This tranquil residential community – comprising 31 one-bedroom and six two-bedroom houses – was developed by the Society of St Vincent de Paul, the largest charitable organisation in Ireland. Financial support came from Fingal County Council, while the arcaded communal building at the head of the scheme was funded by the National Lottery. The site was donated by a local resident, Josephine Denning, who willed her land to house the elderly.
Two models, both Dutch but originating centuries apart, drove the design that fulfilled her dying wishes and won the 2009 Irish Council for Social Housing award for housing for the elderly. The first is the almshouse: terraces of charitable housing for the elderly – often well-connected widows – in a Christian tradition that dates back more than a thousand years. In the Netherlands, these are called hofjes (courtyards). ‘There is a fine example in Drogheda,’ says Paul Keogh, referring to The Alleys, dating from the early 18th century, behind St Peter’s Church of Ireland. Built for widows of clergy, these beautiful, plain, strict, Georgian terraces were established by Narcissus Marsh, Archbishop of Armagh, who is best known for his illustrious library beside St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.
Keogh cites Sir Christopher Wren’s Trinity Green in Whitechapel, of 1695, the first group of buildings in the East End of London to be preserved for posterity (on its bicentenary in 1895, following a campaign by CR Ashbee, with support from William Morris, among others). Three features of these mariners’ almshouses stand out, apart from the sublime architecture: a grassy central garden, strikingly paired doorways and a separate building at the top of the site, called the Club Room. There are powerful echoes of each in Malahide.
Keogh also mentions Dutch examples in Delft and The Hague, where hofjes were built for the working middle classes from the second half of the 18th to the early part of the 20th century. 150 years ago, a quarter of The Hague's population still lived in almshouses. This was the beginning of social housing as we know it. ‘We’re interested in them as a typology that is particularly relevant for sheltered housing,’ he says. ‘We’re interested in the making of spaces – courtyards and gardens – rather than objects. It’s a bit like at Oxbridge colleges, only on a smaller scale.’
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