Irish architectural awards and media coverage consistently lavish praise on smart and stylish domestic extensions, particularly since the advent of the Celtic Tiger, when, as property prices began to soar, it often made more sense to extend than trade up – but this pair of returns may be the most striking, original, idiosyncratic, exotic and memorable of the lot. All because ODOS broke the established rule of the contemporary extension, which is about deepening a back living room.
The Castlewood Returns are not about that room – an additional light-filled space in a low, squat, glassy thing behind the living room of the house, that more often than not darkens that room – but the original Dublin extension: the provisional thrust-out that added interior plumbing – real usefulness – to the backs of Georgian houses without impinging on the enjoyment of their principal rooms.
The Victorian semi-detached houses at 26 and 27 Castlewood Avenue were built on wider-than-normal plots (each measuring a substantial 17m), resulting in double-fronted brick facades and a tri-partite plan arrangement, with generous rooms on both sides of the hall. By the turn of the Millennium, however, each had grown shabby, been subdivided into bedsit flats and the original returns – aligned on the hallways – much altered and added to.
Mark Keenan of The Sunday Times described the forlorn backlands here as “building bedlam, where six generations of Dublin’s bodgiest builders have hacked, pried and piled on at random to the back ends of some of the city’s most elegant homes, leaving in their wake a higgledy-piggledy collage of slap-ups, knock-ups and stick-ups over three and four floors.”
“There were two fireplaces left,” says Dave O’Shea of ODOS. “Everything else was gone. Our client, the builder/developer, Kieran McNamara – who sadly died last year, still only in his 40s – had a good eye and a real passion for architecture. We met in 2005. He would come into the office and hang out. One day he just said, “There you go!” He wanted to return the two houses to single occupancy. But they were protected structures and the question was how to demolish the rickety returns, which were also protected. He wanted something very cool on the back, a USP. Fortunately, there was no sister to this pair on the strip. The planner’s view was that we should do something contemporary, not a pastiche.”
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