a courtyard housing a classic in Cork
Perhaps it would have taken a global pandemic to make us reassess the importance of community and our immediate environment. With this in mind, we see a suburban Cork housing estate built over fifty years ago as a housing model that seems particularly relevant today.
A new model
Dundanion Court, in Blackrock, Cork, was completed in 1968 on an elevated site east of the old railway line near Dundanion House, built for Sir Thomas Deane to his own design in 1832. This modernist project consists of two courtyards of thirty-six, two-story, flat-roofed houses, grouped in tiered rows of six and four and located in a cul-de-sac. At the time, this compact plan was twice the density of its contemporaries, at about 20 units per acre. The houses are brick, filled with glass and black painted cedar leaves. The plumbing, rainwater drainage pipes and wiring are located in the fabric of the houses to avoid cluttering the facades. Each house has double access, either through “entrance” doors in the courtyards, or through enclosed gardens at the rear.
The estate was designed by architect Neil Hegarty, barely two years after graduating as an architect in 1962, having started in 1956 as a student of the first class of the School of Architecture of the Crawford School of Art. After graduation, Hegarty spent six weeks traveling across the United States on a whirlwind tour of Modernist architectural sites. Hegarty learned from several housing projects he experienced firsthand, such as Lafayette Park (1959) in Detroit by German-American architect Mies van der Rohe with Ludwig Hilberseimer as a landscaper, or Chicago‘s Hyde Park A&B ( 1962) by IM Pei with Harry Weese & Associés. The designs of Eric Lyons of SPAN Developments Ltd in the UK also had an influence. Hegarty and his young family lived at No.1 Dundanion Court for the first ten years of the project’s existence, taking advantage of the architect’s advantage of the larger rear garden.
Around the fireplace
The terraces are made up of full-height aluminum glazing framed in yellow bricks; each unit on an 8ft (2.4m) square module. Inside each home, the exposed yellow masonry continues, with wood ceilings and plywood doors flush with aluminum door handles and Carrara marble slabs encrusted in the kitchen countertops. Hegarty wanted materials of a quality equal to those he saw on his North American tour. The open-plan, dual-aspect ground floor (living room, dining room, and open-plan kitchen) revolves around a central brick fireplace with facing concrete strips as well as a beautifully simple black limestone fireplace. Adjacent to the foyer is an open riser teak staircase. Keeping circulation space to a minimum has created an extremely efficient interior design. The large windows on the front and rear façades flood the ground floor with natural light during the day. A concrete floor slab allows for underfloor heating, avoiding the need for separate radiators which could obstruct the flow of the space. Upstairs, Hegarty cleverly arranged four wooden-floored bedrooms, with an en-suite bathroom to the master bedroom and a family bathroom that was originally carpeted.
Hegarty narrowed the trail across the park so that two people couldn’t pass each other without exchanging greetings. In addition, he paired the front doors under the porches, providing another opportunity for neighborly conversation. The courtyards have always had a feeling of security thanks to the passive surveillance provided by the glass facades and curtains. Neil Hegarty’s son Tom, who chose to raise his own family in the field, describes the feeling as “walking into everyone’s living room.” Communal gardens meant children were never without playmates, and every resident was invited to backyard birthday parties. From the kitchen, parents can see their children in the front and in the back. Hegarty explained that the backyards did not house the mature trees, but rather the trees dictated the project plan. Their foliage further softens the sharp edges of the terraces. It is an architecture that builds a community around shared green courtyards. As a result, owners must leave their vehicles on the outskirts.
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Watch: Neil Hegarty presents his first work, the award-winning Dundanion Court housing project in Cork, in Commonspace, a film by Paddy Cahill
Defy the rules
Dundanion was not only a new approach to the design of collective housing, but also the way to finance and maintain it. A lawyer interested in cooperative housing kicked off the project and established the emphyteutic lease (700 years at £ 400 a year) for the two-and-a-quarter acre private estate. Neil Hegarty’s father created Daniel Hegarty & Sons Ltd to build the site. The company would act both as a developer and as a landowner for the upkeep of the estate. The lease would include stipulations such as the need to use sheer curtains (as originally provided by the developer) to create the unity of the place.
Where is your yard?
A test of a subdivision is how the residents inhabit the space and make it their own as individuals and as members of the community. Certainly, with every privately owned home, the outward appearance of Dundanion Court has changed over the past fifty years. The residents’ association wants the estate to evolve and support these well-intentioned changes while retaining the intentions inherent in its design. The influence of this design on its inhabitants is perhaps best demonstrated by a resident’s young daughter who, when visiting friends, often exclaims to her hosts, “Where is your yard?” “
In 1992, Cork City Council granted Dundanion Court Building Status and the entire project is an Architectural Conservation Area in its 2015 Municipal Development Plan.