Dubliners seize chance to take a grand tour of €60m house


THE GROUP of people waiting outside 53 Ailesbury Road on Saturday were discussing the price it had been on sale for in 2008, an asking price that was reported around the world at the time.

“Sixty million!” one woman marvelled. The house in question was Residence de France, where the French ambassador lives.

It turned out to be lucky for Dubliners that no buyers emerged three years ago for the most famous house on this famously exclusive and expensive road.

That’s because it remains the residence of the French ambassador and this year it was opened to the public during Open House Dublin for the first time.

Open House Dublin, now in its sixth year, is organised by the Irish Architecture Foundation and has become a huge success. A range of public and private buildings open their doors over one weekend in October, including the offices of this newspaper.

Residence de France was one of the most popular buildings of the weekend, with the curious being shown around the beautiful ground floor and gardens in groups of 20 every half-hour.

“Please enjoy with your eyes only,” the charmingly polite ambassadorial staff member at the gate told us. Nothing so vulgar as “no touching” the Sevres porcelain set out for a formal meal in the dining room, the stunning Louis XIV Beauvais tapestry in the vast living room or the half-empty bottle of 25-year-old Armagnac on the drinks tray. The ambassador herself, Emmanuelle D’Achon, even turned up to say bonjour.

After the tour, people lingered in the gardens to the rear of the house, large enough to accommodate 2,000 people for a reception, we were told. One member of the public liked the place so much he asked if he could stay for dinner.

Some buildings in Open House, like Residence de France, were pre-book only. Others with small capacity attracted such interest that lotteries had to be organised.

The Provost’s House at Trinity College, which only offers one tour, had 354 requests for 20 spaces. New this year was another lottery adventure – a boat trip called “Architecture from the Sea”, which took people along the south Dublin coastline for a different perspective on the built environment.

There were also a number of ancillary events, such as walking tours. On Saturday afternoon, a group of graduate students from DIT school of architecture led a “NAMAlab” walking tour.

Students pointed out buildings known to be owned by Nama and discussed possible alternative uses for them. The Fleet Street car park, for instance, which occupies a large footprint on the street, could be redesigned as a casino, suggested Patrick O’Connor. “We’re a great betting nation and we gambled our future away.”

One of the more low-key buildings on show was the Dublin Civic Trust at 4 Castle Street. This is the last remaining Georgian building on a street that was once the busiest in the city, as it acted as an artery for Dublin Castle.

Built in 1830, it was bought in 1998 by the trust, an independent charity that works to protect Dublin’s architectural heritage.

The guide explained that when the trust bought the building, the upper floors were in flats. The last tenant was living there until the early 1990s – in a building that had no indoor toilet.

A private house new to Open House this year was Hedge House in Ranelagh, designed by Michael Pike and Grace Keeley. Occupying a wedge-shaped site bordered by a large privet hedge, there isn’t a single room in this striking house that is a conventional shape.

Among the many buildings open were the Mansion House, where former lord mayors took it in turns to give the tours, the Department of Finance and the Iveagh Trust Museum.

Open House Galway runs from October 14th-16th.