Wednesday 22 October 2014

Monkstown's newest home disguises itself as a plain old garden wall

Deliberately designed to look like a blank garden wall in an effort to jump through planning permission loopholes.

Published 18/07/2014 | 02:30

How 1a Alma Road looks from the street
The Alma Road building was designed with a central courtyard to add light
One of the bedrooms of 1a Alma Road

The relatively young architectural practice of ODOS has made a big name for itself through the past decade with svelte and eye catching contemporary one-off homes which have graced coffee table books and swank magazines like Wallpaper while also winning them an assortment of Irish awards alongside international acclaim.

More recently ODOS has been taking commissions in the UK where business has built up to the point that the practice run by Dubliners David O'Shea and Darrell O'Donoghue, has recently been able to open an office in London's Mayfair district. They plan to expand on this with a larger presence in Clerkenwell by the end of the year.

The Alma Road building was designed with a central courtyard to add light

One reason that ODOS has been so successful is that it has been increasingly commissioned by those with oddball sites in tricky spots that defy all attempts to gain planning permission. This is because the practice's most remarkable aptitude is for gaining planning permission for some really decent homes on sites where other architects have repeatedly failed to get sanction for anything at all.

The practice has had a remarkable rate of success working through those commissions which have come with the longest list of planning "don't dos."

A side courtyard surrounding Alma Road

The practice's most recently completed house 1A Alma Road in Monkstown near Seapoint Dart station is perhaps its most remarkable achievement of all – completed on a site which has had no less than four previous refusals by planners before ODOS was called in.

If anything, it's very existence highlights the fact that the most accomplished designers are often those who can solve the most problems to produce credible homes which are ultimately fashioned by a long list of restrictions and negatives rather than by any happy "dream home" wish lists of clients.

How 1a Alma Road looks from the street

"We do this by taking on the restrictions positively as challenges to be overcome and we utilise those restrictions to make homes of quality that just wouldn't have come into being otherwise," says John Crowley, project architect on this, one of the practice's most unusual homes yet. Crowley is now preparing to base himself in London to head up the new Clerkenwell operation.

Constructed in a lynchpin corner site on a street of tall Victorian Houses, the two storey house that has resulted spans almost 2,000 sq ft or nearly twice the size of the average city suburban semi.

Interior shot shows height of the building

The planners stipulated that because of the pivotal nature of the corner site as a visual anchor on a street of eminently tall Victorian homes, there could be no pastiche dwelling here – no new home built to look like an old one; there could be no windows visible from the street nor from three sides of the dwelling and there would be strict height restrictions.

To sum up – they would certainly would not be giving permission for anything that even slightly resembled a house. For the many crucially clear corner sites which visually anchored these old streets, it would set a dangerous precedent.

The bathroom and kitchen leading to the courtyard

Four planning refusals proved they were totally serious.

"We went in to see the planners as we always do," says Darrell O'Donoghue. "We asked them what they would like to see on the site. They told us that the site history showed there had been an orchard on the site and a wall boundary to close it off.

The bathroom and kitchen leading to the courtyard

"So we decided to present them with a plan for a house that looked for all intents and purposes like a Victorian wall – in the same brick palate of the residence that the site had been attached to. They granted permission."

Residents then objected to An Bord Pleanala on the grounds that the house design didn't look like any of the houses in the locality. Of course it didn't – it looked like a wall. An Bord Pleanala upheld the planning permission and ODOS got under way last year and finished it off in May.

One of the bedrooms of 1a Alma Road

In this case the client was a builder and his son who had bought the site which had been attached to the Victorian house. John Crowley adds: "In most cases the brief from the client is about how they want to live in the house and how they'd like it to look. In this case the main part of the brief was to get permission for any house – full stop – and second, if this could be done, to get permission for the biggest house possible."

So ODOS decided to dig deep in their quest to build an "invisible" house – down by up to three metres in some spots. David O'Shea adds: "We also encountered restrictions in the depth we could go down. We talked to the county engineer and he set us a depth limit based on flooding experiences in the area."

So thus restricted from having visible windows, restricted from building upwards by more than the height of a man and a half and restricted from digging down more than shoulder high at the shallowest point, ODOS set about producing a home which would be lit internally wholly by internal and side placed enclosed glazed courtyards and overhead windows.

"As the planners stipulated there are no windows visible from the street or from the surrounding gardens. If you were passing by in the daytime you'd think you were looking at a Victorian wall," says John.

"But this is what makes this home unique as you can see, it that it is full of light and bright in every part."

The house has three bedrooms all of which look out into a courtyard. There's a kitchen and receptions at the brighter upper floor level, which also have access to courtyard lighting through floor to ceiling glass.

There's a main bathroom and an en-suite off the master bedroom which is housed in a restored coach house set in on the site which the planners stipulated had to be retained.

Floors are in light washed oak and the glass is high thermal retention.

The house has an A3 BER rating – remarkably high for so much glass. It's eco credentials include solar panel water heating, a heat recovery system, underfloor heating, a "live" sedum grass roof covering for natural insulation and drainage and a rainwater recovery system which produces water for the toilets and washing machine functions.

It is estimated that the total construction costs came in under €400,000 – comparable to the regular construction costs of any home of this size anywhere else.

So now you see it? No you don't.

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