Further to the appeal lodged by the IRTA with An Bord Pleanála, the board wrote to us, saying that "in the particular circumstances of this appeal, it is appropriate in the interests of justice" to invite the IRTA to make a further submission. The following is our response, reformatted slightly for web presentation.
Dublin City Council Reg. Ref. 2362/16, ABP Ref: PL29S.246621
Re: Third Party Appeal Against Grant of Permission by Dublin City Council for Development of Children’s Science Centre at the National Concert Hall, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin
Cunnane Stratton Reynolds, 3 Molesworth Place, Dublin 2 have been appointed by the Irish Real Tennis Association, Kilcoagh, Donard, Co Wicklow, to lodge this response to the submission from the Office of Public Works of 20th June 2016, regarding the above appeal.
The Proposed Development:
The proposed development at Earlsfort Terrace consists of the following:
Original Grounds of Appeal:
As noted in our original appeal, our client has no objection to the principle of the development of the Exploration Station Science Centre in Dublin, and their sole concern is the future of the real tennis court, and the impacts of the proposal on it.
The OPW and the Exploration Station have responded to our appeal in detail, clarifying a number of issues, and we welcome this detailed response. In particular, our client welcomes the clarification and reassurance of the OPW on a number of points regarding works to the building, and in particular their commitment to returning the building to its original volume, and offering the possibility of the sport of Real Tennis once again being played in the Real Tennis Court. We accept the Exploration Station’s need for a designated space for visiting exhibitions and to provide a flexible space for other uses, and welcome their clarification on the issue. Our client remains committed to engaging with the Exploration Station regarding the future use of this building.
However, we are concerned to note that the OPW has proposed no alterations or modifications to their earlier design, as regrettably the proposal as granted does not meet their stated aim to return the building to its original volume, or to facilitate the future playing of Real Tennis.
The Proposed Works to the Real Tennis Court:
The OPW in its most recent statement reiterates its intention to restore the building and return it to its original volume.
The original shape, size, and volume of the building included the penthouse walls. Penthouses are an integral, structural, permanent part of a real tennis court. Any proposal to return the court to its original proportions must entail the reestablishment of the penthouses.
Galleries and penthouses are an integral, permanent feature of a real tennis court, running around three sides. These are formed by solid masonry walls built to a height of about 2.1 metres. These walls are built approximately 2.3 metres from the outer walls of the court, punctuated with openings. As well as being integral features of the court for the playing of real tennis, these openings allow spectators in the galleries to view the game. The lean-to roofs are known as penthouses, and are typically made of timber (traditionally, oak or teak was recommended for the rafters). These join the external walls of the court at about 3.2 metres, creating a roof with an angle of between 25.5 and 27.5 degrees. The whole structure forms part of the playing surface; the volume enclosed forms the viewing gallery for spectators, with the openings protected by netting.
It is noted that the OPW does not claim that the reinstatement of the penthouses would be contrary to best conservation practice, or would damage the character of the building in any way. We submit that the penthouses can be reinstated in accordance with best practice guidelines, as set out in the Ministerial Guidelines Architectural Heritage Protection: Guidelines for Planning Authorities. Both physical evidence in the building (the scars left on the walls and floor), and the detailed measurements in A History of Tennis mean that the reconstruction would not be conjectural, but evidence-based. It would not be a case of returning the appearance of the building to that of a particular date, as cautioned against in paragraph 7.7.3 of the Ministerial Guidelines, but rather the appropriate replacement of a feature that was lost due to the most damaging of unsuitable alteration; demolition. This would allow the special character of this important and unusual space to be appreciated.
Figure 1: Canford Real Tennis Court [Brodie Design, 2005, CC-BY-SA 3.0; source]
The contribution of the penthouses and galleries to the special architectural character of a real tennis court is evident in the image of Canford Real Tennis Court in England (on which the Earlsfort Tennis court may have been modelled), above.
The OPW notes that the R.M. Butler building cannot accommodate the temporary exhibition space as:
These interventions would:
It is our view that the very same can be said for the Real Tennis Court. This building is also a protected structure, older than the R. M. Butler building, and its unique architectural, historical, and social interest is not disputed.
The fact that the walls were demolished while the building was in the control of UCD does not negate the fact that their loss is a significant negative impact on the special character of the building. There exists now a rare opportunity to restore its character and form, without compromising the proposed uses and activities and it is our strong view that this is the appropriate course of action. The acceptance of the demolition as a fait accompli would set a poor precedent for other vulnerable buildings.
We would submit that should the Exploration Station need a volume of space that cannot be readily provided by the appropriate conservation of either of these protected structures, the OPW might find a design solution that accommodates it in the 3,625 sq.m. purpose-built extension.
Regarding the other interventions raised in our earlier appeal (the new access doors, the new high level opening in the west wall, and the finish to the limestone floor) we welcome the OPW’s clarification on these matters. The proposal to model the doors on those of squash courts is welcome, with a solid flush finish. The doors would need to form an identical playing surface to the surrounding walls. While viewing panels of toughened glass have in recent years been incorporated in new courts, and indeed in refurbishment projects, we remain of the view that there would have been no high level opening in the playing wall, and that the arch in the stairwell was simply a decorative element to enliven a blank wall. It is highly doubtful that nineteenth-century glazing technology was sufficiently advanced to allow for such a feature without interfering with play. More significantly, there is no mention of such a feature (which would have been unique) in any of the literature on the building. It seems almost certain that the surface of the wall on the court side of the blind arch on the staircase at the west end of the building is faced in limestone, like the sections of wall to each side of it. This is surely a further demonstration (should any be required) that the arch was never open. We note Blackwood Associates revised assessment on the issue of a high level viewing platform. We welcome the clarification from Fitzpatrick’s Stoneclean Ltd, on the treatment of the floor. The IRTA’s concern was the avoidance of conjectural works to the floor, such as polishing. It is clear from the further information in the submission that the works proposed are evidence based.
The OPW notes that their proposal is compliant with Universal Access and Fire Certification, and states that the IRTA’s proposed layout as shown in the 2012 business plan does not comply with either Universal Access or Fire Certification requirements of the current building regulations (p.9). The proposals were examined at the time by a Fire Safety Consultant, John A. McCarthy BArch FRIAI, who advised that the acceptable occupancy capacity would be 150 persons, which could be increased significantly with additional exits (letter of 16th September 2013). We are confident that should the OPW wish to modify their proposal and reinstate the galleries and penthouses, that they have the resources to provide a design that is compliant with both fire safety and universal access and that can at the same time accommodate real tennis activity.
The Proposed Use of the Real Tennis Court:
This is repeated by MacCabe Durney Barnes in their response.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as ‘temporary penthouse galleries’. There are over 40 Real Tennis courts in use worldwide; none of these has, or has ever had, temporary or removable penthouses.
Figure 2: Penthouses and galleries under construction [T&RA; source]
The image above, of a Real Tennis Court under construction (at Wellington College in England, due to open in September of this year) shows the nature of galleries and penthouses. [IRTA note 20160920: Wellington real tennis court is now open.] Here, the walls are poured concrete. Concrete blocks are also commonly used (for example, Bristol, completed 1997, and Bridport, restored and reopened in 1998). Physical evidence, in the form of a scar on the floor following demolition, indicates that the gallery walls in the court in Earlsfort Terrace were approximately 300 mm in width, which is typical. They were undoubtedly of masonry construction.
Notwithstanding the lack of precedent, the IRTA nonetheless made enquiries regarding the feasibility of creating temporary penthouses, following the suggestion of the OPW/Exploration Station. Barry Coupe BA, DipArch (Hons), RIBA, ARB, architect for the restoration of both the Cambridge Blue Court (1998) and Newmarket (1995), and consultant for the restoration of the court at Bridport (1998) and for the construction of the two courts at Prested Hall (1999), previously undertook a feasibility study of demountable penthouses. He concluded that play quality would be seriously compromised, due to the difficulty of providing a sufficiently solid structure on a temporary basis. In addition, notwithstanding the possibility of an unplayable surface, the volume and weight of the walls would require significant resources for their storage, transport, and erection. A week was the estimated set-up time, by a team of builders. He has confirmed more recently by email:
It is unclear if the OPW, in its proposal for the restoration of the Real Tennis Court, understood the character of the building, the nature of the gallery walls, and what would be involved in creating demountable walls. It is possible that the OPW, due to its experience with flood defences, might have the resources and expertise to undertake this unprecedented feat of engineering. However, with no guarantee of playability, it would very much be an action of last resort.
The OPW states “The IRTA have no material or legal interest in the proposed Visiting Exhibition space” (p.9). This is echoed by the planning report submitted by McCabe Durney Barnes, by the Exploration Station, and others.
This is correct. The IRTA has at no time claimed to own the building. The IRTA would require a sporting lease, and was in negotiations with the OPW and others to obtain this as recently as 2008. As the OPW noted on p.15, the IRTA has been in discussions with the OPW on the subject of the future use of the building over a long period of time. It is noted that the building is in public ownership, and that any material or legal interest that the Exploration Station has in the building is recent, and is at the discretion of the OPW and the relevant minister. As already stated, the IRTA has no objection to the development of Exploration Station, and, given the importance of the Real Tennis Court to the development of the Exploration Station, is happy to negotiate a mutually acceptable arrangement for access to be permitted by prior agreement to IRTA for a prescribed period. At least one calendar month per year would be required. This would allow for the hosting of the Irish Open, exhibition matches, and on occasion, world championship matches, as well as associated tourism activity. Indeed, by way of example, during the preparation of this submission, the IRTA received an unsolicited enquiry from Emerald VIP Services, a provider of bespoke tours, eager to be able to show their clients a restored and active Dublin Real Tennis Court.
Currently, real tennis cannot be played in Ireland. Those wishing to play must travel abroad to do so. Restoration of the court in Dublin would make the game accessible to a much greater cohort of people. It is typically popular with players of other racket sports, and international experience has been that the game thrives when facilities are provided.
However, should the Exploration Station maintain its position that the demolition of the penthouse walls cannot be reversed, there can be no meaningful discussion on a shared use of the building as it could not be considered ‘fit for purpose’ for the playing of real tennis.
The Requirements of Exploration Station
We understand that the Exploration Station requirement for a ‘temporary interactive display space’ is for ongoing use of a space for travelling exhibitions, and we welcome the clarification and further information on this matter. We also understand that the Exploration Station requires this space to be accessible from their ticket sales area, but separate from their main displays, to police access to it. This would also allow it to function as a “Flexible Space”, (as detailed in the document submitted by Harry White of At-Bristol, letter dated 8th June 2016) that would provide a source of revenue by being hired out for trade shows, product launches, or weddings.
The Real Tennis Court measures 403 sq.m., and with the reinstatement of the galleries, the main space would measure 287 sq.m. This corresponds with the measured drawings carried out by the OPW, and with their submission. The submission by Harry White notes that 700 sq.m. is the standard model for a temporary exhibition space. He states that “the size of the RTC space is smaller than the ideal and the configuration is not optimal” but it is better than no flexible space.
The Exploration Station submission by Dr. Danny O’Hare incorrectly refers to the size of the Real Tennis Court building as “approx. 500 sq.m” on p.13, and on p.15, and it is on this figure he bases his calculations. Should Exploration Station require a temporary display space of this floor area, the Real Tennis Court would not be suitable.
Incidentally, the two exhibitions Dr. O’Hare mentions on p.9, The Science Behind Pixar and Star Wars; Where Science Meets Imagination were large exhibitions requiring some 1,000 sq.m. display space each4 5. Neither of these exhibitions could be accommodated in the proposed Temporary Exhibition Space in the Real Tennis Court, with or without the penthouses and gallery walls reinstated. Similarly, the seven travelling exhibitions from Ontario Science Museum referred to on p.14, at 420 sq.m. to 650 sq.m., would also be too large. The exhibition Race; Are We So Different? by the Science Museum of Minnesota is billed as a 5000 sq. ft. (465 sq.m.) exhibit, with flexible installation in as little as 3,000 sq. ft (278 sq.m.). Therefore, the restoration of the original shape, size, and volume of the real tennis court would not preclude this particular exhibition.
Dr O’Hare refers to the availability of travelling exhibitions from www.ecsite.eu/extra, formerly www.extrascience.eu, but appears to have misinterpreted the data. Each of the exhibitions available is suitable for a range of floor sizes, like the exhibition Race; Are We So Different? mentioned above. For example, the exhibition 1000s of BRAINS can be displayed in a space ranging from 250 sq.m. to 600 sq.m. The results of a search for exhibitions suitable for a floor area of (for example) 400 sq.m. clearly indicate that many of these exhibitions are equally suitable for smaller or larger spaces. The figures are not minimum floor areas required. There is considerable overlap between those exhibitions suitable for 200 sq.m, and those suitable for 400 sq.m., and Dr. O’Hare appears to have double-counted exhibitions. The number of exhibitions suitable for any display space in the Real Tennis Court, with or without reinstatement of the penthouses, would be less than 100.
Figure 3: Wellington College Real Tennis Court Gallery under construction
Figure 4: Interior of a Real Tennis Court Gallery [Kim Traynor, 2012, CC BY-SA 3.0; source]
It is worth noting that Real Tennis Court galleries provide their own volume of space. While the OPW has referred to the reinstatement of penthouses as creating a loss of floor area, in fact the space, though under penthouse roofs, remains useable. At many other courts it is used for the display of real tennis-related illustrations and information. Parts of the galleries might alternatively be used for storage during temporary exhibitions.
We urge An Bord Pleanála to reconsider Dublin City Council’s decision as it relates to this particular element of the scheme, the refurbishment of the Real Tennis Court, a protected structure. We would welcome revisions to the scheme to repair the damage to the plan-form caused by the demolition of the internal walls. We reiterate our client’s support for the development of a children’s science centre in Dublin, which is undoubtedly a worthy venture. It is in no way their intention to prevent these plans being realised. Our client would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that, should the court be made playable, they are committed to engaging with Exploration Station to work out a mutually agreeable arrangement for access to be provided for real tennis use. It is their firm hope that both uses can be appropriately accommodated in this valuable heritage structure.
Eamonn Prenter MIPI MRTPI