- 19 October 2012
Conserving our architectural heritage demands high standards and attention to detail, and the winner of this year’s Irish Georgian Society’s conservation awards displayed both qualities, writes FRANK MCDONALD. IT MAY seem unusual for the Irish Georgian Society to give its premier conservation award to the reinstatement of derelict Victorian glasshouses. But the project at Fota House, Co Cork, was so carefully researched and artfully executed that it had to be the winner.
The Frameyard, as it’s called, consists of a range of 19th-century glasshouses along with a single-storey bothy building within a stone wall enclosure next to the ornamental gardens of Fota House. It was used over the years to propagate plants and produce thousands of bedding displays to fill the gardens.
The Frameyard at Fota House, Co Cork, winner of the Irish Georgian Society Conservation Award.
An Inglewood Seat under a new dormer window at Ard na Sidhe House in Co Kerry, runner - up in the competition.
Inchicore Primary Care and Mental Health Centre.
Horticulturist Finola Reid credits the Frameyard and its assortment of glasshouses to Arthur Hugh Smith-Barry MP (1843-1925), who had continued his father’s work of planting the arboretum and embellishing Fota’s grounds and gardens, so there was a great need to supply the arboretum and propagate new plants.
Reid advised the Irish Heritage Trust, which owns Fota House and gardens, on the importance of the glasshouses (made by Richardson’s of London) and the difficult commission was given to Dublin-based John O’Connell Architects – no strangers to Fota, having worked on the house itself for many years.
The daunting task of rescuing the glasshouses from ruin was entrusted to two young women – architect Audrey Farrell and structural engineer Naoise Connolly. Even to carry out a proper survey involved first clearing out a dense growth of vegetation, including sycamores.
The first phase of the project involved repairing and restoring three free-standing glasshouses, four “pit-houses” and the L-shaped Bothy building, the construction of a new shelter and reinstatement of the original pathways and associated landscaping – so that the walled garden could be opened to the public.
My fellow juror, Edward McParland, saw the glasshouses as “intrinsically significant”. And even though their condition was “deplorable”, 60 per cent of the original material had been “imaginatively salvaged” and original solutions found for the rest, notably the use of non-toxic, machine-made Accoya wood.
“The pine generally available today is fast-grown and therefore of low durability and resistance to fungal and insect attack,” says Farrell. The alternative of sourcing hardwood from a reputable Forest Stewardship Council-certified source was “challenging” and, in any case, it would be unsuitable for “splicing” with the original pine.
That’s why they went for Accoya, which is made from “sustainably sourced” Radiata pine to create a new durable, stable wood product – more durable even than teak and guaranteed for 50 years. Its single disadvantage was that the only metal that could be fixed to the wood was stainless steel, as it would corrode any other.
All original timber capable of being re-used had to be dried out. Sections (mainly major rafters) deemed suitable for repair were cut back sufficiently to remove all decayed wood and then spliced with the Accoya – but only one splice per rafter, to ensure the structural integrity of the glazing that would go into the frames.
Fortunately, the specification for modern safety glass – legally required because the glasshouses would be open to the public – is quite similar to traditional Victorian “float glass”, unlike the thinner material for purely horticultural use. An original finial, found during the excavations, was used as a template for replicas.
“Research found that the traditional manner in which glasshouses were painted was with linseed oil paint, which works naturally with wood,” Farrell says, so it was used on all timberwork throughout the Frameyard. “A surface painted with linseed oil paint breathes; therefore, the wood does not decay or rot under the paint.”
The historic rainwater harvesting system – involving drainage into an underground water tank that flows into an open culvert running the length of the enclosure – was fully restored. Even the pathways were reinstated from 19th-century Ornance Survey maps, and they now provide a logical route for visitors to the Frameyard.
The next phase of works, which have cost nearly €734,000 so far, will comprise the restoration of another free-standing Richardson structure and the various lean-to glasshouses as well as the old boiler house – a remarkable relic in itself. The Irish Heritage Trust is also planning to restore the former head gardener’s house at Fota.
Clear second-favourite in this year’s conservation awards was Ard na Sidhe House, near Killorglin, Co Kerry. Located in a spectacular wooded landscape overlooking Lough Caragh, this must be one of the most beautiful places to stay in Ireland. It has long been owned by the Liebherr group, run by the redoubtable Isolde Liebherr.
Run as a hotel for years, the original “Arts Crafts” house was to be upgraded to luxury class and Howley Hayes Architects took on the job. As McParland observed, their brief was “more complex than the ‘purity’ of the brief in Fota”, and they showed “great personal commitment”, even collecting random books and period pieces.
Their “functionally clever and successful rearrangement” of the interior to suit the demands of the hotel, inserting a new oak staircase and en suite bathrooms, was much admired. “The resulting hotel, inside and out, is an extraordinarily successful and beautiful Arts Crafts hotel for 2012, and a triumph for dedicated architects and patron.”
Among the runners-up, the jury saw the restoration of the Bishop’s Palace in Waterford to house the city’s Museum of Treasures, as an important part of a much wider urban regeneration project. The work by John O’Connell Architects was described as “well-executed, thoughtful and sensitive”, providing a new point of interest in Waterford.
We were less impressed by the renovation of Thurles Court House, not least because of the use of “disappointing and routine furniture”, as Dr McParland noted, but delighted to see Inchicore Primary Care and Mental Health Centre re-using one of the few surviving ranges of Richmond Barracks (Keogh Square) in a larger project.
CONSERVATION AWARDS JURORS
- Marion Cashman, conservation architect and board member of the Irish Georgian Foundation;
- David Griffin, director of the Irish Architectural Archive;
- Frank McCloskey, director of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects;
- Frank McDonald, Environment Editor of The Irish Times;
- Edward McParland, architectural historian and board member of the Irish Landmark Trust.
- Finola Reid comments "A rare victory for Historic Gardens in Ireland. The Irish Heritage Trust and a grant from Failte Ireland (Irish Tourist Board) made it possible."
Finola Reid comments "A rare victory for Historic Gardens in Ireland. The Irish Heritage Trust and a grant from Failte Ireland (Irish Tourist Board) made it possible."
Finola Reid MI Hort
Historic Gardens Consultant
St Anne's 17 Parnell Road Harold's Cross Dublin 12 Ireland