The site - in a seaside town close to Dublin - incorporates the former Town Hall, Carnegie Library and Technical College, a tripartite composition of historic buildings from 1860 and 1905. A new L-shaped addition completes the implicit urban block – generating, between new and old buildings, two planimetrically equivalent but spatially distinct courtyards - one glazed, one open. These courtyards provide orientation points throughout: one ‘sea’ based, its floor screenprinted with a photo of shells at low tide, the other ‘mountain’ based - a fern garden open to the sky.
The refurbished and extended building contains a College for 1000 students and the Public Library, utilising natural synergies of Library and College - provided from different arms of the public purse – to enhance the learning environment. The new building is without formal entrances allowing the old Town Hall retain this role; elevations avoid hierarchy by giving equivalence to all rooms behind, except for the glazed atrium - expressed as a giant scaled ‘eye’ at the upper part of front and rear facades. Windows in the new build are full vertical openings between a matrix of floor plates, and slide along, abacus-fashion, to required positions. A range of flexible teaching spaces cater for changing course requirements to allow the building to become a loose framework for learning rather than a rigid box of classrooms, spaces can flow into circulation and informal group learning spaces are integrated into movement patterns within the College. Internal spaces in the historic structures are sympathetically refurbished and matched with appropriate uses.
The major interventions - courtyard and glazed atrium - are used to create light canons which make a focus of new social spaces for college students, spilling out onto the shell floor and freewheeling around the fern garden.