McGarry Ní Éanaigh Architects's school expansion provides learning focal point for local community
On the outer fringes of Dublin, Ratoath is an expanding commuter village characterised by a small village core and large enveloping housing estates. Ratoath College (8,020 sq m) is the first significant new public institution in this community and will accommodate 850 second level pupils on a site of 5.4 hectares. The challenge was to design a public building of character and appropriate scale confirming the College as a legible community resource in an otherwise undistinguished built landscape.
The site presented numerous challenges such as a need for multiple access, as well as orientation on sloping ground with particular mature trees.
The brief also called for the provision of DoES-prescribed standard teaching room layouts and consideration towards environmental concerns relating to specialist room requirements; computer rooms on the north face to mitigate overheating, for example.
Provision of efficient and flexible circulation was also required, as was a PE Hall with direct access to sports fields / courts and independent access by the community outside of school hours, all within strict adherence to overall building areas and budgets. The project creates space for an aproximate 30% area increase, while taking care to provide separation of student and vehicular traffic.
Using innovative thinking applied to a standard brief, the architects sought to make an original public building of memorable character - an articulated brick form of tapering profile rising from ground. Its formal proposition of shape is deliberate – the building has a definite figural quality and reads as an atypical object in a landscape of suburban houses. Although non-orthogonal in form the building provides the prescribed DoES orthogonal room layouts and uses circulation and social space to resolve geometries while creating memorable spatial maps.
Internally the building shape impacts specifically on the circulation areas – giving character, coherence. Externally the form generates entrances, responds to existing mature trees and encloses a south facing garden. The language of the building is predicated on the use of brickwork - a continuous perforated, patterned, mottled skin, rustic in character particular and unique to this place.
A community’s school is arguably the most significant building for social interaction and learning for its young people. As architects, McGarry Ní Éanaigh sought to create an environment which linked the formal teaching rooms by means of a fluid joyous social / circulation space characterised by a memorable material quality, colour, culminating in a volume – the heart of the school facing into its garden and the sun. The building interior under the sloping continuous soffit gives formal expression to a particular sense of community.
A school environment is a critical opportunity for the young to develop a sense of materials, light, space, and colour. Materials are used as found – exposed blockwork, reinforced concrete piers and soffits, timber windows and screens, exposed steel balustrades and benches, exposed pipework, precast concrete external entrance marker and seating new landscaping / tree planting.
The building makes direct use of passive solar energy by virtue of its orientation, geometry, building components and materials. Thermal mass within the building from exposed slabs helps offset internal temperatures caused by heat gains to outside the occupied hours. The building is predominantly naturally ventilated by fully openable windows with trickle vents and motorised louvers on rooflights. Space heating distribution, zoned in relation to building orientation is comprised of multiple variable temperature circuits controlled by a central BMS controller incorporating a self-learning optimum start strategy.