Dublin’s public housing is one of the things that is immediately recognisable to anyone familiar with the city. While many of the buildings are not landmarks in themselves, they are central to communities throughout Dublin and form part of the city’s unique visual identity as a backdrop to everyday life. Here are some examples close to the centre of the city that you can have a look at over the Open House weekend.
Early flats: Ellis Court and Crampton Court
Dublin City Council’s tradition of building social housing starts with Nos. 1-36 Ellis Court, a pair of adjoining four-storey Victorian mansion housing blocks located on Benburb Street near Collins Barracks. Built in 1887 to a design by the then City Architect, D. J. Freeman the larger development included blocks to the east fronting onto Blackhall Place. It is of social historical significance as the first development of social housing undertaken by the Corporation, part of an effort to relieve the slum conditions of the time. After a long period of disuse, the buildings at Ellis Court are currently under scaffolding as they are being renovated to be brought back into use as homes by Tuath Housing.
Crampton Court, located off Aston Quay, was constructed in 1890 by the Dublin Artisans Dwelling Company and has a unique place in the history of social housing in Dublin. It is almost contemporaneous with the much more well-known Iveagh Buildings. The apartments were acquired by Dublin City Council in the 1990s and maintained as social housing. Around 2012 the City Council’s concerns about fire safety prompted an ambitious plan to upgrade the units. The existing 54 homes of an average floor area of 30sq.m were enlarged by combining units to form 28 larger homes. The objective was to ensure the continuation of Crampton Court as viable housing within a historic structure into the future. A number of families in Crampton Buildings are the grand-children and great-grandchildren of some of the original residents.
The Simms blocks
Built between 1932 and 1948, the flats developed under the direction of architect Herbert Simms, with their horizontal brick forms, have in recent times gained greater recognition in Dublin for their design quality. Dotted throughout the central parts of the city, they vary in their scale and urban design: some forming urban perimeter blocks with courtyards while some are situated orthogonally on their sites without reference to the surrounding street pattern. Their brick detailing and streamlined profiles show the influence of continental modernism that Simms brought to his work, such as at Henrietta House pictured here. By the time of his untimely death in 1948, Simms was responsible for the design and construction of an astonishing 17,000 new dwellings. The fact that so many of the schemes designed by him are still in occupation is a testament to their quality and resilience. The Council is currently progressing a pilot project to carry out an energy efficiency retrofit in the Ballybough House, a protected structure, with a view to planning their long term future.
Another social housing design familiar to Dubliners are the “gull-wing” blocks of the 1960s and 70s. These horizontal extruded forms were clearly influenced by continental modernism, Le Corbusier in particular. Have a closer look at Gardiner Street Flats, built under the supervision of the then City Architect, Daithí Hanly in 1961. The Gardiner Street block included innovations such as the gull-wing roof profile, a free-standing circular staircase and hexagonal windows. It also features unusual details such as decorative (not to say incongruous) feature gargoyles, decorative mosaics (currently covered) and heavily textured ‘clinker’ bricks at the gables. The contrast of modernism form with the artisanal materials and figurative decorations as well as the respect for the form and scale of the Georgian street demonstrate his statement that “there is never any need for conflict between conservation and progress”.
St Teresa’s Gardens
St. Teresa’s Gardens in Dublin 8 is a project to carry out a significant and complex area regeneration plan for the an existing flat complex which adjoin privately owned lands known as the Bailey Gibson and Player Wills sites. The first phase of this large scale development is currently on site and will provide 54 new homes, comprising 38 houses and 16 apartments. The scheme is designed to be more connected to the district’s street pattern, addressing a problem of the original scheme it replaces. The new terrace of houses run back to back with those existing, following the pattern of the 19th C development to create legible urban blocks.
St. Teresa’s Gardens. Image: Barrow Coakely
2-5 Ballybough Road
Finally, another recently completed housing scheme involves reinstating historic urban fabric to create new homes and facilitate a new contemporary development. The houses at Nos. 2-5 Ballybough Road are the first part of the regeneration of the Croke Villas complex beside Croke Park. The wider development replaces three 1960s blocks with 75 new houses and apartments in a street/courtyard arrangement with a contemporary design by McCullough Mulvin Architects. Where the new development meets the historic Ballybough Road the decision was taken to provide the new homes in a way that reinstates the historic terraced “street wall” as the interface for the new development to follow.
Walking tours of St. Teresa’s Gardens and Ballybough Road are available over Open House weekend, which we hope you enjoy.
Deputy City Architect, Dublin City Council