The Pale is a term that was used to describe a fortified ditch encircling areas of Ireland that were under British rule during the Middle Ages. Nowadays, the term is used as a nickname for Dublin, and various sections of the ditch can still be seen in certain areas. Until recently, the land beyond the Pale to the south was used as the municipal landfill. As part of an extensive remediation plan, the local Dun Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council capped the landfill and chose a site adjacent to it for a new operations center. The mixed-use complex, designed by the council's Architects' Department with local firm Bucholz McEvoy Architects, provides offices and a maintenance facility for the environmental-services department.
Location Dublin, Ireland (St. George’s Channel watershed)
Gross area 39,500 ft2 (3,670 m2)
Completed July 2012
Cost $18 million
Annual purchased energy use Not available
Annual carbon footprint Not available
Program Open offices, private offices, meeting rooms, cafeteria, maintenance facility
TEAM & SOURCES
Structural system Wiehag
Concrete Waterford Pre-Cast
Windows GEM Joinery
External shades Taurus Littrow
Green roof Bauder
Office furniture Unifor (designed by Bucholz McEvoy Architects)
The client brought in Bucholz McEvoy Architects because of the firm's extensive experience with low-energy buildings in Dublin. "The council was keen to promote green building," says James Crowley, project architect the firm. "They saw the building as a statement about where they stand on sustainability." The public entrance is located along a transparent facade facing the capped landfill. Stone-filled gabion walls mark the site boundary and separate the public areas from the yards used for parking road-maintenance vehicles and for sand and gravel storage. The utility building is accessed separately and is used for storage and vehicle maintenance. All components were designed to fit into the council's vision to transform the capped landfill and surrounding areas into a public park in the near future.
Because of the council's commitment to sustainability, members understood the benefits of a timber frame for the office building. "In terms of embodied energy and sequestered carbon dioxide, there isn't anything else," says Merritt Bucholz, principal of Bucholz McEvoy Architects. "It's hard to find a building material that's structurally or aesthetically better." Another benefit of the timber frame is that the components were prefabricated and quickly reassembled on-site in a mere 13 days. With the exception of two concrete stability cores located at opposite ends of the building, the structure consists totally of FSC-certified timber. Three-story larch glulam columns, transverse and longitudinal larch glulam beams, and cross laminated pine floor slabs form the main structural floor and roof plates. Glulam members were also used for the external structural frame supporting the fixed glazed fins on the southern facade, which protect against prevailing winds.
"One of the things you wouldn't notice in the building is, you can't see very much steel," says Bucholz. "The technological advances in timber assembly mean that we don't need to use steel even within the wood." As an alternative to steel plates, bolts, and shear-plate connectors, threaded steel screws were used to anchor steel connection plates to the timber members and to secure timber-to-timber joints.
Timber framing required less interior finishing, since the beams can be left exposed. "We wanted the beams to be visible so people understand how the building is working," explains Crowley. "And it makes it a very warm space, simple without being cold." Precast-concrete cladding is patterned with bamboo on the ground floor, while the in-situ concrete on the utility building is patterned with plank boards (also used on the interior), echoing the timber of the adjacent building.
As the building has no air-conditioning, an advanced building-management system is set to open up the north and south facades and take advantage of natural ventilation. The top half will open automatically when the system senses the need, and employees have the option of opening sliding doors on the south side or additional vents on the north side for increased circulation. "This requires a mind shift for the employees, since they're interacting with the building themselves,"explains Karen McEvoy, partner at Bucholz McEvoy Architects. "People have to be aware of the weather, which is so changeable in Ireland." A biomass boiler—located in the basement of the utility building—provides heat when needed, and there's also a backup gas boiler.
The utility building is mostly uninsulated with the exception of the staff changing rooms and showers, as the modular bays are used for storage and equipment maintenance. The naturally lit building has clerestory glazing revealing the timber roof, which is planted with sedum to mitigate runoff. "It's a simple concrete shell with a timber roof floating over it," says Crowley. "The glass corridor separates the two and runs the whole way around so you can see the sky—pretty slick for a storage-and-maintenance facility."
Though the design process for the center began in 2004, many logistical problems and unanticipated delays meant it took 8 years before the building was finally finished. When the project was about 90 percent complete the contractor went bust, a victim of Ireland's economic downturn, and the almost-finished structure sat untouched for over a year. Once the new contractors and subcontractors were brought in, there was a huge learning curve to adjust to the unusual timber frame. "It was a mess," says Bucholz. "But we had to just work through it and solve the problems one by one."
The contractor hiccup has also led to some problems post-occupancy. Latent defects appear over time, and normally the contractor would sort them out pretty quickly, but it's not that simple for this project, Bucholz explains. For example, one of the glass fins on the second floor shattered because the retractable rolling exterior shade hit it. The team is working to ensure that it doesn't happen again.
Though the building is aiming for BREEAM certification, the firm isn't too excited about receiving the label. "We want a low-energy building," explains Bucholz. "We're not hugely enthusiastic about LEED, BREEAM, or any other certification because we're mainly interested in the building's performance and the quality of life for the people inside." McEvoy anticipates that it will take about a year to work out the kinks of the building-management system, then another full year to track energy use for an accurate portrayal of how the building is performing.
"It's been occupied for about six months, and bills are pretty high at the moment," says Crowley, who is not discouraged. "You have to teach the staff how to use the building, and we're currently in that process." On a visit this winter, employees were complaining that it was too hot, and instead of alerting the facilities manager they opened a few windows. "That's when we have to get in there and say, 'Let's turn the boiler down, it's burning energy that's not needed,' " Bucholz says.
The team is continuing to collaborate with the facilities manager and the employees so they understand how to interact with the building they are working in. "People learn from the building," says Bucholz, "and the building learns from the people."