BETWEEN 1992 and 2000, Dublin Civic Trust undertook the restoration of seven historic buildings in the city – some of which were proposed for demolition - through the mechanism of a Building Conservation Revolving Fund. The Fund proved to be an innovative and cost effective method of saving and restoring endangered historic buildings in the city.
The view before and after of the historic shopfront of Number 4 Castle Street which was restored by the Trust in 1998 under the Building Conservation Revolving Fund and is now the Trust's headquarters.
What is a Revolving Fund?
A revolving building fund works on the principle of establishing a capital sum to acquire, restore and re-sell endangered buildings. The mechanism involves recouping the initial capital investment through the selling of the first project and working from the profit or value gained by the sale to acquire and restore the next property. In this way the initial capital investment 'revolves' as it is used to acquire and dispose of each property, in some instances gaining a premium, depending on the market valuation.
The system has been successfully used in promoting the restoration of historic buildings in cities such as Seville in Spain and Charleston in the USA and has been used by Dublin Civic Trust in a number of instances since the establishment of the Trust in 1992 to demonstrate the economic value of building restoration and repair. The benefits of the Fund are two-fold: firstly, in leaving to the city restored buildings and protecting our patrimony, and secondly, in advancing and encouraging traditional craftsmanship and building methods, given that each restoration project sought to faithfully conserve most of the original fabric of the buildings.
Successful projects undertaken by Dublin Civic Trust since 1992
Numbers 10 & 11 South Frederick Street
Numbers 10 and 11 South Frederick Street were acquired in 1994 by the Trust. An important pair of early Georgian town houses that were amongst the last surviving historic buildings on their side of the street following a spate of site clearances, both houses were in a state of dereliction with permission granted for demolition. The Trust undertook to conserve and restore both in accordance with best conservation practice, employing skills and techniques including angle-strapping to secure the walls, tuck pointing of the facades and careful splicing of internal joinery. The fully restored buildings were subsequently sold to owner/occupiers for residential use with Section 19 status of the Finance Act, 1982.
Number 21 Aungier Street
One of Dublin’s oldest houses, dating to the 1680s, Number 21 Aungier Street was formerly the town house of the Earls of Ross, located in the formerly prestigious suburb laid out by Francis Aungier in the 1660s. By the 1990s, its grim rendered facade concealed an extraordinary secret: not only the antiquity of the building, but also the original 1680s freestanding handcarved staircase that soard up through the centre of the building. having survived centuries of modification and intense multiple-occupancy use. The building was due for demolition in 1996 when the Trust acquired it from the then Dublin Corporation as a restoration project.
The render was removed from the front elevation, revealing a delicate tuck pointed facade of c. 1800, which in turn provided the cue for the reinstatement of sash windows of similar date, of which one had survived. To the rear, an early eighteenth century window with thick glazing bars was discovered, which was used as a model for the windows on the rear facade. An elegant traditional shop front was also installed at ground floor level. The subsquent planning permission allowed for a fourteen bedroom guest house with restaurant at ground floor level, known as The Staircase, although the building has since been put to other uses. In addition, the building has Section 19 status which allows public access.
Number 4 Castle Street
Number 4 Castle Street was purchased in 1996 and is the now the headquarters of Dublin Civic Trust. The house was built c. 1830 and is the only surviving house of the late Georgian period remaining on the street. At the time of purchase, the building had been unoccupied for ten years and was saved from demolition mainly due to the existence of late medieval timbers and brickwork embedded in an exterior wall which gave the building National Monuments status. A full programme of restoration got underway in 1997, including the repair of its traditional shuttered shopfront and complete rehabilitation of the interior for use as a public exhibition space and offices. A detailed history of the project is charted here.
In total, five properties were restored by Dublin Civic Trust using the Revolving Fund, while the Trust was instrumental in saving further properties in conjunction with Dublin City Council and through various campaigns such as the former City Weights and Measures on Harry Street and the rare mews buildings of Numbers 14 and 15 St. Stephen's Green. The positive effects of the Fund went well beyond individual buildings; stimulating further improvements on key city centre streets such as South Frederick Street and Andrew Street.
Why reactivate the Fund now?
The various properties restored by the Trust are testament to the effectiveness of the Revolving Fund in protecting our built heritage. Whereas the property boom of the past decade lessened the viability of the Fund as a mechanism for building conservation, the changed economic circumstances in which we now find ourselves call for imaginative solutions such as the Fund to continue the process of reclaiming and sustaining our historic built environment.
With the serious downturn of the property market over the past two years, the ownership profile of huge swathes of Dublin city centre has changed dramatically over a short period of time due to the disappearance of many of the property development companies that dominated the city during the past 15 years, as well as the new role of the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA) as the effective owner of so many properties throughout the city. In addition, a significant number of historic buildings remain in public ownership through bodies such as the Office of Public Works, Dublin City Council and other State bodies and agencies, but are often underutilised and undervalued, and hence subject to neglect and even dereliction. However, this extent of public ownership now offers a unique opportunity to pursue a different development model for the city — one which protects rather than compromises its historic built heritage.
The mechanism of the Building Conservation Revolving Fund remains in place; the legalities of the Fund remain in place; and the wealth of traditional craftsmanship and technical knowledge which the Trust used so effectively in the 1990s have progressed considerably since this time. With a sufficient initial capital investment, the Revolving Fund could once again provide a cost-effective solution to saving and restoring some of Dublin’s most important structures.
Above: Numbers 77-80 North King Street form part of the last intact section of original buildings on the street which forms the enclosure of the northern side of Smithfield, one of the set-piece civic spaces in the city. The left-hand image shows the buildings in their present dilapidated state after a prolonged period of neglect and abandonment. The poor condition of the terrace severely blights the views of North King Street from Smithfield and compromises the overall quality of the area.
The right-hand image provides an architect's impression of the terrace after reconstruction and restoration, possibly through the application of a Revolving Fund, offering a tantalising glimpse of how this important section of historic streetscape could benefit from sensitive repair and investment. The benefit of the restored terrace to the wider Smithfield area would be significant.