Cork-based architectural practice, Carr Cotter Naessens was last week announced as the winner of the RIAI’s (Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland) Best Public Building Award and Best Cultural Buiding Award for its work on the dlr Lexicon Library in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin.
CCN Architects is also the recipient of the overall Excellence and Sustainability awards at the Schueco Excellence Awards held at The Saatchi Gallery in London recently, for the same project.
Hot on the heels of this bouquet of affirmations is the prospect of another award — a recent announcement put CCN’s work on the shortlist for the prestigious World Architecture Festival, alongside projects by some of the biggest names in international architecture like Foster + Partners and Zaha Hadid.
It’s big news for this small but thriving practice located in Cork’s South Terrace and run by husband and wife team, Kerry native Louise Cotter, and Dubliner David Naessens.
The project, commissioned in 2007 by Dun Laoghaire- Rathdown Council though an international competition process, saw CCN shortlisted with architectural practices from the UK, France and Denmark.
“The brief was for a new type of library that would be a multi-media community space and cultural hub for people to meet, work and congregate,” says Louise. “Libraries need to be on the street, not over a supermarket,” she says.
Innovation was also a key component to the brief and that the building should link the town with the harbour.
“The building had to be a civic landmark like a church with a steeple is when seen from afar,” says Louise.
“It had to take its place and hold its own among landmarks in the town, and it had to be of its time. Dun Laoghaire, like Cork, has quite a mixture of buildings, not like Georgian Dublin and Limerick, and the waterfront is diverse.”
Certainly the finished building and site add to the diversity. Where a bowling green once stood is now a green. A pond has been drained and a car park sits in its place with a water feature on top.
The main feature — the library and cultural centre — has a largely concrete facade belying its comfortable interior spaces that ranges from expansive to more intimate rooms, accessed from an entrance foyer that is like a lounge with papers and magazines.
Windows allow natural light to filter into reading areas where oak linings have been inserted for books and for sound modulation, but one of the most distinctive aspects of the design is a monumental window that draws the sea view into the space, helping to achieve the essential link between the town and harbour.
Eco-friendly credentials also feature in the build which Louise describes as quietly environmentally efficient. It’s heavily insulated and glazed and has a huge bio-mass boiler.
Natural ventilation is provided by wind turrets sitting on the roof edge looking like a design feature but with the practical purpose of turning with the prevailing winds to bring fresh air through concrete shafts.
But the project site brought its challenges, being dilapidated and neglected and spread over two levels. Distinctive geographically, it had originally been a stone quarry for constructing the harbour piers, and later a reservoir.
It represents also, an opportunity for Louise and her colleagues to show their scope as a practice in what turned out to be an interior, exterior and urban planning project.
And it involved lengthy consultations with all stakeholder groups: the council, library users, chamber of commerce and public presentations of models and drawings put on public display.
It turned out to be a long and ambitious project with significant Cork involvement, Louise explains.
“John Sisk was the builder, Horgan Lynch the engineers with Arup’s Cork office as environmental engineers, and quantity surveyors Deasy Walley.”
The success of this effort is not just evident by the designkudos received and the promise of more, but the fact that since the library opened its doors last December it has received over 240,000 visitors.
“People are interested in buildings,” says Louise, “and buildings affect people’s quality of life and work.
“dlr Lexicon is the evolution of a building type with multi-media as well as books. It has a virtual presence and is also a place to gather.” Amen to that.