Re: Re: ‘Dutch Billys’

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Hello James,

Thank you for the time and effort put in to exhaustively responding to the issues raised on the thread: something we would gladly see more of on this site!

As with others, apologies if the initial response to your work was unduly harsh, and in part ill-informed. As you can no doubt appreciate, the amount of botched conservation and restoration jobs which have taken place, and continue to take place, in the city condition one to expect the worst, even with unique cases such as 42 Manor Street. With no known precedent in the city, coupled with a stark deviation from the original planning permission, and woefully detailed windows (which tend to be a reliable indicator of the standard of works elsewhere), all the elements were in place to lead one to expect an ill-informed project. Quite clearly, this was not the case. Incidentally, congratulations on such a mammoth undertaking. The house is truly vast, never mind its myriad architectural and historical complexities. It takes considerable skill and professional expertise to oversee such works.

In response to the parapet alteration and flat gable construction, while I thoroughly admire your strenuous efforts to unearth documentary evidence and piece fascinating discoveries together into a coherent picture, at the end of the day I feel this evidence proved inconclusive. While the evidence suggested a flat gable form, while it suggested S-curved profiles, and while it clearly indicated former lunette windows, this, in my view, did not constitute sufficient information to warrant a restorative intervention. While this may well be disputed by definition of its subjectivity, it is an argument that garners further support by the fact that the house was successful as an architectural entity and as an historical curiosity in its unaltered state. The highly subjective character of the works conducted at parapet level I feel are not warranted, based on unsubstantiated detailing for which there is, as yet, no known precedent in Dublin. While I absolutely admire your efforts and passion, and fully acknowledge my smug and comfortable armchair viewpoint on what was an immensely complex and challenging project, I feel one of your last statements surmised what I feel is wrong with the works conducted:

we simply do not know enough about these houses to reflect with any accuracy their original range of appearances.

This is the crux of the matter. Why did you feel these alterations needed to be carried out, rather than the various discoveries be meticulously recorded and the parapet be preserved as was? (even if it did involve substantial engineering works). The work conflicts with one of the fundamentals of the Venice Charter – an article with which, however contentious the main document, most architects and building historians would at least concur:

“[The process of restoration] must stop at the point where conjecture begins” (Article 9)

Even if the house did feature a flat-topped gable of some description as the evidence suggests, I feel the detailing of the gable could not be academically informed due to the absence of precedent elsewhere, and thus should not have been carried out at this point in time, especially when the authenticity of the Georgian and/or Victorian alterations rendered the building sufficiently coherent and ‘complete’. Just my spin on it. I think standard former gabled houses and curvilinear gabled houses, though also complex and subject to stylistic deviations, have greater scope for restoration due to their adherence to relatively standardised formats.

In relation to the windows (my pet subject), I’d much appreciate it if you could explain in a little more detail why a late 18th century window type was chosen for the front façade. For me, this feature is equally, if in some ways even more, jarring that the gable. Why was the house restored at roofline level to its original early state, and the windows then reinstated to a later state – especially in the context of the gable being grossly unfashionable by the time these windows came into use? This makes absolutely no sense to me, nor appears to follow an architectural rationale to the observer, who will note a stodgy, leaden early house, topped by an old fashioned gable, featuring an early (if not original) doorcase, and then an array of pristine, delicately glazed, uber-fashionable, technologically advanced late Georgian windows! One would be forgiven for thinking they had developed double vision, seeing a refined Georgian façade plucked from Fitzwilliam Square overlaid on a creaky aul Billy!

The survival of such windows to the rear provides no justification in my opinion, especially in the context of restorative efforts elsewhere on the front façade, and the retention of later features such as the machine-made brick reveals. Thus, the ensuing logic is that either the windows be restored to their early 1740s form, or the later two-over-two sashes be maintained in situ and thus complementing the modern brick reveals, in an easily read fashion. Installing late 18th century windows throws the story into disarray like pasted pages from another chapter in a book. I just cannot reconcile this part of the project on any level.

On the brickwork, I fully concur that the correct method was chosen for re-pointing, and am delighted you didn’t opt for a tailored tuck pointed solution (as I think permission was applied for). This would have jarred greatly with the early character of the house, especially where there was no evidence of its former use (as expected). The flush pointing’s application does look a bit coarse in places however, in spite of the inherent process. Moreover, again the question arises, if you were following the original pointing detail, and reinstating the supposed original roofline detailing, why wasn’t this done likewise with the windows? Thick and chunky sash windows would have transformed the character of this building, and in my opinion for the better, with robust detailing lending the building a less awkward stance.

I wouldn’t like to give the impression that I or we think an excellent job wasn’t conducted on the house – just the facade treatment and the appropriateness of detailing are important issues, and naturally garner the closest of attention on such an important building! I can only imagine the other parts of the house were treated with the very best attention to detail and conservation practice.

Otherwise, many thanks again for clearing up matters and contributing to the discussion in such a detailed manner.

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