175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works || A Glittering Legacy

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<ul><li><p>Irish Arts Review</p><p>A Glittering LegacyAuthor(s): Alan MurdochSource: Irish Arts Review (2002-), Vol. 23, 175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works(2006), pp. 26-29Published by: Irish Arts ReviewStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25503514 .Accessed: 12/06/2014 21:02</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.</p><p> .</p><p>Irish Arts Review is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Irish Arts Review(2002-).</p><p>http://www.jstor.org </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 21:02:30 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=iarhttp://www.jstor.org/stable/25503514?origin=JSTOR-pdfhttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsphttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>" *-?!!?i|av^i| f </p><p>WH </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 21:02:30 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>^^^^H^'i Sip ^^ </p><p>I </p><p>Sparkling like an upturned chandelier in spring sunshine, the resur </p><p>rected Great Palm House at Glasnevin to be awarded a Europa </p><p>Nostra Award this June once more resembles the lavish centrepiece </p><p>of Ireland's National Botanic Gardens it was always meant to be (Figs </p><p>16k5). The 72-foot colossus is a throwback to the heyday of the great Victorian </p><p>explorers. David Livingstone sent newly discovered plant seeds here, while </p><p>Charles Darwin took a close personal interest. </p><p>The 1884 original structure cost just under ?800 (excluding the large </p><p>wings) and itself had replaced a rotten, storm-damaged and ungainly 1860 </p><p>glass-house derided by locals as 'like an ould gable end.' The meticulous </p><p>reconstruction costing 13m involved an unlikely marriage of Victorian and </p><p>modern technologies. Original wrought iron and teak dating from the 1880s </p><p>has been renewed using traditional skills; lasers were </p><p>used to set the restored columns back into their pre </p><p>cise positions. Minute air gaps help limit condensa </p><p>tion, while computer-controlled window motors now </p><p>do the work of the unwieldy manual winding gears in </p><p>regulating humidity. </p><p>The overhead walkways on the outside now act as </p><p>lateral beams, cleverly shifting the load on to the rear </p><p>wall. It too has been completely rebuilt, stone by num </p><p>bered stone, after an alarmed engineer inspected it </p><p>and declared flatly 'that wall shouldn't be standing.' It </p><p>turned out that it was only being kept in place by the </p><p>glasshouse. </p><p>The first crisis encountered by Ciar?n O'Connor, </p><p>the OPWs assistant principal architect leading the </p><p>restoration with colleague Gerry Harvey, was discover </p><p>ing that the original columns of wrought iron encasing </p><p>a teak spine had suffered an unusual electro-chemical </p><p>attack. Ferrous oxide had reacted over decades with the </p><p>teak's tannic acid causing a battery-like corrosion. </p><p>The solution was to use a narrow, flexible mastic </p><p>barrier between them. The oil in teak means it does not </p><p>accept paint easily, so a special 'breathing' paint had also to be developed by </p><p>OPW suppliers. Iron surfaces were carefully roughened so paint would adhere. </p><p>Clear glass has replaced frosted sheets among almost 10,000 panes (Fig 2). </p><p>Much of the uniquely uneven Victorian glass has been retained to avoid a dead </p><p>flat 'office block' effect. The OPW built up its specialist knowledge while work </p><p>ing on the adjacent Curvilinear Range of hot houses. This supremely elegant </p><p>family of hot houses, each with its own distinctive climate and planting, was </p><p>built in stages between 1843 and 1869, and is widely considered to be among </p><p>the top five of its kind in Europe. The 1995 restoration costing 4.6m also </p><p>won a Europa Nostra Award for faithful reconstruction of a historic building </p><p>(Figs 3</p></li><li><p>The idea was that curves would allow the sun to enter from different </p><p>angles for maximum light 5 The Great Palm </p><p>House </p><p>6 The Curvilinear </p><p>range of hot houses </p><p>is considered to be </p><p>among the top five </p><p>of its kind in Europe </p><p>7 Interior of the </p><p>Great Palm House </p><p>Claudius Loudon's London glasshouse experiments, </p><p>leading the Dubliner and his collaborator, architect </p><p>Decimus Burton, towards gothic and filigree touches </p><p>reflecting mid-Victorian taste for the picturesque over </p><p>the formal. 'The functional became decorative,' says </p><p>O'Connor. 'The idea was that curves would allow the </p><p>sun to enter from different angles for maximum light. </p><p>Science has since shown the amount of (penetrating) </p><p>sun is not so different.' The result was however </p><p>uniquely graceful. </p><p>The Turner family had long earned a crust produc </p><p>ing mundane items: nuts, bolts, water tanks, bed posts, </p><p>and Trinity College Dublin's 18th-century railings, </p><p>along with one-off jobs such as the gates of Dublin </p><p>Castle. The OPW architect believes Richard Turner </p><p>was something of a perfectionist: 'He wasn't a feller </p><p>who said: "let's just keep hacking out the same stuff." </p><p>Here was a guy who was pushing his material to the </p><p>limit'. He also had a practical manner. 'If asked "Can </p><p>you do that?" he'd say "Oh yes" and draw it there and </p><p>then. He had a very good rapport with clients.' </p><p>His first breakthrough had been to convince the </p><p>RDS in 1843 that wooden greenhouses and humidity </p><p>loving tropical plants did not mix. Iron, he explained, </p><p>would far outlast the timber structures that had rotted </p><p>one after another at Glasnevin since 1800. Turner, </p><p>described as 'an ingenious, tasty, clever fellow,' had </p><p>been successfully building wrought iron glasshouses </p><p>since the early 1830s. These progressed in style and </p><p>engineering from early Fermanagh and Tipperary con </p><p>tracts (1833-37) to later creations at the Lord </p><p>Lieutenant's Dublin home and at Belfast's Botanic </p><p>Gardens, before his Glasnevin and Kew triumphs. </p><p>Today visitors stroll in off the streets, but 160 years </p><p>ago the Gardens offered the public much the same wel </p><p>come as Marie Antoinette's dinner table. In the mid </p><p>19th century this was a bastion of unyielding privilege </p><p>where the gentry and their hangers-on fought a dogged </p><p>rearguard action in defence of garden snobbery. The </p><p>gardens were the offspring of the patrician Royal Dublin </p><p>Society, which first emerged as a semi-academic body to </p><p>promote innovation in agriculture, science, industry </p><p>and art. One of the Irish Parliament's final acts in 1800, </p><p>before Union ended self-government, was to pump </p><p>extra funds into the fledgling project, which opened on </p><p>a 16-acre site (now 48) in May 1800. With arrogance </p><p>verging on absolutism, controlling powers now turned </p><p>the public away from an amenity they had paid for </p><p>through tax. For half a century the gardens were a pri </p><p>vate gentlemens' club which visitors needed a special </p><p>pass to enter. In 1852 public access was permitted from </p><p>Monday to Friday. Whether Glasnevin should open to </p><p>the public on Sunday, the labouring masses' one day of </p><p>rest, became a battle royal. The toffs rallied 6,000 sig </p><p>natures for what amounted to a 'keep the plebs out' </p><p>petition. This was countered by 16,000 names favour </p><p>ing free access. The gentry and emerging middle class </p><p>es, the so-called 'quality' feared the arrival of Dublin's </p><p>tenement-dwelling masses would lead to the gardens' </p><p>desecration. 'They believed "ignorant"people would not </p><p>know how to behave,' says O'Connor. Hostilities </p><p>reached boiling point in the summer of 1861 when the </p><p>Government delivered the RDS an ultimatum: allow </p><p>the public in or lose your grants. The Exchequer, with </p><p>William Gladstone in the role of the wrought iron </p><p>Chancellor, held all the cards. Dockers and chamber </p><p>maids could now marvel at the glass Versailles, no </p><p>28 OPW 175TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 21:02:30 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>A GLITTERING LEGACY II </p><p>longer the exclusive preserve of any Roi Soleil of the </p><p>RDS. As up to 15,000 now poured in on Sundays, a </p><p>local magistrate reported drunkenness in decline, while </p><p>fears of wholesale plant theft proved unfounded. </p><p>Once the Glasnevin access row was over and with </p><p>architects at the helm, the evolving Curvilinear Range </p><p>was completed in 1869 after Turner and his son </p><p>William extended the wings, doubling the size to </p><p>accommodate swelling weekend crowds, and added the </p><p>distinctive high turrets. The new Palm House was com </p><p>pleted in 1884 from components cast in Paisley, </p><p>Glasgow, from where decorative wrought iron was </p><p>exported to customers from Australia to Bermuda. It </p><p>was no Turner replica, but its turrets and curvilinear </p><p>dome echo his earlier work's central pavilion. </p><p>History has now come full circle, with wrought iron </p><p>components from the original Turner Palm House at </p><p>Kew, rebuilt in steel in the 1980s, incorporated into its </p><p>restored Dublin counterpart. Amid the building noise, </p><p>O'Connor picks out period details: 'It's the resolution </p><p>of lovely junctions that make it Turneresque. There are </p><p>finials that mask the join of metal supports. No one </p><p>detail is there just for its own sake.' Turning towards </p><p>the Curvilinear, he points to metal roses on iron and </p><p>glass door columns. They are not purely decorative </p><p>either: 'The rose is part of the main bolt which goes </p><p>right through and makes the connection. Everything </p><p>has a purpose with Turner.' </p><p>The need for restoration struck the architects almost </p><p>literally in 1993 when a huge pane of glass fell while </p><p>O'Connor's team were inside. 'We heard it fall and </p><p>went looking for it, but couldn't find it at first. </p><p>Thankfully it was impaled in a palm tree and not in </p><p>someone's head,' he recalls. </p><p>The restored Palm House and Turner's adjacent </p><p>Curvilinear Range now form a classic Victorian set. </p><p>O'Connor sees the 'timeless' Curvilinear as a master </p><p>piece (Fig 6). Its European cousins he feels are clumsy </p><p>by comparison. 'There's nothing I would change about </p><p>it,' he declares. 'It's one of those things someone got </p><p>absolutely right.' </p><p>Turner's achievement was all the greater because as </p><p>a tradesman-manufacturer he came from outside the </p><p>privileged elite: 'He didn't have any of the aspects of </p><p>class advantage supporting him, so there was a drive, </p><p>a real will to succeed,' says O'Connor. He also had </p><p>backbone. Faced with imperious scientific, academic </p><p>and landowning gentry 'he had to be able to hold his </p><p>own.' His own conservatory catalogue reflected the </p><p>rigid Victorian sense of class distinctions: his brochure </p><p>Matthew Jebb Matthew Jebb has been Ainmneoir Planda? and Keeper of the </p><p>Herbarium at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin since </p><p>1997. He graduated in Botany from Oxford University, and complet </p><p>ed his DPhil there in 1985. Before coming to Ireland he was Director </p><p>of the Christensen Research Institute in Papua, New Guinea. He </p><p>likes to use his Irish title, Ainmneoir Planda?, as he explains: It </p><p>means a lot to people [who have] some Irish: </p><p>Namer of Plants, if I say 'taxonomisf, people </p><p>think I stuff animals or something, but </p><p>Ainmneoir Planda? is a nice straightforward </p><p>title.' He says of his work at Glasnevin: 'I have </p><p>such a nice job, in that I do so many different </p><p>things because of its relatively small size.' </p><p>Matthew Jebb's responsibilities include </p><p>curating the National Herbarium of Ireland, </p><p>which comprises about 600,000 specimens. </p><p>He has also reorganised the cataloguing of the </p><p>living collection at the gardens, and its entire catalogue is now avail </p><p>able on the website (www.botanicgardens.ie). He says: 'The website </p><p>is a very satisfying achievement. As far as I know, it's the only botan </p><p>ic gardens in the world where you can actually see exactly where </p><p>something is planted. We have maps of every border and bed.' </p><p>There is currently a pause in building activity at the gardens for </p><p>the first time since Matthew Jebb arrived: 'We have been in our </p><p>offices, in the herbarium and library building, for eight years now. </p><p>This is the first purpose-built herbarium in Ireland and the restored </p><p>Palm House complex is magnificent. We are missing the builders </p><p>already, and preparing for their return in the autumn by taking every </p><p>thing out of the succulent houses in readiness for their renovation.' </p><p>Matthew Jebb is greatly in demand as a speaker to university </p><p>departments, learned societies, and gardening clubs. He recently </p><p>raised the international profile of Irish botany by being nominated </p><p>the representative for Europe on the COP Bureau, which is responsi </p><p>ble for overseeing the Convention on Biological Diversity, part of the </p><p>UN's environmental programme. </p><p>proposed grandiose designs (and budgets) for the </p><p>'landed' gentleman and humbler imitations for gar </p><p>deners of 'modest means.' </p><p>For O'Connor the restorations have been a person </p><p>al pilgrimage. He first studied Turner's designs for a </p><p>student thesis. Later, as an OPW architect, he was </p><p>asked to rebuild them, and later the Great Palm House. </p><p>Surveying the work from its overhead walkways, he </p><p>looks round admiringly at the graceful Curvilinear: T </p><p>have this simplistic idea, that as Turner's last building </p><p>from his own home town in his original materials, it </p><p>behoved us to get it right' </p><p>Alan Murdoch is a freelance journalist. </p><p>1 Peter Pearson Decorative Dublin O'Brien </p><p>Press Dublin 2002. </p><p>2 E Graeme Robinson &amp; Joan Robertson </p><p>Wrought Iron Decoration - A World Survey </p><p>Thames &amp; Hudson, London 1977 and </p><p>1994 </p><p>OPW 175TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION | </p><p>2 9 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 21:02:30 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p><p>Article Contentsp. [26]p. 27p. 28p. 29</p><p>Issue Table of ContentsIrish Arts Review (2002-), Vol. 23, 175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works (2006), pp. 1-48Front MatterForeword [p. 1-1]OPW 175th Anniversary Edition [p. 2-2]The OPW a History of Service [pp. 3-5]Art of the State: Inheritance, Development, Legacy [pp. 6-11]Building for the Nation: Architectural Services at the OPW [pp. 12-17]Weaving Heaven and Earth [pp. 18-21]Preserving the Past [pp. 22-25]A Glittering Legacy [pp. 26-29]Conservation at OPW: Policy, Protection, Partnership [pp. 30-33]Cultural Collaborations [pp. 34-39]Engineering Success [pp. 40-41]Kilmainham Gaol: Confronting Change [pp. 42-45]Future Challenges for the Opw [pp. 46-48]Back Matter</p></li></ul>