The ESB has come a long way since it opted to demolish 16 Georgian buildings in a row on Lower Fitzwilliam Street in 1965.
The demolition provoked a culture war between traditionalists and modernists which still resonates to this day. Many traditionalists have never forgiven the ESB for what they see as an act of cultural vandalism in which the longest row of Georgian houses in Dublin was broken up.
Worse still it was replaced by a brutish 1960s concrete building designed by Sam Stephenson which was in turn demolished in 2017.
Many in the 1960s, including members of the government, were glad to see the buildings go. Kevin Boland famously described supporters of the status quo as “belted earls” – relics of the old Anglo-Irish aristocracy.
More than a half-century later, calmer perspectives now prevail. The ESB is to team up with the Irish Heritage Trust to develop No 12 Fitzwilliam Street Lower as a museum of Georgian Dublin.
The house was saved from the wrecking ball when the ESB demolished numbers 13-28 Fitzwilliam Street Lower.
No 12 was built in the 1820s and has retained many of its original features including staircases, door cases and associated joinery, window boxes and shutters, ceiling centrepieces and marble fireplaces.
The Trust and ESB will progress with a conservation-led refurbishment of the building.
It is envisaged that the new attraction will connect the history of Georgian Dublin and Fitzwilliam Street Lower and the development of science and technology in the home over 200 years.
Separately, No 29 Fitzwilliam Street Lower will be converted into three family sized homes, supporting the restoration of residential living in the South Georgian Core.
These units will join the eleven homes that were completed in 2022 as part of the restoration and adaptation of former ESB Georgian houses on Mount Street Upper and Fitzwilliam Street Lower.
The refurbishment of No 12 and No 29 will be designed by a Grade I Conservation Architect and will showcase how energy efficiency can be improved in similar historic buildings while respecting the protected status of the houses.
The ESB says it is not an act of “sackcloth and ashes” given its previous history. A spokesman pointed out that ESB has already sensitively restored a number of Georgian buildings in the past.
ESB’s executive director of engineering and major projects Paul Smith said the museum will be “respectful of its Georgian surroundings and will showcase Georgian Dublin and technological development in domestic life over 200 years”.
The Irish Heritage Trust chief executive Anne O’Donoghue said she hoped to develop “an immersive visitor experience for this building, and we welcome the opportunity to connect people to its history through innovative and imaginative interpretation as well as education, events and volunteering whilst ensuring all works are completed in a sustainable manner”.
A planning application is like to be submitted in the last quarter of 2023 and the first quarter of 2024. A budget has not been set as of yet but is likely to be in millions. A build period of four years is expected once planning permission is granted.