Extension to National Gallery

  • Location: Georgian / Governmental Quarter
  • Architect: Benson Forsyth Architects & OPW Architectural Services
  • Completed: 2000

In 1996, the National Gallery instigated a design competition for the site adjacent to its rear boundary and perpendicular to its internal striation of rooms. The winning proposal elevated new galleries above more generally accessible cafes and a shop, simultaneously linking the existing gallery interior to a second public entrance on Clare Street. It attempted to create an articulate building that opens up the National Gallery to the life and complexity of the city. As a mask to Clare Street, it offers glimpses west to Trinity College and east to Merrion Square and the Georgian streets beyond.

Internally, the public enter a long quadruple-height atrium leading from Clare Street all the way to the back of the original gallery building. The visitor is drawn to a theatrical flight of stairs, beyond which a slender gap offers views of the lawns of Leinster House and the Dublin Mountains.

At the entry level of the new building a winter garden has been created between two exiting regency structures whilst the next level is occupied by a suit of galleries and an open plan restaurant. Mezzanines accommodate the Centre for the Study of Irish Art and the Yeat’s Archive. The uppermost level of the building houses an Audio Visual Room and temporary exhibition galleries. On the roof above, an observation deck and sculpture court complete the buildings complex dialogue with its host city.

The clients ambitions for the project were summed up in their assertion that ’the building should be dignified and expressive of its time and its function. The exterior expression should take into consideration its urban context, while the interior should complement the nature and quality of the collection… The interior should be legible to visitors and should be a delight to experience.’ In addition, the highest international standards in building services, including air filtration and lighting were to be achieved.

The most significant impact on the form of the scheme in planning terms, apart from the constraints imposed by the situation of the building in a ‘Conservation Area’, arose from the requirement of the planning approval, granted on appeal, to retain the Georgian building at No 5. South Leinster Street, and incorporate a Regency style ballroom, formerly a mews building to the rear of No. 5. Both have been incorporated into a ‘winter garden’ now housing the gallery restaurant. (The original planning application, approved in May 1997, was predicated upon the redevelopment of the existing structures, an opportunity offered in the original brief. Following objections, and a subsequent appeal, approval was granted for the revised scheme in May 1998.)

Externally the building is composed of a Portland stone rain screen façade, and self finished sand cement rendered block work, all on an in-situ reinforced concrete frame. A limited palette of materials internally includes white fair façade concrete, self finished plaster, stained ash panelling, limestone, Portland stone and oiled beach flooring.

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