Wednesday 25 April 2018

Hanging gardens of Milltown

Right after Neave Brown's acclaimed Alexandra Road ziggurat, came Grove House in Milltown

The exterior of Grove House
The exterior of Grove House
The view from the window
Sloping windows offer plenty of light
The sitting room
One of the bedrooms
The bathroom
Neave Brown
Grove House under construction in the 1970s
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

Who ever heard of an architect selling out a theatre like London's 1,100 seater Hackney Empire for a "night with" event - and then leaving the stage to a 10-minute long standing ovation.

But Neave Brown (inset below), who died last month aged 88, was an architect of global importance. In October, just months before his death, Brown was acclaimed by his British peers with a RIBA Royal Gold Medal, the architectural profession's highest accolade there. Right after this, the US-born late octogenarian was hauled out for his "one night only" sellout appearance at the Empire.

So what did he do exactly?

In the late 1960s, a time when the accepted solution to public housing was to slap up brutalist high rise blocks of flats, Brown tabled something altogether new - lower slung, high density homes in a ziggurat style (sloping forward) not seen since ancient Babylon.

Sloping windows offer plenty of light
Sloping windows offer plenty of light

This form of housing wasted no space, ticked the council's boxes for the necessary density, but also provided residents with a relatively low-slung existence, open living dimensions, private garden balcony areas, playground courtyards below and a clear view of the buzzing community life both above and below them.

The most famous of Brown's schemes is the Alexandra Road estate, finished in 1976, which features two rows of terraced, concrete row houses each, both sloping downwards towards each other and to playground courtyards and a curving pedestrian walkway.

It is among the few public housing schemes of the brutalist era to be praised today by its own residents.

Upon announcing his award, RIBA stated: "Brown believes every home should have its own front door opening directly on to a network of routes and streets that make up a city, as well as its own private external space, open to the sky, in the form of a roof garden or terrace. Each of these qualities was incorporated by Brown at Alexandra Road."

Evidence that Neave Brown's housing also had an impact here at the time is the design by Henry J Lyons for Grove House in Milltown, Dublin 6, also finished in 1976 and constructed in the same balconied ziggurat style; albeit two floors higher and for the uppercrust private market.

In mid-1970s Ireland, Grove House caused quite a stir in bringing modernist Babylon's hanging gardens to Dublin - as residents moved in and planted up their spaces so that the flowers and foliage pleasantly trailed down the building. And for those lucky enough to live on top there were huge sloping window wall skylights that brought the light streaming in.

The sitting room
The sitting room

Before the boom era, apartments in Dublin were generally better built and designed for those trading down from big houses rather than first-time buyers or landlords. As such they were sized equivalent to a small or average house, well located and better built - to the degree that schemes like Grove House in D6, and Hazeldene in D4, are still in high demand today.

At Grove House, a penthouse at number 9 The Oaks in Grove House has just been placed on the market for €780,000. Unlike the cramped boom era building toppers, this is a 'proper' penthouse with two floors, three bedrooms and 1,690 sq ft of space - that's much the equivalent of an average four or five bedroom estate house.

There's a decent sized entrance hall, an open-plan living room with high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows leading out to one of the blocks well-known garden balconies. There's a kitchen/dining room with a breakfast-bar counter running all the way along the windows which look down on Dublin's rooftops. The views are a big factor here and on one side they run to Pigeon House and the sea and on the other to the Dublin Mountains.

On the reverse side, on account of the floor-to-ceiling windows and the sloped upper floor wall of glass which runs overhead, every bit of this apartment is bright. The kitchen/dining room has a Liebherr fridge freezer, and Indesit double oven, a Diablo extractor, a Bosch five-ring hob, a Bosch dishwasher and an Indesit washing machine. There's a Belfast style double sink and drainer.

A spiral stairs leads upwards to the three bedrooms and the master bathroom. The spaces are all double sized. The master chamber is unusually configured as a mezzanine and it comes with a walk-in wardrobe with shelf and hanging storage and its own ensuite bathroom with a rainwater shower and more storage units. The bedroom area itself has the huge sloped window/roof space which provides views of the Dublin mountains by day and the stars overhead at night.

Heating is gas fired and there's an underground car parking space. The grounds are managed so there's an annual fee of €2,984. If you can't manage €780,000 but still fancy living at Grove House, the same agents are offering a smaller first floor apartment for €625,000. This has two bedrooms, one of which is ensuite, a main bathroom, a large open-plan kitchen/dining room and a smaller kitchen. However at 960 sq ft, it's almost the size of a three-bed semi.

Neave Brown
Neave Brown

Grove House is located on the Dublin 6 side of Milltown, nearest to Ranelagh which is a few minutes walk away with its pubs, eateries and Luas station. In the other direction just down the hill at Milltown is the entrance to the Dodder Linear Park. Filled with wildlife, you'll spot wild trout, otters, kingfishers and herons with bats at dusk. And if you look back, you can see the hanging gardens of Grove House.

Grove House

Milltown, Dublin 6,

9 The Oaks

4 The Pines

Asking price: €780,000 and €625,000

Agent: Sherry FitzGerald (01) 4969909

Indo Property

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