ARCHITECT: carr cotter naessens
CLIENT: dun laoghaire rathdown county council
AWARDS WON: RIBA Award for International Excellence
Located overlooking the harbour on formerly open space in the town centre of Dun Laoghaire the new library building is a bold new addition to the waterfront. It was commissioned at the height of the recession in Ireland and is remarkable in its quality for a publicly funded community building.
Dun Laoghaire’s town centre is located above the harbour, this level difference has always somewhat separated the harbour from the town centre. The site for the new library, which spans the two levels, offered the opportunity to provide a better connection from the town to the harbour. The arms of the harbour curve out in front of this building and the main arm also forms a route for a very popular Irish ‘passegiata’ giving clear views back to the Dun Laoghaire waterfront. From the harbour the library presents a new vertical element among the landmark spires and frames an open space at the back of which is a Victorian era ‘grand’ hotel. To the visitor at least this open space now signifies the heart of the town, but is divided on curious land ownership lines from open grassed space belonging to the hotel.
The site slopes and the main entry is at the upper level facing the town and adjoins a series of pools over the basement car park. At the lower level an open sided grassed courtyard is seemingly carved out of the hillside and is framed on three sides by a series of stone staircases and walls, Moran Park House is in front and beyond this (off site) are the entrances to loading bays and car parks. A café is located at this level. The railway which separated the town from the harbour has been partially covered over improving connectivity. The South elevation of the building, containing the subsidiary spaces, is aligned with a street leading from the town’s high street and is clad in brick in response - a logical duality.
The plan form tapers toward the sea and is organised as a series of served and servant spaces in a manner which takes advantage of the most pleasing views. In section it is also wedge shaped, with the high point towards the sea. On entering this concrete framed predominantly granite clad building one is immediately drawn in and surprised by a sequence of spaces willing one to move through the building accentuated by a grand stair up to the voluminous principal reading room. Internally there is a high standard of joinery and the open feel is possible due to the shelf heights being kept low. As one ascends to the reading room one is inexorably drawn along the taper to the large picture window with the framed view of the open sea. Over this grand space are an array of rooflights between deep V-shaped pre-cast beams clad on one side only with timber slatted acoustic absorption. In one direction towards the sea there is delight in the light cast onto the timber slats. On the return the pre-cast beams prevail.
The simplicity of materials, oak and concrete, have a texture and depth against which the library’s activities are played out. Oak bookshelves line the walls making the archetypal and familiar library backdrop.
The overall impression is of a highly dynamic forward looking 21st Century public library which is multi-functional, architecturally sophisticated and stakes its claim as the cultural heart of the community. It is clearly popular as a destination and as a facility and is a very positive contribution to the public realm. In urban terms, to a great extent the building relies on its striking difference in appearance when viewed from the harbour towards the waterfront and in relation to Moran Park. Though acknowledging its surrounding context by reference through form, materiality and careful alignments the real strength of this building is in the interior spaces which create a significant new public space and major new library for Dun Laoghaire.
Contractor: John Sisk and Sons Ltd
Structural Engineers: Horgan Lynch
M&E Engineers: Arup
Cost Consultant: deasy walley partnership
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS: ATKINS
INTERNAL AREA: 6,500 SQM
PHOTOGRAPHERs: Dennis Gilbert & Ros Kavanagh