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1950’s Terrace Reinvention Drumcondra

  • Open Plan Living Space Interior Lit from Above
  • Clerestory Glazing

In 2006, a young single Cillian bought a 1950’s terrace house as a starter home. In the heart of Drumcondra, close to his family, this small house had a remarkably long sloping garden, and an airy south facing aspect. Years passed, Cillian met his wife Laura, and in 2014 they asked us if it was possible to make their starter home into a forever home.

Monumental Challenges and Humble Goals

Their goal was to re-construct the house as a 4-bedroom family home with the same conveniences you would expect in a new development. They needed about 120m² of space including a downstairs bedroom adjacent to an accessible bathroom, upstairs bedrooms with study spaces, practical kitchen and utility room, and space for an office nook. Many houses in the area had rear extensions, but none delivered these basic requirements.

Unglamorous History 

Houses of this type were built in challenging times. The long mass concrete terraces with their relentless stoic quality represented the first plausible solution to decades of urban congestion dating back to the 1800’s. Despite enviable locations in the inner suburbs of Dublin, these small houses can be difficult to extend and hard for new families to fall in love with. At 60m², they were just over half the commonly accepted size for family homes.

Narrow Site 

The 4.8-meter plot is only “one room” wide. Efficient house designs group separate rooms around a kernel of circulation space. Our site demanded a linear layout so this wasn’t possible. Studying the clients’ needs for every space, we planned the functionality in detail and linked the spaces in a logical sequence. This allowed us to omit all corridors except the minimum escape route required for fire safety. 

The interior is defined by natural light from above. We created a simple pitched roof to accommodate inexpensive windows between site- formed timber flitch beams. These windows face south. In keeping with our planning strategy, if the design were to be repeated elsewhere the roof profile could be adapted to the orientation of other similar sites.   

Planning Challenge 

The Dublin City development plan specified that extensions should be less than half the size of the original house, and in keeping with local architecture. Our brief required us to reimagine the fundamental architecture of these terraces and that meant doubling the original floor area of the house. Our design effectively could not be granted by the rules applying to Dublin City Council.

An Bord Pleanala is a vital resource when the potential of a bespoke design conflicts with the generalised provisions of the development plan. Any deviation from the development plan is an incremental shift in local planning policy; decisions against the development plan set a precedent which cannot be taken lightly. In our experience, An Bord Pleanala rewards investment in the architectural design process and clients with the honest goal of making neighbourhoods better.  

The key to securing permission was not to design one house, but to extend our proposed precedent to its logical conclusion, and create an excellent prototype for how these terraces ought to be adapted through time. This house works on its own site, but a row of such houses would share the same light and space without overshadowing. To receive permission for Laura and Cillian, we had to positively reimagine the legacy of 1950’s housing in Dublin. We created a unique design embodying today’s values and a new vision for many extended houses working together as a permeable city block.

A Builder’s Friend

The budget allowed for a total area of 1242, so we created simple construction details with standard materials, to be executed by ordinary tradespeople rather than specialist suppliers. This was facilitated by a white painted aesthetic, set in contrast with dark gray window frames.

Our planning argument hinged on creating a prototype which could be replicated on the scale of whole neighbourhoods. Architect designed houses often require carefully researched technical details to comply with the building regulations. This house complies with the government’s standard “Technical Guidance Documents” in all respects.  

An Bord Pleanala critically assessed the new design in the planning context. Their expertise ultimately made this home a reality for Cillian and Laura; after we presented graphic and written arguments, An Bord Pleanala ordered a grant of permission.

Cillian and Laura didn’t want a piecemeal extension. They wanted a proper family home and bravely invested time and passion to make that happen. Their whole community now has an exemplar and a roadmap to the same humble goal.

Design Process

The design required numerous versions to refine the concept and ensure that the design meet all of the client needs, ranging from off street parking and a garden shed, to study spaces and samples of their desired interior design scheme. 

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