175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works || Conservation at OPW: Policy, Protection, Partnership

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  • Irish Arts Review

    Conservation at OPW: Policy, Protection, PartnershipAuthor(s): Kevin V. MulliganSource: Irish Arts Review (2002-), Vol. 23, 175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works(2006), pp. 30-33Published by: Irish Arts ReviewStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25503515 .Accessed: 14/06/2014 04:06

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    Conservation at OPW

    Policy, Protection, Partnership One of the most

    onerous aspects of the

    OPW's role as state

    architect is to balance

    the demands of the

    present with those

    of posterity, writes


    The responsibility of custodianship, shared by everyone in possession of

    historic buildings, is certainly greater when held in trust for the people.

    Conservation plays a key role for the OPW in the management of her

    itage properties. One of the most onerous aspects of its role as state archi

    tect is to finely balance the demands of the present with those of posterity. There have

    been many factors influencing changes in attitude to safeguarding the architectural

    patrimony, not least our membership of a greater community where our heritage is

    seen and protected as part of a wider European Heritage. The Venice Charter of 1964

    still forms the basis of best practice and has influenced the approaches to legislating

    for architectural heritage protection. Most significantly for the OPW, the requirement

    over the last two decades for state development projects to pass through the same

    scrutiny as private projects in the planning process has been important to the devel

    opment of policies for best practice. Since 2000 a new Planning and Development Act

    introduces statutory protected structures and establishes the criteria for architectural

    heritage protection. As an official body, the OPW has a duty 'to be effective advocates

    for all the buildings, loved or unloved, which pass through their hands'.1 As many of

    the state's historic buildings are recorded protected structures, it is vital that the OPW

    3 0 I


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  • by exam- ^I^^^^^^^^^^^H pie. It does so two WB?^^^^^^^^^^^M principal the ^f^ "^^^^H^^^^^^l adaptation and mainte- ?T^ \^^^i^^^BPB nance of buildings for ^x^^^nd?H^^^H^I government and its ^f^5^W(5^j|^^^B agencies - such as ^m3SSo???11?HM^? Leinster House for the

    Oireachtas - and in its management of heritage proper

    ties accessible to the public -

    including Garnish Island

    (Fig 10) and Castletown House, William Conolly's 18th

    century house in Celbridge (Fig 5). '

    For the OPW each new project sets new con

    straints. Standard practice will steer works through a

    complex course determined by the facts of the building,

    with an awareness that best practice guidance may be

    rigorously tested, even at times fail. Success in pursuit

    of the principles of best practice has been evident in

    the last two decades where its work in this area has

    been recognised with awards from the RIAI and

    Europa Nostra, the most recent recipient being the

    restoration of the Palm House in the Botanic Gardens.

    In the restoration of the Chapel Royal, Francis

    Johnston's delightful Gothic casket in Dublin Castle,

    consideration of the original building accounts provid

    ed greater appreciation for the high level of craftsman

    ship involved in its decoration, whether in Richard

    Stewart's wood carvings or Edward and John Smyth's

    stucco modelling and stone carving (Figs 2

  • ili^iH KJ?????m???^, RW& ..?I -

    Me*** ^1T^ < ** '"* *- JK8? f * mf' WV


    attention is turning to the landscape; the relationship

    of the building to landscape is so evident at Castletown

    that one needs to enter the landscape to see, some dis

    tance from the house, in order to view it properly.

    The historic demesne of Castletown is now frag

    mented; in fact it has been subjected to greater change

    in the last fifty years than at any point in its history. The

    OPW now has to engage with a variety of stakeholders

    ' to ensure its protection, including private landowners

    and Coillte. It has also been working closely with

    Kildare County Council so that future planning strate

    gies in the area recognise the significance of historic

    designed landscape values; this applies whether in pre

    serving the immediate landscape, planned vistas such as

    those between the house and the Conolly Folly, or in

    the wider Liffey Valley to take account of the relation

    ships with the 'borrowed landscapes' of the neighbour

    ing demesne of St Wolstans and Donaghcomper. How

    best to achieve this involves drawing on Fin?la O'Kane's

    recently published doctoral research.5 Although the

    pressures for development are less at Emo Court (Fig 1),

    similar fragmentation of the historic landscape is evi

    dent and similar measures will be necessary to ensure

    its protection.

    The financial costs associated with conservation

    means that there are often expectations that historic

    buildings should pay their way. Dublin Castle and the

    Royal Hospital Kilmainham are partially operated as

    commercial facilities while most heritage buildings in

    OPW care, like Castletown, charge for access, though

    this is largely to subsidise the guide services. Other

    buildings are clearly less adaptable: although only very

    occasionally used for services, the Chapel Royal is for

    tunate that it lies safely within an important architec

    tural complex and may be viewed as part of a tour of

    the State Apartments in Dublin Castle. The question

    remains however, without regular use, is it sufficient to

    open it simply as an architectural showcase? When this

    happens there is a danger that an historic building

    becomes mothballed to become an 'outsized exhibit'.

    In Fota this issue is to the fore (Figs 3ck7). The

    house, devoid of its historical contents, is presented

    largely as an architectural composition while also being

    used for revenue generating functions. The way in

    which we view buildings such as Fota has been drawn

    into the polemics of art and architecture. In 2005, as

    part of the European Capital of Culture events, Daniel

    Liebeskind's 'Eighteen Turns' pavilion, was set up on

    John Cahill John Cahill qualified at the School of Architecture in UCD in

    1979, and worked in the office of Patrick Shaffrey and

    Associates before joining the OPW in 1981. His training in the

    conservation of Historic Buildings included courses with ICCROM in

    Austria and Rome, the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies

    in York, and six months with English Heritage in London.

    John Cahill was appointed as Senior Architect with special

    responsibility for Conservation by the OPW in 1999. Since then he

    has worked on a wide variety of projects in Ireland and abroad,

    including the Irish College in Paris (Centre Culturel Irlandais);

    Louvain Institute for Ireland in Europe; the

    Pontifical College, Roma; and St Isidore's

    Franciscan College in Rome.

    He says: 'We look after a mixture of build

    ings: important historical properties which are

    open to the public, from the Chapel Royal,

    Dublin Castle to Castietown House, Emo Court

    and Fota House, which are gems in their own

    right. But our workload also includes more

    mundane work. We are currently cleaning all the

    statues in O'Conneli Street, and are working on Thomas Davis at the

    moment. So there are oddities as well, which are fun because they are

    a different challenge. Working buildings, like the Four Courts or the

    Treasury block, present a different set of problems.'

    Conservation architecture is a fast-developing area of study, and

    John Cahill is also involved in communicating the latest discoveries to

    the academic world: 'Because we are working with taxpayers' money

    on the best of buildings, where there is an educational benefit, we try

    to get that into the public realm, through teaching on specialist

    courses, or arranging site visits for students.'

    John is currently responsible for restoration projects at Castietown,

    Emo Court, and the former Bishop's Palace in Kilkenny.

    the lawn in front of the house and allowed us to chal

    lenge the relevance of historic buildings and consider

    their relationships with modern architecture. This

    arresting structure in reflective aluminum was, not inap

    propriately, compared to a classical folly by the architect.

    That this structure has vanished while Fota remains may

    in itself be symbolic to some, reflecting the endurance of

    particular building types in landscape and conscious

    ness, as well in physical durability, ensuring that the vital

    role of developing conservation within modern building

    practices is central to the role of the OPW.

    Kevin V Mulligan is currently working on the South-Ulster

    volume of The Buildings of Ireland series, published by Yale

    University Press.

    7 Detail of the

    plasterwork in the

    stair hall at Fota

    House, Co Cork

    8 Irish Architectural

    Archive, Merrion

    Square, Dublin; rear

    elevation showing the new central

    glass and steel lift


    9 Conservation at

    Fota House

    10 Garnish Island, Co Cork

    1 John Earl, Building Conservation

    Philosophy, 3rd ed., Dorset 2001, p. 140

    2 Alan Murdoch, 'A Glittering Legacy' Irish Arts Review, Autumn 2004, pp.


    3 Earl, op. cit.., p.94. 4 Maurice Craig and The Knight of Glin,

    'Castletown, Co. Kildare -I' in Country

    Life, vol. CXLV, March 27, 1969,

    p. 722.

    5 Fin?la O'Kane, Landscape Design in

    Eighteenth Century Ireland, Cork 2004.


    3 3

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    Article Contentsp. 30p. 31p. 32p. 33

    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