See Francis Johnson (architect) for English architect of similar name.
Johnston was born in Armagh, Ireland, son of William Johnston, also an architect. He studied architecture and practised in Armagh for some years before moving to Dublin about 1793. In 1805 he was appointed to the Board of Works as an architect. In 1824 he was made president of the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts which had been founded the previous year, and he provided headquarters for the Academy in Lower Abbey Street at his own expense.
Two early projects were the completion of Rokeby Hall and Ballymakenny Church, Co. Louth, to the designs of Thomas Cooley in whose office he first trained. In 1789 he was commissioned by Richard_Robinson,_1st_Baron_Rokeby, and Archbishop of Armagh to design the Armagh Observatory and in 1790 he designed a new club house for Daly's Club on College Green, close to the Irish Houses of Parliament. Townley Hall, 5 km west of Drogheda, built between 1794 and 1798, is considered his finest work. He was responsible for the design of Armagh Courthouse built between 1806 and 1809.
At a time of huge rebuilding in Georgian Dublin, Johnston was one of the architects responsible for Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street). The great Pillar and Post Office were designed to harmonise with each other in the street adding grandeur and elegance to the boulevard.
His work is interesting from an architectural point of view, in that it spans both the Neo-Classical and Neo-Gothic styles. His Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle (1807–1814) is a fine example of an early Gothic revival church in Dublin. On this project (as on many others) he worked closely with the stuccodore George Stapleton, son of the better-known Michael Stapleton. The chapel proved a seminal building for later Gothic revival architects in Ireland, with the Cork architect Thomas Deane using the detailing from the windows as a model for those of the Aula Maxima of Queens College Cork.
Among his other most notable projects were the construction of St. George’s Church on the North side of Dublin (1802), overseeing the conversion of Parliament House into the Bank of Ireland (1803) and the construction of the Richmond Tower at the junction of Watling Street and Queen’s Bridge in 1812. This gateway had to be moved to moved to the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham after the arrival of the railway in 1847 increased traffic congestion (obviously not new to Dublin!). He had placed his personal coat of arms above the arch, concealed by a piece of wood painted to match the stone, his idea being that his arms would be revealed to future generations after the wood became rotten. However, his little trick was uncovered when the gateway was taken down for removal. The coat of arms at present on the gateway is that of the Royal Hospital.
He played a major role in designing Nelson's Pillar in Dublin, the construction of which was started in 1808. The original plans for the Pillar were submitted to the organising committee by William Wilkins, a London architect, Fellow of Caius College, Cambridge, and accepted by them in 1808. However, for some reason, the committee wrote later that they were incapable of "executing his design precisely as he had given it." Johnston "afforded the necessary assistance with his acknowledged ability, which...he did with the utmost cheerfulness." He made several drawings, one of which met the approval of the committee sufficiently for construction to start. Curiously, the table of expenditure for the Pillar does not include an architect's fee. The Pillar was destroyed by a bomb in 1966.
He was also responsible for the design of Charleville Forest Castle in Tullamore, County Offaly, considered one of the finest of its type in the country. As well as the 1807 design of Ballycurry House, Ballycurry Demesne, Ashford, County Wicklow
He lived for many years in his house at 64 Eccles Street, where he kept a large collection of curiosities. He died in 1829 and was buried in St. George's churchyard, which was attached to a temporary church on Whitworth Road (later taken over by the Whitworth Hospital).
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