Monday 26 September 2016

Home truths: Time to address the new pastiche

Published 24/06/2016 | 02:30

Ailesbury Road, Dublin 4
Ailesbury Road, Dublin 4

During the Celtic Tiger years when 'new' money began to buy up Victorian and Edwardian properties on the capital's twin top trophy home streets, Ailesbury and Shrewsbury Roads, the hackles of 'old money' residents were raised when their new neighbours started bringing in the demolition gangs.

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Elegant old red-brick houses constructed during the years of Empire were found to be too stuffy for their new owners, who soon began lodging planning permissions to knock them down and replace them with what some would call 'McMansions', some of truly gargantuan proportions.

Most of these olde worlde homes weren't listed or protected at the time and as there were plenty of them, the local authorities didn't deem them to be of any particular architectural value.

The argument could have been made that with wet rot, dry rot, damp and failing mortar and beams, it almost cost as much to restore them as it did to knock them down and start again.

And so these roads and those surrounding them became a builder's yard for a time, with trucks and construction crews running hither and thither.

Concerned somewhat about how this trend would effect the look of the Edwardian and Victorian streetscapes, the local authority did determine that the new homes which were springing up in D4 leafy lanes, should resemble the older versions as much as viably possible.

In the end, we got legions of what you might call 'modwardians' - all red-bricks with bay window columns and recessed porches entered via a flight of stone steps, but gleaming with modern composites and brick panels.

There was resistance - numbers of longer established residents in Ballsbridge mobilised into groups to protest again about the character of the area being altered. Finally the property crash put paid to the trend, but not before modwardians as big as 20,000 sq ft - enough to hold 20 regular-sized family homes - took their positions in the oldest suburbs. In the end, receivers took many of them over and sold them for a fraction of the money pumped in.

Today we're seeing a rerun of the same, but further out in 1930s, 1940s and 1950s built suburbs where houses which are described as period homes can still be acquired for €600,000 plus. Old homes are knocked to leave the original front wall façade and the rest demolished. A new home is built behind the façade and then sometimes, if it weakens by the process, then that too is pulled down and replaced with a modern copy.

Some of the reasons behind the relatively new surge of old house demolitions are the same as those behind the Tiger era modwardian splurge and some are different.

First of all, shortage in prestige neighbourhoods: amidst the worst supply of new and second hand homes in mature areas, wealthier buyers are taking what they can for address. They might want a large new home but an old draughty abode with an 'F' BER cert might be all they can get. Which brings us to the next factor - energy usage. Big old period homes are badly insulated and their heating capacity was designed for coal. It costs so much to renovate them to a level whereby they won't eat money to heat, that sometimes it's almost as economical to knock them down entirely.

Since the Tiger years, modern extensions and fresh looking contemporary architect-designed one-off abodes have captured the attention of the glossies and the eye of the home buyer. While the 1990s and early Noughties saw a high appreciation of olde worlde design, the modern moneyed city buyer wants contemporary. And if they have to knock an old house and build a new house that looks like an old house to get it - inside and out back - so be it.

So the local authorities are once again in a dilemma. As one project after another pulls down a 1930s original, they're insisting on the new one keeping 'the look'. Owners are, of course, complying. And, in fact, like modern versions of the VW Beetle, Austin Mini Cooper and the FIAT 500 Bambino, the resulting homes can be surprisingly good looking - particularly the modded 1930s to 1950s bungalows.

While we campaigned to save Georgian homes and, more recently, Edwardian homes, aren't pre and post war houses just as valuable a component in our architectural heritage? Alright so we don't need all of them. But do we want entire streets changing from 1930s bungalows to 2016 versions of 1930s bungalows? Does it make sense?

Might there be ways of providing grants or tax relief in some form to save at least some of them? And do we want to save them? That question needs to be asked. We had the same questions raised about our Georgian Squares and, latterly, our Victorian suburbs. But now's the time to ask questions once again about pastiching.

Indo Property

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