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Heneghan Peng completes light-filled refurb at National Gallery of Ireland

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A major €30 million renovation opens up two historic wings of existing galleries, as part of an ongoing masterplan

Opening this week, the newly renovated galleries show the subtle, rational touch that Heneghan Peng brings to its work, with the practice having cut away and rationalised over 150 years of additions and adaptations which have accreted since the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI) first opened on Merrion Square in central Dublin in 1864.

Natural light, so important in the design of the original galleries, is the key element in the re-imagining and elucidation of the spaces of the NGI, which houses the National Collection of European and Irish Fine Art, including work by Caravaggio, Guercino and Velázquez. Light is controlled yet its change and variability remains visible, meaning the conditions within the gallery reflect conditions outside. The range in lighting permitted on works is calculated by taking lux levels cumulatively over the course of a year rather than by maintaining an absolute level on the wall over time.

This combination of control yet expression of natural light levels is enabled through micro-louvres incorporated within the glazing. The micro-louvres redirect light to eliminate direct light and have a UV transmittance below 1 per cent. Simultaneously a glazing g-value of 0.14 reduces solar gains and heat transfer by almost 70 per cent.

The key new space created by Heneghan Peng in this phase of work is a glazed-over courtyard, formed from an existing funnel-shaped lightwell. Its original patched fabric of brick, glazed brick and stone is left exposed around the walls, providing a rawly contrasting orientation point amid the surrounding regular enfilades of renovated galleries, its materiality echoed in the bare concrete lift towers inserted at either end.

The glass roof is supported on triple-laminated toughened-glass fins that span the 7m gap between the two historic wings. These minimise the visual impact of the structure and achieve a more external, open quality in the space below.

The gallery remained open during the construction work, which required close co-ordination between the construction team and gallery operations.

This renovation completes Phases II and III of the gallery masterplan which aims to bring together its various wings into a coherent whole. 

The final Phase IV of the masterplan will include the renovation of the 1968 Beit Wing, and the provision of 6,000m² of additional space, including an education centre, improved facilities for the storage of the gallery’s National Art Library and Archive, and a Centre of Excellence for Conservation.

Architect’s statement

This refurbishment of the historic wings is part of an overall masterplan that aims to develop a coherent and accessible circulation system through the various layers of the gallery. By opening up forgotten windows and re-imagining a lightwell as a courtyard, the gallery has been opened up and allowed to breathe again. New lift cores and stairs create universal access throughout with attention being paid to lighting levels, visual contrast cues, materials, audio aids, fire escape and safety systems.

A major element of the work was to devise a strategy to implement environmental control throughout the gallery. In order to minimise the extent of service runs in the listed buildings, an energy centre has been placed under the garden of the gallery’s Merrion Square entrance removing most of the major systems from the building. Services installations are threaded under and within the existing fabric, with minimal visual impact.

Róisín Heneghan, director, Heneghan Peng Architects

Project data

Start on site 2013 
Completion Dec 2016
Gross internal floor area 6,838m2 (Phase 2 + Phase 3: Historic Wings) 
Form of contract Public Works Contract for Building Works designed by the Employer
Architect Heneghan Peng Architects
Conservation architect Blackwood Associates Architect
Services and sustainability engineer Building Design Partnership
Structure and civil engineer PUNCH Consulting Engineers
Quantity surveying AECOM
Fire safety consultants FLN Consulting Engineers
Façade engineers T/E/S/S Atelier D’Ingénierie
Lighting design Bartenbach
Project supervisor design process OLM Consultancy
Project Manager Office of Public Works

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