Premature demolition is a term used to describe a structure that is destroyed before it reaches adolescence; a provocative trend that involves the demolition and replacement of ‘structurally sound and reusable buildings’. DoCoMoMo – an international architectural heritage organisation – have expressed their concern with the increase in applications calling for premature demolition of commercial buildings erected between 1960 and 1980. Tom Johnson House – a multi-storey office building constructed in the mid-80s – is a building destined to be demolished as a matter of course. In today’s industry, there is a particular incentive to raze and rebuild. In fact, many buildings of this era have already met the wrecking ball.
Located in Beggars’ Bush barracks, Haddington Road, Dublin 4, the site holds historical significance as the location of the first official handover to the Irish Free State Army by British Forces on 31st January 1922. The Beggars’ Bush Barracks became the first official Army Headquarters of the Republic of Ireland. It was operational from the 1920s to the 1960s when the barracks was decommissioned. Although the barracks was no longer in military use, many of the original store buildings including the dormitories, clock tower, and chapel have been retained and restored. The building is currently occupied by The Geological Survey of Ireland and Labour Relations Commission.
The complex at Beggars’ Bush Barracks is a ‘protected structure’, as defined in contemporary planning legislation. This includes the arched entrance gates, perimeter stone walls, and the cannon bollards. The portion of the barracks which have now been converted into residential homes and the National Print Museum are all protected structures due to their historical relevance. The modern office block is the only building that is not a protected structure in the entire campus. Despite this lack of official designation, Tom Johnson House contributes to the architectural diversity of the area.
Designed by Tyndall Hogan Hurley Architects, the building is an example of late 20th-century modernism, a style that was advanced in the 1970s and 1980s. The five-storey building has a simple rectangular shape based on the continuous column grid, standing at a height twenty-five meters tall with a north-east position. The structure consists of twelve structural bays of 500 x 500mm concrete columns at 7200mm centres. The columns spread the weight of the exposed reinforced precast waffle slab floor. A predominant orange/red brick facade that forms the outer leaf of the cavity wall construction distinguishes Tom Johnson House from its grey austere surroundings. The building can be accessed via a concrete stairs or ramp with landings that meet the internal ground level plinth and lead up to the revolving doors of both entrances.
The basement level has a number of particular aesthetic features, including angled glass panels that perform as roof lights. The ground floor level façade mainly consists of aluminium-framed, single-glazed stick curtain walling with brick panels to the rear and side elevations. The windows on the upper floors are repetitive in appearance ‐ aluminium-framed, single-glazed units with specialised brick cills. The roof construction is a butterfly flat roof with an asphalt finish on a screed laid to falls on a concrete transfer slab structure. With the roof sloped back towards the centre of the building, the surface water drainage is taken through the cores and ensures that the facade is consistent without the disruption of pipework. The roof space currently operates as the plant room for the building and is clad in metal, not to mention being a fantastic viewpoint overlooking the Ballsbridge area and in particular the Aviva Stadium.
Internally, the wall construction varies from painted single-leaf blockwork to dry lining with glazed panels. Due to the building having shared ownership, the spaces are varied. The basement level consists of a lecture theatre, an exhibition space and several labs ranging from geochemistry to petrology. The two structural central cores stabilise the building from progressive collapse and provide vertical circulation for occupants. The ground floor is used as the main reception area, with several meeting rooms and a library. The remaining floors are used for workshops, offices and conference rooms adding to a total floor area of 11,064m². Internal floor finishes include natural carpet and tiling. An exposed ceiling in both the basement and ground level with a clear height of 3.125m demonstrating that a modern servicing system is achievable while still meeting Part M of the Technical Guidance Documents.
An observation of the building indicated some recurring defects with the overall condition of the brickwork that is consistent throughout all elevations. Staining, efflorescence, and cracks in the brickwork are notable issues due to a lack of flashings and drips. Furthermore, the poorly installed basement roof lights have led to gaps causing water ingress and is an extensive cold bridge. The interior is of a reasonable condition, though it is evident that the building has not been properly maintained for a number of years with corroded pipework, damaged ceiling tiles, and damp being additional issues.
While there are a number of building failures in this design, the defects seem to be localised. With careful maintenance and repair work the building can be restored. Tom Johnson House has the potential to be retrofitted to comply with the current building regulations. The building has a considerable amount of embodied energy embedded into its original design. Taking into consideration the carbon footprint of the current building, to demolish and rebuild the structure would have a substantial effect on the environment. A high-level retention scheme is recommended to upgrade the building services, thermal envelope, and to maximise indoor comfort for occupants. Recently, buildings such as the One Building near Grand Canal and the Bank of Ireland on Baggot Street have been upgraded. Although modern grade-A offices may not be achievable through deep retrofit, a call for an alternative solution to the provocative trend of premature demolition is certainly needed.
2. http://www.thejournal.ie/baggot-street-offi ce-demolish-2-3541069-Aug2017/
3. Kirk Mccormack – Dublin Institute of Technology
4. History information from Conservation Report of ILHS museum, Block ‘D’, Beggars Bush Barracks by Dublin City Council
5. Conservation Information from Dublin City Development Plan 2016‐2022
6. Geological Survey Ireland Building Report – Brian Hogan from Tyndall Hogan Hurley