-spoken man who creates quietly powerful and influential structures. This modest soul has constructed a body of work that has collectively changed the language of architecture.
Developed with support from the Irish Film Board, and produced by Wavelength Pictures, ‘Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect’ leads viewers through a stunningly shot (by cinematographer Kate McCullough) moving collage of Roche’s most notable achievements, including the iconic Dublin Convention Centre.
Filled with interviews of Roche’s contemporaries, clients, architectural critics, and family members, this is a film that seldom bores its viewers. And for the architecturally unwashed like me, the film is parade of “oh he did that”, and “but that’s just common sense today” revelations.
As with Roche’s work itself, Mark Noonan’s portrayal of this architectural luminary gives its viewers the gift of contemplation. For 82 glorious minutes, we are allowed to sit with our thoughts and simply think about the way we interact with the world around us. And we come away more closely connected not just to the structures around us, but to the people with whom we share that space.
‘Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect’ is a wonderfully visual film that will fascinate viewers, even those that have never given much thought to architecture.
‘Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect’ will have its world premiere at the Irish Film Institute on October 1st where it is screening as the closing night film of IFI Documentary Festival, and opens in Irish cinemas on 13th October.
Review by Glenn Kaufmann, a Dublin-based freelance writer, and one of the founders of No-Budget, a show for independent filmmakers. Click on the link to discover more: