From old to new: Open House in Trinity

By Conor Dempsey

The Long Room Hub, the newest addition to Trinity’s campus, welcomed visitors last fortnight as part of the Open House Dublin Architecture Festival. Visitors were lucky to be given tours of the new building by one of the designing architects Valerie Mulvin or Niall McCullough of McCullough Mulvin Architects.

Irish architecture has been enjoying something of a golden age over the last decade. Many Irish firms have earned a serious international reputation with McCullough Mulvin, O’Donnell & Tuomey, and Grafton Architects among the best.
During the tour I attended Valerie Mulvin led a host of attentive guests through the Long Room Hub explaining the thoroughly considered features of a building designed as a place for creativity and scholarly interaction.

The facade is broken up with the windows on various levels and some areas protruding more than others; as you walk through the building this makes for a variety of surprising and interesting views of the college. On the floor designated as the reading and lunch area the windows align dramatically allowing light to pass right through the open space giving fantastic views and a sudden feeling of expansiveness to this narrow building.

The site was found by a process of elimination and part of the challenge was to a location suitable for a 13,000 square foot building in the tight confines of Trinity. The current location was the only viable option. It was decided early on that the building should not rise above the height of the Old Library, but it would need to be quite slender as a large fire access area had to be left between it and the 1937 Reading Room. Ms Mulvin explained that the home of the postgraduate reading room was originally designed as a pavilion for a garden to its rear. This area had trees that defined the skyline from both Fellow’s and Front Squares but these were removed with the garden when the Arts Block was built in 1985. The Long Room Hub is modeled on a medieval Tower House and is intended to resolve the unfinished end of Fellow’s square and give more definite closure to Front Square.

There were considerable technical challenges once the the site had been narrowed down by these various factors. The most major of these was the location of the Edmund Burke Theatre below the building. The presence of a large theatre below meant that no support columns could extend directly down from one side of the building.

To overcome this problem the architects used large diagonal support beams attached to the main structural components of the building at either end. These beams have been incorporated as shelving in many of the offices and are visible throughout.

The building is connected by a new tunnel to the 1937 Reading Room which is in turn connected to the Long Room. This allows transport of documents and rare books underground from the Old Library to the digitization suite in the Hub where Trinity’s collections will be converted to digital form for the first time.

The detailing of the interior is considerable. All of the flooring is made from an engineered walnut board compatible with the underfloor heating used throughout. There is a lecture theatre with an acoustic ceiling and a smart glass wall at one end. This smart glass can be made opaque at the flick of a switch to separate the hall from the adjoining offices.

The outer walls are made of stone cladding hung on steel. The thickness of the walls was chosen so that windows become reasonably deep recesses that the architects hoped would naturally come to be used as study or reading areas. The study floor has a dark grey carpet throughout to reduce noise and has automatic blinds which regulate sunlight during the day.
The lunch floor is described as the “living room” of the building by Ms Mulvin and is intended to be the cockpit where the casual interaction between scholars of various disciplines will take place. The entire building is designed in the hope that casual exchange of ideas will occur and fuel a more creative and interdisciplinary approach to humanities research.

The Long Room Hub is the first of three new Trinity buildings to be completed in less than two years; the next will be the Biosciences Centre on Pearse Street, designed by RKD architects to be completed before the end of the year. 2011 will see the opening of The Lir, a centre for acting and theatre studies, designed by Smith Kennedy Architects.