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The appliance of science

building study

Ahrends Burton and Koralek has responded to the landscape to the north-west of Dublin to create an Institute of Technology which blurs the boundary between academia and business Approaching the south-facing hill to the north-west of Dublin, on which the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown (ITB) stands, it is immediately evident that the landscape has been a key influence on this emerging campus.As you approach at the base of the hill site, ABK's masterplan has taken the higher, flatter part with views to the Wicklow Hills, the finger-ends of the teaching blocks (now and in future phases) beckoning towards you. The vehicle route skirts the hill as it climbs, taking you to setdown points and the car park to the north of the buildings.

From here the impression changes radically, from the angular teaching blocks to the sculptural object that is the prosaically named multi-purpose building, with its dramatically sweeping roof. It acts both as gateway - a central axis runs straight through it - and as one of the elements enclosing the central courtyard, the locus of the campus. This building's sweep in plan is echoed by the sweep of the existing and planned teaching blocks, themselves linked by a curved firstfloor walkway.

ITB is a 'third level' institution, a mix of further and higher education, that in time will deliver training and education from apprentice to degree level for some 3,000 students.As with similar institutes, its focus is first local - north-west Dublin, though with a hinterland of Meath and Kildare.There are approaching 500,000 people within a 30-minute drive. ITB is also part of a larger development that includes an adjacent site, initiated by the Irish Development Agency, primarily a business park. It is the Irish approach to closely mix the academic with the practical, both at the level of apprenticeships and in nurturing startup businesses that are hoped will spin off from the institute. This mixing is reflected in the facilities, with all students sharing the same restaurant, student centre and sports facilities.

Being part of Phase 1, the multi-purpose building is curtailed, with planned extension to the west. Its current purposes are student centre, sports hall and restaurant;

the extension is likely to accommodate a range of further food outlets. It was a key decision by ABK to make these three purposes into one major building.Some sense of the multipurpose remains, with the roof on columns oversailing the different purposes. The necessary height of the sports hall has occasioned the spatial drama of a double-height restaurant at the other end of the building, with its use of strong colour on some of the plastered walls. The campus needs this anchor building, to send a message of quality to students and staff and to give the campus a focus, especially before later phases are built. Building well here is an important reversal of the story of many academic institutions where the academic fiefdoms take the lion's share of the money and the common facilities come a poor second.

Stepping out into the courtyard, the sense of enclosure is made more pronounced by windscreen glazing beneath the raised walkway that links the academic buildings.

(A glazed cover to the walkway was one of the cuts occasioned by tendering in a boom period, as were other major areas of glazing. ) To the west, the direction of Phase 2, is a temporary timber windscreen to the courtyard, ripe for planting. The Apprentice Training Building, to the north-east, is a simple, metal-clad, rectilinear building. It is the X-plan teaching buildings, though, that set the tone, which should sweep on to the west with two more in future phases, also with the possibility of two L-plan student housing buildings to the west.

Landscaping is simply grassed with frequent use of mounds here in the courtyard and lower down the hill, where it will change from mown to meadow grass. Landscaper Landesign's intended symbolism is this future institution growing out of an ancient culture. The landscaping mainly combines grassed earth-shaping with a significant amount of semi-mature tree planting, on a fitting scale for a future mature campus, though it will take some years for these trees to give the campus strong definition. On a more local scale, the X-blocks are clad with standing seam aluminium on the insides of the fingers (and on the roofs), whereas the outsides facing adjacent buildings are of rendered blockwork. The result is two types of open-ended courtyard - differently shaped and walled.

The X-blocks exhibit ABK's sometime monolithic, sometime rationalist form. It is good to have the X-blocks contrasting with the multi-purpose building, giving scale to the campus and suggesting the promise of growth rather than completeness. ABK did consider exterior colour, as it used for the render of Loughborough University's business and economics building (AJ 18.6.98). But as Peter Ahrends says, the ex-urban architecture of Ireland is white on green.With the soft, changing Irish light, the aluminium cladding is anyway a coat of many colours.

From the courtyard the short fingers of each Xblock point inward, cantilevering at first-floor level, providing some shelter and marking the entrance to the central circulation node. Sadly, cost cuts stopped these nodes being full-height glazed back and front, which would have lent the animation of movement to the courtyard.They would have had some of the quality of metal-wrapped openness of ABK's Cummins factory (AJ 18.7.82) rather than the introversion now more reminiscent of St Mary's hospital (AJ 3.7.91). Inside, there is enough space and colour in these nodes to make them a focus for each block, not just a functional circulation space.

Currently, the more easterly of the X-blocks has most of its first and second floor devoted to library space. It has its own enclosed stair, and a glass wall, to the south of its node, walled off from the main circulation stair. The library's existence here, and at this size, point up the issue of designing for a future ITB that is not yet fully envisaged.

Potentially this library function could expand or be distributed around the campus or move to a future block.

Tight-fit design was not in the brief.But you do ask of the double-banked corridor layout's uniformity (as at Loughborough), is this the architecture of a new, boundary-breaking educational future, even though underlying it are steel portal-frames with concrete slabs so that all the partitioning could go? Maybe a lead could have been taken from atrium-centred offices, or academically from the likes of Portsmouth's school of architecture, with some accommodation connected directly to the node so that there is more potential for a sense of academic community. The westerly X-block includes two ground-floor lecture theatres. In a neat move the rake of their floor is at the slope of a wheelchair ramp; it's enough.

As to the future, no decision has been taken on future phases. You hope, probably over-optimistically, that the client might want to remove the lumpen escape stair enclosures at the ends of the X-block fingers, which took that form during construction, so evident as you arrive on the site. Certainly completing the masterplan will build coherence. ABK hopes to be here for the long term, of course, its history in Ireland reaching back to Paul Koralek's library competition win at Trinity College in 1961, and with many recent projects (AJ 28.3.02).ABK feels at home here and has caught the tenor of change, with rural roots still strong but a hightechnology future setting the agenda.

CREDITS

TENDER RETURN DATE October 2000

DATE OF POSSESSION February 2001 CONTRACT COMPLETION DATE November 2002 GROSS INTERNAL FLOOR AREAS Teaching 4,014m 2Library 3,839m 2Multi-purpose 3,905m 2Apprentice training 4,348m 2Total 16,016m 2TOTAL COST £30,417,000 CLIENT Institute of Technology Blanchardstown ARCHITECT Ahrends Burton and Koralek: Peter Ahrends, Sarah Ashley, Silje Aukland, David Cruse, Mark Fineberg, Clive Gray, Tamar Jacobs, Mann Kumar, Mark Lumley, Felix Mara, Andrew Monk, Sean Murphy, Paul Pindelski, Paul Priest STRUCTURAL, CIVIL ENGINEER O'Connor Sutton Cronin SERVICES ENGINEER MacArdle McSweeney Associates QUANTITY SURVEYOR Davis Langdon PKS LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Landesign PROJECT SUPERVISOR Bruce Shaw Project Supervisors Catering Consultant Sterling Foodservice Design Associates ACOUSTIC CONSULTANT Sandy Brown Associates Fire Engineering Diarmuid Kelly Associates MAIN CONTRACTOR Clear & Doyle Contracting NOMINATED SUBCONTRACTORS Cladding Architectural Aluminium; roofing Gerald F May Roofing; electrical Kirby Electrical; mechanical Mercury Engineering

WEBLINKS

Institute of Technology Blanchardstown www. itb. ie Ahrends Burton and Koralek www. abk. co. uk O'Connor Sutton Cronin www. ocsc. ie Davis Langdon PKS www. davislangdonpks. com Landesign www. almac. co. uk/landesign

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