Hugh Lane Gallery Extension

  • Location: Parnell Square
  • Architect: Gilroy McMahon Architects
  • Completed: 2003

Forming a key element of the O’Connell Street project, the Hugh Lane Art Gallery has undergone a major refurbishment. This includes a 2000m2 extension on the site of the adjoining National Ballroom. The extension includes a variety of contemporary gallery spaces, restaurant, bookshop, resource area, children’s education, lecture and conservation facilities.

A think tank comprising Gilroy McMahon, Gallery Director Barbara Dawson, former City Architect Jim Barrett and Exhibition Curator Christina Kennedy were appointed to guide the refurbishment process. At the outset they attempted to define what makes a good gallery experience, bearing in mind the countervailing forces often at play. A gallery visit has to be enjoyable and social – browsing in the bookshop, hanging out in the café. But, at the same time, it needs to facilitate the often profoundly spiritual experience of engaging with art. The contemporary museum has been described as part temple, part supermarket.

The think-tank produced a couple of new ideas upon which the design was predicated. The first was a conclusion that most important element in gallery design is circulation. It appeared as imperative to have a central sequential circulation route off which there would be choices. There would be a beginning, an outward journey and a return to the beginning in the form of a loop. Retracing your steps along a single outward path does not work. It reduces the vividness of the experience.

The second idea came from a conclusion that the dissemination of culture has many similarities to the dissemination of any consumer item. It is a retail activity. Retail observes two vital tenets. The first is the elimination of resistance between the potential purchaser and the product. The architecture must step back in the overall synthesis. The second tenet is the importance of taking care of the purchaser, which in the gallery context becomes ”create a place of variety, spontaneity and sensory refreshment for the viewer”.

Thus the gallery emerged as a juxtaposition of two quite different and opposing types of space. The paintings would hang in tranquil gallery spaces without distraction (the temple), lit by constant daylight from the North or a similar artificial light. The other activities, including transit, would be places of maximum distraction with shafts of sunlight, external aspect, glimpses of sky, shadows and contrast in order to provide sensorial refreshment and prepare the viewer for the next "spiritual" experience. So the building flows from static space to dynamic space. There are surprises. The ultimate is the courtyard, aspect to which is both limited and manipulated to vary and reshape its composition of golden sandstone, ribbons of glass mosaic, moving water, greenery and sky reflection.

Materials are white rendered walls, oak floors, painted steel and glass. Located back of house, the only face the "new" Hugh Lane has on the world is the glazed staircase link on Parnell Square. Designed in contrast to the Georgian architecture of its neighbours, the link offers dramatic views across the city and doubles as an advertising mechanism broadcasting to the outside what is happening within.

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Posted by Reflecting City Team on Wednesday, December 17, 2008
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