Through a glass, lightly
Why glazing can be a more sympathetic addition to a house than bricks
THE best-known achievement of Sir Joseph Paxton was not his cultivation of the Cavendish banana (the world’s most widely consumed variety), but the Crystal Palace, the shimmering cathedral in glass that towered 108ft above the visitors to the Great Exhibition in 1851 and was constructed from 293,000 panes of glass and 4,500 tons of iron.
As well as demonstrating the possibilities of both materials, the Crystal Palace precipitated a fashion for similar structures on a smaller scale, principally for the propagation of exotica.
Of the many breathtaking aspects of the restoration of Ballyfin— one of the pinnacles of Irish neoclassical architecture—is the painstaking revival of Richard Turner’s conservatory, which was reached through a bookcase in the library.
It’s not just the design and construction of Turner’s addition that is so impressive—it was also an eloquent demonstration of how glass can provide a sympathetic means of expanding the footprint of a building, particularly when compared to extensions that mimic the architecture of the original structure (a particular problem when the source of mimicry is already pretty unprepossessing).
Although conservatories have their origins in horticulture, they quickly evolved to serve all sorts of other purposes. They offer a litany of benefits, particularly to owners of light-starved period properties for whom they offer an opportunity to bring sunshine to a living space. Carefully designed, they can effortlessly assimilate into almost any architectural context.
However, like any construction project, they benefit from a planning process that addresses not just the exterior appearance, but also the way they will be used, lit, heated and cooled. All of these are minor challenges, except when they’re left too late. Any experienced practitioner will be happy to show you the way. As they say in the trade, build in haste, repent at leisure.
The Victorian conservatory at Ballyfin was one of a number of extensions inspired by Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace