Tag Archive for Conservation

How Many Churches Are Falling Down?

Churches in Ireland retain a considerable significance, they are often the most prominent buildings in their locality and possess architectural, historical and social significance.

Many churches have become neglected or abandoned. And many have suffered from incorrect repairs that were done most of the times with the best of intentions.

How many churches are falling down we don’t know but we know what can be done to avoid further damage:

  • Do use experts. When it comes to repairing a church building getting the right advice is very important. Churches can be amongst the most complex of historic building types and the nature of their conservation often requires specialist advice. It is a false economy not to get proper advice before carrying out work. Bad repair works can be difficult and expensive to undo and can damage a building in the long-term.
  • Do repair the parts of the building that need it. Remember, an aim of good conservation works is to do as much as necessary, yet as little as possible.
  • Do make sure appropriate materials and repair techniques are used.
  • Do make sure all interventions are reversible and where appropriate visually identifiable.
  • Do identify and understand the reason for failure before undertaking repairs.
  • Don’t over do it. Remember, minimal intervention should be the aim.
  • Do engage tradespeople with skills in traditional building methods or experienced conservation professionals.


The primary aim of conservation is to prolong the life of something of value. Churches provide unique evidence of our past, they are witnesses to centuries of worship, architectural skill and community history. Let’s do what we can to avoid seeing churches falling down.

Isabel Barros is a RIAI registered Architect accredited in Conservation at Grade 3, please contact us today if you need assistance with your Church project. We can also help in the procurement of grant funding to assist with repair and/or maintenance works.


Recommended reading: Old Buildings: Why Things Go Wrong


Re-Use and Re-Adaptation of Churches – 3 Irish Examples


These Irish examples offer a positive approach for re-imagining historic buildings while following best conservation practices.

Introducing change into the historic built environment requires sensitivity and high standards of design. Often it is necessary to find an appropriate use in order to prevent a building’s decay or destruction, this being one of the hardest problems to solve in the practice of architectural conservation.

The creative challenge is to find appropriate ways to satisfy the requirements of a structure to be safe, durable and useful on the one hand, and to retain its character and special interest on the other.

Rehabilitation has social, cultural and economic advantages. Social, in that people and towns keep their identity; cultural, in that artistic, architectural, archaeological and documentary values can be preserved both for their intrinsic value and their contribution to the identity of the town; economic, in that (a) existing capital is used, (b) energy is saved, (c) demolition costs are avoided, and (d) the existing infrastructure of roads and services is utilized. (B. Feilden, 2003)


The following are good examples of adaptive reuse in Ireland.


St. Mary’s Abbey, Kilkenny

Conversion to Museum – McCullough Mulvin Architects



St. Luke’s Church, Dublin

Conversion to Offices (on site Oct. 2017) – DTA Architects & Carrig Conservation Consultants

Existing Section

Proposed Section





St. Jame’s Church, Dublin / Pearse Lyons Distillery

Conversion to Distillery – TOTP Architects & Carrig Conservation Consultants








The Power of Pozzolans


The use of lime dates back to pre-historic times. Lime is derived from limestone, a sedimentary rock formed mainly of skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral and molluscs. Its major materials are the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different forms of calcium carbonate.

It is generally held that the Greeks began the large scale production of lime-based mortars in Europe and it was from there that the technology spread to Rome.

The Romans early recognized the need for a mortar that could be used under ground and under water – the development of hydraulic mortars is credited to them and the use of Pozzolans was crucial for this.




Pozzolans would include volcanic ash or clay brick/tile dust – these would be added to the lime mortar mix to create a faster set and reduce the mortar’s vulnerability to frost and rain.

Vitrivius describe Pozzolans as producing “astonishing results” and he explains the process behind them:


The Ten Books on Architecture, Vitrivius


Lime Pozzolan binders are obtained by the addition of a Pozzolan (natural or artificial) to the lime while mixing mortar. A natural Pozzolan is a volcanic material, which originally derives from Pozzuoli, an Italian region around Vesuvius. Pozzuoli earth was used in the Roman mortars but other natural Pozzolan are Santorini earth (Greece) and trass (Germany).

Artificial Pozzolans include metakaolin, silica fume, brick dust (preferably low fired brick) and others such as fly ash.


Caesarea is the earliest known example to have used underwater Roman concrete technology on such a large scale. Photo by James Cocks www.jamescocks.com.


Pozzolans became the backbone of Roman construction and were incorporated in the ‘Roman Concrete’.

Pozzolans of Pozzuoli were used to build ‘La Via Appia’, the Colosseum and the Pantheon of Rome. The fact that the mix could harden under water allowed the Romans to extend their empire along their coastines which gave them a strategic advantage.

Interestingly, lime Pozzolan concrete still has a place in today’s construction technology, not only because of its original characteristics but particularly because it can also offer significant carbon savings and potentially present huge environmental benefits. After all, lime is a remarkably efficient natural absorber of carbon dioxide and it could sequester carbon emissions in a very effective way.

Interesting readings:


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