Working on Conservation projects that involve the restoration of Listed buildings can be an extremely rewarding process but can also be incredibly challenging. When a homeowner purchases a house that is a listed building or has a Conservation grading, they must be aware that are investing themselves financially and emotionally in the house.
It usually is a labour of Love situation and a lifelong commitment to take care of this house has been begun.
Old Heritage buildings will give you a variety beautiful details that are nearly impossible to recreate with new products and building systems. If it is the high ceilings, the cornice details, the stone fireplaces, the sliding sash windows or the unique timber mouldings that have captured your heart, please be aware that like all things beautiful there always a caveat.
The Beauty that an Old building shows to the eye can sometimes hid a multitude of problems in the background. Unfortunately, problems mean restoration work and restoration works mean costs.
Having been main contractor on several high-profile Conservation projects, MDS Construction ltd managing Director Peter Finn has experienced the Highs and Lows of working with Heritage Buildings. ‘Carrying out construction works on Old sensitive buildings means a sensitive construction approach is required.
We have been fortunate enough to have worked on some amazing Heritage Buildings and on some extremely sensitive conservation restoration projects. When we engage with an old building, we are always trying to foresee potential underlying problems so they can be addressed as early as possible for every bodies benefit- Client, Design team and ourselves as contractors.’
No project could be more sensitive than working on the building that houses Irelands highest profile National Treasure – the Book of Kells. That building is The Treasury Room in The Old Library in Trinity College Dublin.
Peter says ‘It was an honour to be commissioned to carry the upgrade works to work on such an iconic building, but it was also a mammoth challenge. We basically created a protection bubble within the room that displays the Book of Kells to the public.
We also slightly altered the layout to allow the walking route cater for the thousands of visitors that flock to see the Book every year. While carrying out the works we had to ensure that we successfully controlled all dust, vibration, light, security and noise. Our works area was connected to The Long Room in the Old Library, which stayed open as a live Tourist attraction and it also houses priceless Historical books, that are simply irreplaceable.
So, there was no room for error. The Covid-19 pandemic has held up the official opening of this area, which will honestly be a sight to behold and well worth a visit.’
When working on any Conservation project there are principles and guidelines that must be followed to ensure a high-quality finish is achieved and no damage is done to the fabric of the existing structure.
Finn explains ‘From a contractor’s point of view you need to be aware that this type of work is carried out completely different from the standard new build construction.
Some elements to consider are that the type of material used must often match the existing building, the build techniques practiced must be sympathetic to the existing building, you may need to use specialist contractors and it is particularly important to have a strong awareness of the location & working environment parameters.
There is nothing worse than being mid-flow in a conservation project only to realise you cannot get a bespoke material or a contractor to suit your programme or you are not permitted to make noise at set times. Basically, preparation needs to be twice what it normally is.’
Peter outlines other interesting Conservation projects that MDS have completed ‘We carried out the full restoration of an Old tenement house on Royal Canal Terrace which appeared on the ‘Great House revival’ TV show.
We also completely re-roofed an 18th Century two-storey Palladian style Wicklow mansion which included having to build a 25m high temporary roof over the existing Live building (All this happening during a wild winter storm). We completed the external restoration of The Rubrics building TCD and we have carried out numerous other restoration projects in places like Merrion Square, Killiney and Donnybrook.
All these projects have come with their challenges, but I have to say that the sense of satisfaction that you get from restoring an old beautiful building back to their original character and glory makes it all worthwhile’