Russborough's West Wing and Cow House scoop top awards

Esther Hayden

Published 12/07/2014 | 12:00

Two West Wicklow projects scooped top awards at the recent Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) awards in Dublin recently.

The West Wing Refurbishment in Russborough and the Cow House were among the 15 projects which received awards during the ceremony which took place in Dublin City Council.

The Russborough West Wing Refurbishment and Post Fire Reinstatement works at Russborough House in Blessington won the Best Conservation/Restoration award while the Cow House also in Blessington won the Best House award.

The Russborough works were designed by Howley Hayes Architects while Michael Kelly and Dan Costelloe Architects designed the Cow House which is situated in June Blake's Gardens.

Russborough West Wing

Russborough West Wing was used by Sir Alfred and Lady Beit as their Irish home, until the death of Sir Alfred in 1994 and later by Lady Beit in 2005. It was decided in the late 2000s to create a new Irish Landmark Trust property that would have minimal impact on the historic project. The wing would be refurbished into two self-contained apartments for short term letting to the public separately or as a single unit and in late 2009 the project commenced on site.

In early February 2010 a fire broke out in the attic of the west wing destroying approximately 80 per cent of the roof as well as most of the 1970s plasterboard ceilings and partitions on the first floor.

To protect the historic structure a temporary roof was erected over the building immediately. All fire debris was cleared from site and the west wing was made safe again. A post fire survey was carried out at the same time to gain an understanding of the building fabric to inform the post fire reinstatement works.

The stone urns were removed from the parapets to protect them during the construction of the new roof. They were repaired and reinstated on completion of the roof.

Due to the amount of water required to extinguish the fire a lengthy drying out process was required, involving a combination of fans and heaters. It was necessary to remove all hard plasters from internal walls for the process to be effective.

All hard plaster removed from internal walls was replaced with lime plaster. Small areas of lath and plaster ceilings and partitions remained following the fire and it was ensured that these were fully reinstated in these locations as opposed to using modern plasterboard ceilings. Fortunately most of the decorative plasterwork survived the fire. Only small localised repairs were required.

Prior to the paint stripping of the walls specialist advice was obtained and analysis of the paint was carried out. A record of all historic paint colours used throughout the west wing was documented. The project was completed in October 2011.

Externally the majority of the ashlar stone elevations have been re-pointed, the north elevation has been rendered in lime and all of the sash windows and external joinery have been repaired and decorated.

A new pellet boiler and solar panels have been installed and all services have been fully upgraded including a new fire and security system. The Beit's sanitary ware fittings have been re-used throughout the new bathrooms including Sir Alfred's bath. Two new kitchens have been fitted in the vaulted stables.

The Cow House is a recently restored 19th Century farm building set in the grounds of June Blake's internationally acclaimed garden. It has its own timber and glass elevation set back behind the restored granite elevation. It has an independent ground floor structure of timber posts, timber/steel flitch beams and timber joists, supporting first floor timber structural frames which in turn support the 15m long laminated timber ridge beam. This enables the rafters to span from the ridge to the walls permitting the roof space to accommodate two en-suite bedrooms. The partitions are formed from European birch faced plywood.

The ground floor is one space for cooking, dining and sitting. The floor is a heated polished concrete floor cast from local sand and granite. The floor steps as the original cow houses stepped. The kitchen island is formed from the same cast concrete. The granite walls on the east and south have been lined with solid Douglas Fir.

The stairs is baroque in conception and design. The lower section is formed from cast concrete, dense, solid and load bearing in contrast with the upper section, a semi solid hanging assembly of laminated plywood.

Upstairs there are two unique bedrooms with glass lined en suite bathrooms. Four bespoke roof lights allow light and sunshine to animate all spaces within the house.

Speaking about the awards Robin Mandal, President of the RIAI, said: 'We continue to see a very high standard of winners year on year. It is important that this architectural excellence is continually promoted to show the quality that good architecture can bring to our built landscape. Good architecture takes commitment and we can see the value of place making, driven by quality of life, community and health-led agenda. The projects in this year's awards continue to show the value and long-term investment that exists when high quality architecture is delivered when an architect is involved.'

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