Dún Laoghaire, once a sleepy fishing village, was transformed in the early 19th century by a number of ambitious infrastucture projects. The harbour, pier and suburban railway were significant developments of great economic and social benefit to the town and greater Dublin area, while the promenade, and parks with their bandstands and bowling greens were an integral part of the urban realm, enjoyed by all.
At this time there was a consensus about the value of pleasure as well as commerce in the public domain and the parks, promenades and bandstands have continued to be integral to the borough’s infrastructure and are unique assets.
Historically ecclesiastical and major civic buildings would have been the landmark structures and focal points of the public realm. Most of the modern development in the town to date has been commercial and residential. It is therefore significant that Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council have elected to make the new library and cultural centre the centrepiece of a new public space that will transform the heart of the town. The project is the first significant piece of civic infrastucture in the town since 1900.
The extended role of the library as a facilitator for all sorts of community, educational and cultural events has inevitably shaped new ways of thinking about the design of the buildings and space they require. This building, the result of an RIAI two stage international competition held in 2007, exemplifies this design paradigm and offers a mix of intimate and expansive public rooms, places to congregate, or to sit quietly with a book and enjoy the view. The modern library is the last bastion of truly public space.
The particular character of the site generates the building form; this integration with public space enriches the building and reaffirms its role as mediator between the city and global knowledge networks.
Moran Park occupies a strategic location in Dún Laoghaire; it visibly demonstrates the natural fault line between the harbour and the town. The old park was dysfunctional, the abrupt changes in level and restrictions to movement around an old reservoir reinforced the disconnection between the commercial precinct of the town and the harbour. The project was an opportunity to knit back the structure of the town with the seafront, making new routes and visual connections between town and harbor.
The landscape strategy for the design responds to the characteristics of the existing park and aims to integrate the proposed building form and the existing park to form a new urban ensemble. The building is wedged in to a granite escarpment and directly relates to the two levels of the park. The upper level at Haigh Terrace reconnects to the grounds of the Royal Marine Hotel and includes a pond, reconfigured as a series of weirs, and a raised belvedere extending towards the sea view. The pedestrian path around the pond continues to a stone paved forecourt at the library entrance; this is enclosed in turn by the Mariners Church, which overlooks the entrance forecourt.
The lower park level relates directly to the Metals walkway. A new public space on the footprint of the original bowling-green is envisaged as a garden room, sheltered by a grove of trees. The cultural centre may be accessed here; a grand staircase leads up to the library and cultural space at the higher level while the foyer cafe can spill out on to the outdoor space.
The grove of trees anchors Moran Park House in a domestic landscape; parterre planting recalls the original kitchen garden.
Architectural form and context
The building footprint is generated by the long narrow plot available between Haigh Terrace on one side, the pond and bowling green on the other. Onto this footprint is imposed a new plane, tapering from the entrance forecourt, shared with the Mariners Church and rising up to make a tall portico facing the sea.
The building is organised with two distinct forms. Along Haigh Terrace is a regular sequence of intimate rooms, workshops, meeting space and reading rooms, with windows that address the street. The park-side of the building by contrast provides voluminous space, the lounge and main lending floor above, each with long windows with views to the park.
The tapering roof above is cut with large beams spaced with skylights. The roof that tapers towards the sea is formed of a series of precast V beams with glazed roof lights between them.
The Lexicon comprises a central library with processing, outreach and archive facilities for all libraries in the county. The library will include a busy “living room” overlooking the park, with space for internet use, newspapers and magazines as well as rooms for book-clubs, meetings and seminars and a room for crafts games and modelmaking. The art gallery and associated workshop is also on this floor. The level above, the piano nobile, includes general reading rooms and the junior library. The top floor is a quiet space and includes the local history department and study spaces.
On the lowest level the park edge of the building is lined with public rooms: an auditorium, cafe and a long stairs that ascends to the library on the level above. Behind this the working section of the library is house along Haigh Terrace: Offices Process rooms staff facilities storage and kitchens.
The material of the building is spare, a voluminous concrete shell, into within which are inserted oak linings for books and sound modulation. Externally the building is clad in a warm granite, or soft red brick. The large window assemblies and entrance portal are clad in bronze. Traditional materials used in a contemporary manner.
Primary energy for the project will be provided from renewable sources where possible. Wood pellets or chips from Dún Laoghaire Rathdown parks will provide fuel for the biomass fired boilers. Passive solar design has been a key consideration in the design of this building. Each facade (with the exception of north facing elevations) is provided with solar shading devices such as external fins and overhangs, this will reduce the solar gain during the summer months.
Natural ventilation will provide the predominant method of maintaining air quality and temperature control. Many aspects of the design of the building maximise the opportunity to naturally ventilate the building – high floor to ceiling heights, depth of the building with ventilation shafts located in the centre, large areas of exposed thermal mass will act to moderate the internal temperatures within the space. To provide for a diverse range of use and to protect against periods of inclement weather, mixed-mode (natural and mechanical) ventilation is also provided.
The distinctive roof cowls terminate 11 concrete shafts that are also key structural elements. Filtered fresh air will be heated or cooled using a thermal heat transfer system located in the cowls, and supplied to the floor void for discharge at low level. Waste heat from the exhaust air will be used to preheat incoming cold fresh air.