When it was commissioned to double the size of an established golf resort with ambitions to host the Ryder Cup, architects ReardonSmith paid sympathetic tribute to the original historic manor house. James Parker reports
The daunting brief from the owner of Adare Manor, businessman JP McManus, was to entirely restore and redevelop the prestigious hotel and golf resort – future-proofing the asset, but also enabling it to meet the client’s ambitions to host the Ryder Cup in 2026. As James Twomey of lead architects on the project ReardonSmith tells ADF, this grand ancestral seat constructed in pale limestone “was already world famous – the original Victorian manor was wonderful – but limited in terms of scale”. This massive heritage project comprised not only the restoration, refurbishment and extension of existing buildings on the 840-acre estate near Limerick, but also the addition of several new buildings including a new wing of guest rooms and a large ballroom, as well as landscaping the grounds. The 18-hole golf course itself has been completely redesigned to world-class standards by renowned international golf course architect Tom Fazio. Thankfully, in terms of the brief given to heritage specialists ReardonSmith, it was “very open,” says Twomey, adding: “the client gave us a wish list of which we accommodated as much as possible within the broad masterplan”. The original manor house (now hotel) was begun in 1932 and completed in 1862 as the seat of the Earl of Dunraven and is chiefly in Gothic Revival style. It features elaborate stonework with tall chimneys, castellations and spectacular oriel and mullioned bay windows, giving dramatic views of the grounds. Adding to its roughly square footprint housing an impressive great hall and Versailles Hall of Mirrors-style Minstrels Gallery, a further ‘Clock Tower wing’ of rooms runs along the river Maigue. Augustus Pugin designed some of the interior including the great hall, where guests circulate before moving to their rooms. No significant upgrades had been made to the main building since 1989, when an extension to house yet more guest rooms was added to the north of the Clock Tower wing, making a long, thin building. With the resort’s burgeoning popularity showing no sign of abating however, the client (Tizzard Holdings) wanted to increase guest accommodation “by as much as possible,” to enable the client to handle future demand and avoid further situations such as guest rooms having to be used as meeting rooms. Completing the project would be a new ballroom plus function spaces overlooking the river, as well as a meeting room, bridal suite, 32-seat cinema, and a spa in the cellar, plus a swimming pool extension. The manor house’s austere grandeur had faded somewhat, says Twomey: “While it was atmospheric, it needed to be more inviting”. It would be fully restored as part of the project, in strict adherence to the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), which provide the highest guideline standards for heritage buildings and monuments. In addition, there was a circulation problem to resolve, “We had to envisage how to get from guest arrival in the manor house to the new banqueting facilities and new guest rooms.” Rather than be via the 1989 link, “a rather arduous, dingy corridor, the architects “wanted to give the guests a more memorable experience.” The resulting key challenges for the project team were twofold, and pretty stark – doubling the floor area of 8000 m2 to 16,000 m2, coupled with an “ambitious” timescale. As James Twomey says, “the hospitality industry is extremely public – if you tell the client you are going to have your grand opening on a given day, they had better because no-one wants the job of trying to explain why it hasn’t happened.” He says that the client’s completion milestone was “ambitious and firm”. In addition, and what posed “a massive challenge for the practice on a daily basis,” was being “custodians of what is essentially a national monument,” says Twomey. With that in mind, the overarching design aim for the new additions to the building was “to be true to it, while not imitating it”. From conception to completing construction works and all renovations took just over two years. Twomey illustrates the level of intensity that was required on site to achieve this: “You could be addressing a critical matter in the manor one minute, then the next in the ballroom looking at gold leaf or another ornate embellishment. There were multiple teams all working at the same time, it was a phenomenal achievement.”
Twomey says the key to developing a masterplan for this relatively complex set of additions was “unlocking the fundamentals of the client’s requirements at an early stage. We could then spend time honing and developing the design in a way that was true to the spirit of the original concept.” He says that due to the extensive land available to work with on the site, identifying the schedule for the masterplan happened “pretty quickly, once we got over the complexity of the protected views, without detracting in any way from the siting of the manor”. The key task was to significantly increase the size of the building to meet the client’s needs while “creating a compact and connected design, sympathetic to the manor house and its setting,” summarises Twomey. This was resolved by placing a new ‘West Wing’ at right angles to the 1989 extension and offering 54 new guestrooms and suites, plus back of house facilities, thereby creating a “cloistered courtyard.” The design progressed from concept to planning approval in three months – a fact which makes James Twomey justifiably proud of the planning document the project team produced – although he says there was still “never ending” time pressure placed on it. ReardonSmith’s track record of high-profile, sensitive heritage projects over the firm’s 30-year history stood it in good stead, with Twomey himself having been a key player in projects including the Savoy Hotel restoration in London, Brocket Hall and Hanbury Manor, as well as Monastery Santa Rosa in Italy and the Four Seasons St Petersburg. Beyond the task of achieving a rational overall planning strategy and a considered aesthetic approach, the minutiae of planning layouts to ensure a seamless experience for high-paying guests were in sharp focus. ReardonSmith applied well-established principles of avoiding any ‘crossovers’ between back of house staff and guest movement around the building. James Twomey explains: “It ticks all the boxes in terms of efficiencies and the client’s operational requirements. There was very careful planning of back of house facilities, as well as dedicated service for banqueting, including a dedicated kitchen and prep.” Part of gaining planning approval so quickly was down to the local authority only having one key stipulation for the new additions, according to Twomey. “They said they would rather we didn’t produce a pastiche of the manor.” The approval process was “extremely amicable and fluid” he says, including a series of public consultations and presentations with the McManus family and local authority. One way that ReardonSmith assured the client and planners that it would produce a sympathetic result was to produce a ‘design book’ for all parties to agree on which showed all the principal details of proposed additions, not just general floorplans.
Obeying the proviso of creating buildings that respected, rather than imitated, the original historic structure tied in with the practice’s own aims. This meant making the West Wing as complementary in appearance as possible, with restraint rather than adding all the extra detail the Victorians might have chosen. The new wing’s limestone facades tie in to those of the manor house with stone corbels to windows which give a satisfying solidity, and similar dormer windows in the mansard roof. Says Twomey: “It has its own sense of place and time, while having a spiritual connection to the manor.” A key architects’ attention to detail was the fact every single stone used was individually scheduled and identified, “whether it was part of a quoin, window surround or corbel.” The 100 mm-thick limestone used to build the additions was locally sourced, and there were 110 subcontractors working on site at the project’s peak with two separate stonework sub-contractors. Says Twomey, “No one outfit could handle doing the colonnade and West Wing as well as the ballroom, which is also built of limestone. Stonemasons had to remeasure and recut some stones on site to get a precise fit. “It was all hand placed and worked on site – to see them work with such an unforgiving material, with the highest level of precision, was memorable indeed.” The sheer presence of the substantial new wing, which extends south further than the curtilage of the manor, is mitigated by a penetration made by a splendid vaulted arch, allowing vehicles through to drop guests at the landscaped entrance of the ballroom beyond. Achieving this visual punctuation which separates guest rooms from a back of house area was essential to get right, says Twomey, “otherwise the plan would have been hard to justify in terms of its scale.” The internal room layout of the West Wing is set out as straightforwardly as possible to help guests easily navigate the building: “There are end corridor suites, it’s double aspect with a central corridor, and there are garret rooms within the mansard roof.” In addition, it’s “very rationally planned at ground floor in terms of back of house areas as well as guest rooms on the upper storeys.” Twohey adds: “There’s no need for it to be complex, we’ve all got lost in hotels, let’s face it! It gives the client operational efficiencies that look right because they are right.” Importantly, given the overall design goal of paying homage to the original building, he confirms: “You never get the impression that you’re in an extension, it has already established a sense of place.”
Colonnade & other additions
One of the major pieces of design ingenuity employed by ReardonSmith in the masterplan was to resolve the issue of access to the new five-storey West Wing using creative as well as appropriate design. The result is a new open stone-built colonnade that connects the manor house to the West Wing guest bedrooms, offering guests a dramatic sense of arrival, and a means of avoiding having to use the 1989 building in order to access the new ballroom and function rooms. In terms of a planning solution, making a pedestrian covered access in parallel to the linking corridor in the original building that let to the 1989 extension was the key that “let the building plan breathe and flow,” says Twomey. He says it “unlocked the pinchpoints” and while admitting the architects didn’t achieve it first time, “they got very close and then honed the idea”. The new colonnade also closes the cloister garden between it and the original ‘Clock Tower wing’ along the river, while being “sympathetic to its massing.” The colonnade’s stone arches with engaged column details and vaulted ceilings are enhanced and picked out by sensitive lighting. However, despite some historical allusions, it is distinguished by a restrained amount of detailing as part of the original undertaking to the local authorities. A further addition which might not normally receive as much design attention is the new gatehouse, a new ornate stone building in keeping with the manor. “It really sets the tone for the guest experience, signalling this is a grand estate”. Two other new buildings take a more transparent approach – the stone, timber and glass Carriage House clubhouse restaurant emulates a conservatory with extensive glazing, and the similarly constructed ‘halfway house’ (serving refreshments to golfers between the ninth and tenth greens), is also designed to blend outside and inside.
The restoration of the manor house itself, while requiring “careful surgery” to bring so many historic fixtures and fittings up to current standards, was undertaken by Conservation Architect Consarc, albeit under ReardonSmith’s oversight. This consisted of cleaning repairing and replacing stonework, including 52 chimneys, which had been exposed to the Irish weather for around 170 years. A total of 365 historic windows were repaired, firestopping was installed above fibrous plaster ceilings, and original timber floor boards were replaced over a new acoustic insulation system. As well combining eight guestrooms with other rooms to make new suites, 63 guestrooms and suites were refurbished, and two lifts were introduced to make the building fully accessible. The building contains many historical artworks ranging from tapestries to carvings, which were restored and replaced, enhancing the grandeur of guestrooms and circulation spaces in a way that was “honest to materials and finishes”.
The final cost of all works was approximately £110m excluding the golf course, which seems good value given the scale of what was done, coupled with meeting the client’s exacting aspirations for a high standard of craftsmanship and workmanship. Says Twomey, “normally budget is an impediment, but in this case, although it was a challenge, the client knew what they wanted and always upheld the highest design and quality sensibility.” The client themselves is reported to be happy with the result, and the extended resort has won several travel since completion. Colm Hannon, CEO of Tizzard Holdings comments: “A profound attention to detail has underpinned every decision along the way, and passion for quality craftsmanship is evident in every new building.” He concludes: “Adare Manor is now the odds-on favourite to be awarded the honour of hosting the 2026 Ryder Cup.” Rather than add a ‘statement’ building, ReardonSmith has made a different statement here – that major heritage renovation can have architectural merit precisely by emulating the best of the past rather than competing with it.