Context 163 - March 2020

C O N T E X T 1 6 3 : M A R C H 2 0 2 0 17 Ireland lift tower to provide universal access to the museum floors; and the reinstatement of the double-height entrance hall and principal stairs, lost when the house was converted to tenements. This was partly essential infrastructure for access and egress, and partly curatorial acknowledge- ment of the house’s mid-18th-century origins. Significant architectural elements considered important to a coherent appreciation of the house and the telling of its layered and complex history were identified to ‘recover’. Such ele- ments include lost or fragmented sections of 18th-century decorative plasterwork in the front stair hall and principal reception rooms, and even areas of flat plaster lost through decay, neglect or ill-judged past interventions, par- ticularly in the back stair hall and upper floors; timber balusters missing from the rear staircase, the detail of which was based on the handful of surviving ones; and tenement-era linoleum floor and wallpapers remade from fragments found in the house as part of the recreation of mid-20th- century tenement rooms. Understanding when to ‘hold’ the fragile traces of the layers of occupation, which communicate so effectively the immediacy of the stories being told, required different solutions, depending on the context. In tenement-era rooms it became as important to leave walls pocked with nail marks or damaged by wear and tear as to intervene and make good. Missing sections of the evocative tenement paint layers of Reckitt’s Blue and Raddle Red in the back hall and stairs were reinstated to achieve a necessary coherence. On the first floor, where the story of the house’s Georgian origins is told, it was necessary to fully repair wall surfaces and remove imperfec- tions so that a poignant contrast between the Georgian first floor and tenement-era basement and ground floors could be appreciated. A delicate balance was sought for approaches to both new interventions and repairs. New interventions are distinguishable from the his- toric setting of the house, while ensuring an overall coherence using a constrained palette of materials. New materials and finishes were selected, following sampling processes, to com- plement the ‘tone’ of the particular space. Thus the lighter hues in the restored entrance stair hall compartment and the burnt larch timber and black screed of the link bridge, which looks on to the rear staircase, and the solid-wall brick return and lift compartment, facing on to the rich patina of the rear elevation. The approach to repairs and renewal of historic fabric relied on the use of traditional materials and established techniques. Using compatible mortar mixes and materials for lime plaster repairs included lime grouting to re-adhere loose areas of flat plaster without impacting important surrounding surface finishes; and the renewal of surfaces lost over time. Stone repairs involved localised grafting of new stone, and the removal of synthetic paint layers using a low-pressure, inert, fine-granulate medium. Timber repairs, including splicing in of new sections, and the restoration of lost detail, were achieved using compatible timber species. Most important to note is that overcoming the complex curatorial and conservation challenges inherent in this unique project was possible only through a close collaboration between Dublin City Council, the design and curatorial teams, and the contractor/craftsmen, who together responded thoughtfully and carefully to emerg- ing insights shared by the house’s former resi- dents and new academic research. The finished result is a house of memory, where the varied lives of its former residents is communicated through its very form and fabric. 14 Henrietta Street received the awards for best conservation/restoration project and best overall project at the RIAI Irish Architecture Awards 2018. It received a special mention from the Jury of the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Awards (con- servation category) 2018.The judging panel said that it recognised and appreciated the action taken by Dublin City Council to ‘rehabilitate the historic fabric of the city, while acknowledging the multi-layered social history of the site’. 14 Henrietta Street was shortlisted for the pres- tigious European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture (the Mies van der Rohe Award) 2019, and it has been shortlisted for European Museum of theYear Award, 2020. Charles Duggan is heritage officer with Dublin City Council. The reinstated front hall and stairs of 14 Henrietta Street 14 Henrietta Street is managed on behalf of Dublin City Council by the Dublin City Council Culture Company