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  1. Introduction
  2. Purpose of the Design Guide
  3. Locating a House in the Countryside
  4. Clustering of houses
  5. Principles of Design
  6. Boundary Treatment
  7. Conclusion
  8. Case Studies

Photo of a House

1. Introduction

Historically, rural buildings in Ireland were deeply traditional and regionally varied. Vernacular Irish architecture developed in response to the local economy and environment, with the transmission of regional variations secured by communal traditions. House styles of the vernacular form have a notable aesthetic quality which is derived chiefly from the use of simple proportions, local building materials, and careful integration into the surrounding environment.

Recent developments in Irish housing have departed from the vernacular tradition. Mass manufacturing and increased availability of materials has rendered the link between dwelling location and materials obsolete. Moreover, increased car ownership has fuelled counter-urbanisation which in turn has resulted in the importation of urban style dwellings to rural areas. Features characteristic of urban dwellings and which are typically applied to rural housing include: the use of brick and artificial stone fronted garden walls, hard-surfaced driveways, ranch fencing, cypress hedging and manicured gardens. These features are ill-suited to the rural environment and consequently diminish the amenity value of the rural landscape.

Vernacular architecture displays the quality and sensitivity required for successful building design in the countryside. Slavish adherence to the traditions and appearances of the past is both impractical and adversarial to architectural innovation. However, the basic principles which govern traditional rural housing should be complied with and applied to modern housing in rural areas. Reform of current design practices within the established traditional criteria ensures building forms sympathetic to the rural environment.

2. Purpose of the Design Guide

The purpose of these guidelines is not to achieve planning aims by dictate, but rather to create an awareness of the sensitivity of the rural landscape and to demonstrate good house design principles. The Council does not seek to unreasonably restrict or constrain the design of any new dwelling in the countryside. However, proposals which exhibit no adherence to these design principles will not be permitted. The design principles hinge upon a few simple rules, allowing ample scope for variation and self-determination. Designs can make clear reference to the rural vernacular without being retrospective, even where non-traditional elements such as conservatories are incorporated.

3. Locating a House in the Countryside

Buildings in the countryside alter and influence the landscape profoundly and become focal points for the eye. Thus, it is essential that buildings are located so that they can be readily assimilated into the landscape. Houses must be treated as objects in the landscape and due weight attached to their siting and form accordingly. The site selection process is a critical determinant of the visual impact and energy efficiency of the dwelling. A holistic approach should be adopted in the site selection process, displaying sensitivity towards the rural environment and natural energy conservation.

3.1. Visual Aesthetics

The capacity of the rural landscape to absorb buildings varies, but generally contoured landscapes are more robust than very flat landscapes. Buildings tend to dominate flat landscapes and are very difficult to conceal, whilst in hilly areas the natural folds within the landscape may be exploited to envelope the building. The undulating topography of the Tipperary countryside presents an opportunity to minimise the visual impact of new dwellings with the application of a few basic siting principles.

Photo of a rural house

In hilly areas the contour level is critical to the siting of buildings. There is often an established habitation zone which is served by an access road and lies between the hillside and low-lying areas liable to flooding. New buildings should recognise such contour lines, shall be tucked into the slope, avoiding the brow and presenting the gable to the exposed windward situation. Well-sheltered locations enable planting to succeed and contribute further to the visual integration of buildings in the countryside. Newer buildings which do not observe such traditional wisdom are strikingly conspicuous in hilly areas. Nonetheless, even the most detrimental assaults on the landscape may be avoided by observance of the following simple rules:

Drawing of a Suburban Design House dominating the horizon

3.2. Low Energy Design in a Rural Context

The application of a few common-sense design principles is sufficient to render energy efficient dwelling. Complicated technology is not necessary. A low energy house can be easily built and maintained and is equally applicable to traditional and modern styles. Simple factors such as the shape of the house, the siting of the house to maximise sunlight, and the external environment can render an energy efficient house.

3.3. Shape

There are two main approaches to minimising energy consumption which may determine the shape of the house. The first - compact or closed box approach aims for the lowest possible ratio of surface area to volume, with a small area of window openings and high insulation levels. This cubic form helps to minimise both the building materials consumed and heat losses in operation.

The second type - linear or passive solar approach centres upon the concept of a North-facing long house of little depth. The North-facing long house has a shallow form zoned to allow solar access to glazed buffer areas and living spaces, thus maximising the potential for solar gains for heating, lighting and natural ventilation.

Drawing of A rural, modern house that utilises natural landscape and solar gain

The passive solar approach obviously depends on having a suitable site and aspect, thus this is not the appropriate solution everywhere. A compact, highly insulated, non-solar solution may be more suitable due to site restrictions and orientation and need not be as restrictive to design as it may first appear.

3.4. Siting & Orientation

When selecting a site, energy conservation should be an important consideration. Exposure on a hilltop or an unsheltered site will obviously incur heat loss penalties, whilst a site in a hollow or deep valley may turn out to be a frost pocket in winter. Moreover, an excessively wooded site may be dark and deprived of solar gain. Ideally, a site with energy conservation advantages should be selected.

The topography of Tipperary is aligned east-west or northeast-southwest and thus should yield an abundance of energy efficient sites in theory at least. If an east-west axis is not available, a south-easterly orientation is preferable to south-westerly, for warming up in the morning and avoiding afternoon overheating. A southerly aspect may be beneficial, although an artificially south-facing site lying against the contour grain may render a house which is overly exposed and obtrusive.

The orientation of the house should recognise prevailing winds, prospects and the path of the sun. Orientation was a critical factor in vernacular houses and it should remain so for energy conservation reasons and its potential to reduce home heating bills.

3.5. A Favourable Microclimate

The local climate around estate manors, old farmhouses, and cottages is radically different from that in the open fields nearby. The traditional farm holding of clustered buildings is an admirable model, whilst many estate houses are surrounded by walled gardens and trees. Modern houses fail to apply many of the traditional shelter techniques.

Dwellings should be sited to take account of adverse climatic conditions from the south-west. Outbuildings can be linked with the house in a sheltering group so that winds are deflected away from heated walls and gaps between buildings should open north or south to avoid wind funnels. Porches or out projections can offer either shelter or protection from the elements and function also as draught lobbies.

3.6. Shelter Planting

Ireland has a higher average wind speed than most European countries and consequently, substantial shelter planting is required to counteract the severe climatic conditions experienced in many rural locations. Manicured suburban type gardens commonly found in rural areas do not provide sufficient climatic protection. Shelter planting may be difficult to establish in exposed areas, yet it is vital to create wind free zones around the house and associated buildings.

Trees shelter buildings from cold winds and driving rain, thereby potentially reducing domestic fuel consumption by 20 per cent. Privacy and improved appearance of the immediate environment as a place to live and work are further benefits that may be derived from shelter planting. Aesthetically, shelter planting may soften hard outlines, harmonise new buildings with their surrounds and reduce their dominance in the rural landscape.

The following factors should be taken into account in the provision of successful shelter planting:

4. Clustering of houses

Vernacular buildings traditionally formed clusters in response to practical needs and local climatic conditions, an example being a clachan. The clustering of the various farm and homestead building elements such as the house, byres and stores created sheltered courtyards. Many such clusters do not exhibit a distinctive layout, however, buildings were generally grouped around a rectangular yard with one side formed by the dwelling house. The following rules apply to clustering houses

Example drawing of a linear cluster suitable for an edge of settlement

5. Principles of Design

5.1. Vernacular Architecture

The simplicity and directness of vernacular buildings provides a good model for the design of modern houses in the countryside. Vernacular architecture provides a range of building styles and sizes, and careful examination of their features will provide good examples of design features that can be applied to modern houses.

Photo of a modern house with traditional elements

Drawing of a good example of vernacular in a rural setting

5.2. Modern Buildings in the Countryside

Modern buildings are generally larger than vernacular buildings, however, careful use of scale, proportion, variety of elements in buildings will help 'fit' new buildings into rural settings.

Drawing of a modern building in the countryside

Modern bungalows with features such as horizontal windows, over-sailing roofs, Spanish style arches, external chimneys, and materials that are unsympathetic to a rural area should be avoided. Dormer buildings should have a narrow floor plan with a minimum pitch roof of 45 degrees. Two-storey buildings should be rectangular in plan with solid gables or square in plan with hipped gables.

The following general rules should apply to all new designs:

Example drawings of good and bad xtensions

Example drawings of acceptable extensions

6. Boundary Treatment

Simple treatment of the boundary and entry to the dwelling yields the most successful results. Existing boundaries and hedgerows should be retained where possible to help root new buildings more naturally in the landscape. The conservation of existing stonewalls, mature trees and hedgerows serve to nestle the building in the landscape, making it less conspicuous. The use of natural stone walls where used locally is preferable to plastered blockwork to ensure continuity of form throughout the landscape. Avoid the use of brick and timber clad fencing which are not appropriate for the rural environment, rendering a 'suburban feel' to the open countryside.

Drawing of a house on a hillside

Access roads must be designed to follow the contours of the land and meander across the gradient. Avoid access roads that follow a direct line between the entrance and dwelling, resulting in a stark unnatural gash in the landscape. To guard against a harsh visual outcome, access roads should take account of site topography and should comprise of gravel or shale rather than tar macadam.

7. Conclusion

This rural design guide is meant to show how basic principles which govern traditional rural housing can be applied to modern housing in rural areas in order to ensure that new buildings integrate sympathetically into the rural environment. The Council does not seek to unreasonably restrict or constrain the design of any new dwelling in the countryside. However, proposals which exhibit no adherence to these design principles will not be permitted.

The detrimental impact of so many inappropriate urban style dwellings on the aesthetic character of rural areas bears testimony to the inherent need for professional expertise. All applicants are encouraged to engage suitably qualified professional architects, a list of which may be supplied on request by the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland. Implementation of good design principles need not incur additional costs, whilst the payment of professional fees may be offset as a sound investment enhancing the capital value of the dwelling.



New housing on a family farm shall be accommodated via the existing entrance. Ribbon development shall not be allowed, particularly on Regional Roads. Figure.1 shows a typical farmhouse with outbuildings that are no longer in use. Figure.2 shows an unacceptable solution to providing for family members as it results in ribbon development and the additional entrances results in reduction in traffic safety. Figure.3 demonstrates how family members can be accommodated via the internal access lane off the existing entrance thus avoiding ribbon development and a reduction in traffic safety

Fig.1 Family Farm Fig 2. Unacceptable Fig.3 Acceptable
Drawing of a family run farm Drawing of an unacceptable family run farm Drawing of an acceptable family run farm


Example dawing of acceptable cluster beside an existing landmark


Photograph showing a traditional farmhouse on an elevated landscape

Photograph shows a traditional farmhouse on an elevated landscape. The gable faces down the slope. The house is well screened by natural landscape and trees. The roof pitch is 40-45 degrees, and roof covering is slateOutbuildings are set back into the site. This solution forms an integral part of the overall landscape

Photo showing an unacceptable solution to a house on an elevated landscape

This photo shows an unacceptable solution to a house on an elevated landscape. The site is exposed, and there is little or no natural landscape cover. The front elevation of the house faces down the slope giving maximum visibility and does not form an integral part of the wider landscape.

SITING OF DWELLING: Typical Field Submitted for a Single Dwelling

Fig 1: Drawing of field which has good landscape cover on bottom right

Fig 1: Field has good landscape cover on bottom right

Fig.2 Drawing of Refusal: Loss of hedgerow, not integrating the house with natural landscape,  front elevation facing the road

Fig.2 Refusal: Loss of hedgerow, not integrating the house with natural landscape, front elevation facing the road

Fig.3 Drawing showing the house well screened and at right angles to the road reducing    visual impact, new planting helps to provide privacy and reduce noise from  the road

Fig.3 shows the house well screened and at right angles to the road reducing visual impact, new planting helps to provide privacy and reduce noise from the road

Fig.4 Drawing Showing an alternative access along the boundary hedge and house set back  and at right angles to the road.

Fig.4 Shows an alternative access along the boundary hedge and house set back and at right angles to the road.


Drawing of an exceptable rural house


Drawing of an unacceptable rural house

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