The Chester Beatty Library is housed in the eighteenth-century Clock Tower Building to which an extension for exhibitions was added in the 1990s.
The Clock Tower, Dublin Castle, appeared on Roque's map of Dublin, published in 1756, with nearly the same U-shaped plan as exists today. It has two floors, ground level, with the entrance facing north and a single corridor on the west of each wing.
However, the present structure is a remodelling of the earlier building. It would appear that the north façade and the brick second storey were added early in the nineteenth century. Although there are no records to identify the architect, the Irish Architectural Archive is almost certain that the building was redesigned by Ireland's most important early nineteenth-century architect, Francis Johnston.
Johnston was chief architect in the Board of Works from 1805 until his death in 1829.
He designed two other buildings in Dublin Castle - the Chapel Royal and the Quartermaster General's Office - as well as adding the second storey to the courtyard. Johnston used a similar design for a Clock Tower at Griffith Barracks, formerly the Richmond Bridewell, on South Circular Road. The Clock Tower building was used in the nineteenth century as the Ordnance Office for the Royal Engineers.
In the early days of the Irish State, the Revenue Commissioners used it as offices.
It fell into disuse for more than fifteen years and had become dilapidated before restoration works began in the early 1990s.
The Clock Tower Building was restored following the recommendations set out by the Irish Architectural Archive: the wooden clock tower was restored and re-erected; the early nineteenth-century clock mechanism has been reinstated and fitted with an electronic winding device; the chimneys have been rebuilt to their original height; simple moulded cornices were reinstated and the very fine main staircase was restored.
The extension to the Clock Tower Building was designed to house the Chester Beatty Library Collection. In the tradition of the nineteenth-century museum/library, the extension forms the repository of this unique collection. Its design is intended to express the value of the collection and, like a jewellery box, to protect it. The quality of materials and construction must reflect these values as well as provide security.
However, at the end of the twentieth century, simply to provide a mausoleum for a unique collection is not acceptable, especially when the facility is being provided by public funds. It must also be accessible to the public, in real and apparent terms. The extension to the Clock Tower Building is designed to resolve this apparent paradox.
The glazed concourse area acts as a lightweight link between the restored nineteenth-century Clock Tower Building and the environmentally controlled exhibition spaces.
The complex houses a conservation laboratory, reading room, offices, lecture space and small audio-visual theatre as well as three exhibition galleries and a roof garden. A restaurant, shop and ground-floor concourse provide facilities for the public and a space for varied activities.