Re: Re: pearse street developments

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The attractive group of buildings at Nos. 51-54 Pearse Street and structures to the rear have just been restored and expanded as the premises of architectural practice Henry J. Lyons, designed by, well, Henry J. Lyons. It recently won Best Commercial Building in the IAA awards 2010.

The conservation report as submitted in 2008 appears to have been drafted by Arthur Gibney before his death, perhaps originating from one of the earlier applications for the site. It stands out a mile as a sadly rare example of an architectural heritage consultant who knows what they’re talking about, and is passionate about what they’re talking about. It is thoroughly well-informed, bedded in comparative analysis, and confident in observation. In fact, with the notable exception of Cathal Crimmins, it’s hard to think of many others who produce this quality of work in Dublin anymore.

The Pearse Street buildings bear a remarkable resemblance in date, design, function and morphology to the newly restored collection of buildings at Nos. 58-61 Lower Mount Street.

Both groups initially emerged as residential townhouses, both were altered in the mid-19th century with a central infill building on a formerly vacant site incorporating a carriage arch, both were unified into a singular composition, and both served as a major commercial premises.

As perfectly surmised by Gibney, the structures on Pearse Street “are a strange collage of architectural intentions, utilitarian expression and building interventions. […] Their current expression is essentially the result of changing patterns of use and interventions to fulfill specific functional purposes. Their special historic interest lies in their typological importance as a rare surviving example of a late 19th century workshop evolved from the mutation of a number of former house buildings with a builders yard.” Precisely the assessment we didn’t get over on Mount Street.

When we look at Nos. 51-54, we are looking at three individual buildings that have experienced varying degrees of amalgamation.

The bookend houses at each end are the oldest, built in the 1840s as residential dwellings in line with many of the other classically-informed modest houses built along the thoroughfare in the second quarter of the 19th century. The central, then vacant, plot was the site and/or entrance to the timber yard and offices of builders Crowe and Son, with the house to the right being acquired for their use. They sold out their interest in all the properties in 1873, probably to more builders.

We are not told when the central part of the building was infilled, other than, unsurprisingly, ‘later in the 19th century’.

I think we can be a little more precise in pinning it to the late 1850s, judging by the juxtapositioning of newfangled two-over-two sash windows with older Georgian grids positioned above. The notoriously bizarrely proportioned Georgian central feature window with squat panes of glass was born through later alteration, namely the shopfront.

The central and right-hand houses were both heavily amalgamated, presumably when the central building was built in the 1850s. They feature a highly unusual structural system of piers and supports of an industrial nature to the interior, coupled with equally idiosyncratic Victorian plasterwork of a type not comparable elsewhere in the city. The online photographs are difficult to make out, but from Gibney’s description they appear to use complex layering of cast plasterwork in a manner suggestive of merchant builders exploiting newly available plaster products in an innovative way. The staircase hall for example appears to feature a heavy cornice supported by enormous cast corbels on the walls. The boardroom upstairs is also heavily embellished, while joinery is of a neoclassical character – perhaps Edwardian.

In spite of the 1875 date tablet above the entrance, the likely origins of the handsome stucco shopfront, with its order of Doric pilasters and sombre entablature, is actually 1899 when J. & C. McLaughlin, the famous Dublin engineers, founders and art metal workers, took over the premises, moving from only a few doors down on Pearse Street. 1875 probably refers to the establishment date of the company. McLaughlin’s remained here right up until 1970 when the James Healy foundry kept the trade going a little longer into the final years of the 20th century.

We can see above how the late addition of the shopfront skewed the proportionality of the central window with its odd square panes, where presumably it was another two-ver-two before this. Perhaps the adoption of the Georgian model was an attempt to hide the window’s botched relationship to the flanking windows by making it more of a decorative feature of the façade. It was also a cheap conversion: the top sash it is not segment-headed, but a regular, squared sash lurking behind the brick arch.

The refined detailing of the shopfront is exquisite in its elegant simplicity.

The ground floor of No. 54, one of the original houses.

A scrolled end corbel.

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