The conservation of 18 Ormond Quay Upper, a merchant building located in the centre of Ireland’s capital city, was undertaken by Dublin Civic Trust, an independent built heritage organisation. The aim was to undertake a flagship demonstration project of best conservation practice and rehabilitation of an historic urban building as an example to citizens, policy makers and the wider property, investment and conservation sectors. It represents the seventh building saved and restored by Dublin Civic Trust over the past 30 years.
Dublin is a city whose physical identity and primary architectural heritage is defined by buildings and streets dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The city hosts celebrated districts of brick-built Georgian squares and radiating streets, punctuated by important public buildings of the European neoclassical tradition. Less valued are its modest commercial streets and river quays, composed of merchant building types dating from three centuries of development. These buildings conform to a terraced pattern of neighbouring premises with living accommodation over shops. Individually, many are unremarkable, but collectively they represent a rich accumulation of a city’s building tradition and physical identity - part of a shared urban patrimony recognisable across Europe.
18 Ormond Quay Upper is the ideal manifestation of a Dublin street building, whose attributes and qualities represent the essence of the city’s culture and materiality. Its highly prominent location on the River Liffey in central Dublin, coupled with unique surviving features and patina of age, made it the ideal demonstration project for Dublin Civic Trust as an educational built heritage organisation.
18 Ormond Quay Upper is a four-storey over basement merchant building constructed in 1843. The building replaced at least two structures previously on the same site since development first started on Ormond Quay Upper in the 1680s. Interconnected to the rear of Number 18 is a house dating to the 1750s that was amalgamated into the premises during its 1840s reconstruction, retaining important Georgian fabric. The building therefore reflects the successive layers of Dublin’s modern evolution and the mercantile culture and heritage of the surrounding district practiced over centuries.
Number 18 was occupied in 1843 by a grocer’s shop by the name of Graham Berry, wine, tea and spirit merchants. The upper floors were occupied by a solicitor’s chambers and residence. This was a use common to the upper floors of many quayside buildings in Dublin on account of their proximity to the Four Courts, the city’s signature neoclassical building designed in the 1780s by the noted architect James Gandon.
18 Ormond Quay Before (2016) and After (2020). Works undertaken included removal of cementitious pebble-dashed render, repair of original brickwork and ‘wigged’ lime pointing, reinstatement of timber sash windows, and comprehensive repair and reassembly of historic blind-arcaded shopfront with traditional joinery. Chimneys rebuilt, cast-iron elements remade and authentic paint finishes used.
Throughout the 19th century, the ground floor shop was occupied by successive grocers until the building’s conversion to a family hotel and restaurant in 1912. It continued to serve this use until the 1970s, when it reverted to retailing use as a famous hunting, shooting and fishing tackle shop by the name of Watts Brothers. The building became vacant in the year 2000 and experienced intermittent use and vacancy until Dublin Civic Trust’s acquisition of the premises in 2016.
18 Ormond Quay Upper is an excellent example of an early/mid-19th century merchant street building with earlier layers of fabric dating to the 1760s. The building is a designated Protected Structure under Irish historic building law and is rated a building of Regional Significance by Ireland’s National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
The core aims for the Trust in acquiring and restoring the building were to:
1. Save and restore a vulnerable period building of significant heritage value
2. Educate by example in sensitively refurbishing and finding a new use for an historic urban building
3. Revive and sustain traditional craft skills and promote sustainable building practice
4. Engage the community, practitioners and specifiers in all aspects of building conservation
The project was undertaken solely by Dublin Civic Trust over four years. This included 18 months of planning, documentary research and acquiring building/planning consents, and two and a half years of construction, decoration and finishing. The conservation work was publicly charted through open access days, seminars and lectures delivered to the general public, architects, specifiers and craftspeople to showcase conservation practice and solutions being applied. This educational information exchange was a core part of the project.
Works involved major structural consolidation of the four-storey side wall of the building which was vulnerable to collapse, achieved through sensitive conservation engineering techniques that did not impact on the visual appearance of the building. The entire exterior envelope of the building was stripped of cement-based, dashed render using carefully controlled hand tools, and the original brickwork was restored using a traditional brick pointing technique called ‘wigging’, a brick joint finish unique to Ireland. The important granite shopfront was restored to its original 1843 appearance using a forensic level of fabric analysis and documentary evidence to reinstate missing elements, including windows and doors. New lamps were commissioned to precisely replicate oil lamps used in Dublin in the early 19th century. Internally, all original fabric was carefully retained and repaired, with new services discreetly concealed in floors and stud walls. Lime plaster and decorative plasterwork was repaired and authentic decoration was deployed throughout the building using handcrafted wallpapers and finishes. The original merchant residence was reinstated in the upper floors, comprising two rooms per floor.
The majority of the project cost, approximately 90%, was funded by Dublin Civic Trust’s ‘Revolving Fund’ mechanism, where the same fund is revolved from one building conservation project to another, and by support from Dublin City Council. The remainder was funded by government heritage grants and private benefactors. To save costs and control operations, the Trust staff worked inside the decayed building and remained on site throughout the construction project.
First Floor Drawing Room
The conservation of 18 Ormond Quay Upper has had a transformative impact on its local environment and on the wider historic centre of Dublin. The project has visibly demonstrated the beauty of Dublin’s historic street buildings, their inherent resource value – architectural, social, cultural – and the latent potential that these buildings embody for sustainable urban living and reinforcing civic identity. Dublin Civic Trust’s current use of the building and its ground floor shop as a centre for seminars, lectures and public engagement on building conservation and urban policy continues to successfully engage the city community with its cultural inheritance.
18 Ormond Quay is a modest slice of historic Dublin and an outstanding beacon for the beauty and utility of Europe’s urban street buildings. It is a project of universal cultural value.
Conservation of traditional Dublin street buildings to a good standard is not very common. The project at 18 Ormond Quay Upper has served as a local and national demonstration of historic building rehabilitation, applicable to thousands of structures in the capital and around Ireland. This was achieved by operating regular seminars and professional exchanges in the building as the work was ongoing, training architects, specifiers and craftspeople in the traditional techniques being used.
The building has featured as a case study by Dublin City Council and is endorsed by The Heritage Council and the prestigious Apollo Foundation. Dublin Civic Trust has used the project to inform the drafting of national government policy regarding fiscal incentives for historic buildings, known as the Living City Initiative. The project has been used as a case study by the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland in its new guidance document for converting historic buildings to residential use. The project has been a highly visible influencer of professional and public education through open days, seminars, lectures and courses focusing on the conservation of the building’s fabric.
Most recently, the Trust has been awarded a prestigious European Heritage Award/Europa Nostra Award 2021 for the work undertaken at 18 Ormond Quay Upper.
The Best in Heritage
The world's only survey of award-winning museum, heritage and conservation projects.
European Heritage Association
Trg kralja Petra Krešimira IV, 7
© Copyright 2002-2017 The Best In Heritage. All rights reserved.
Developed by Edulogic