Nigel Coates unpacks his ‘Lives in Architecture’ in his candid memoir
by Jincy IypeApr 07, 2023
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by Almas SadiquePublished on : May 13, 2023
In between the transition from heavily ornamented and intricately decorated architectural structures to austere creations attributed under Modernism, counterpoised elements and adornments were envisioned and inculcated in buildings—with the intention of cutting down on scale, decoration, and hence, costs, without entirely forsaking the aesthetics that people were used to witnessing. One such style is Georgian architecture, which gets its name from the reign of the four King Georges of England. Understated in the embellishments and adornment writ on the facade and interiors of such buildings, the structures categorised under this style are usually symmetrically proportioned and always visually countervailed with the placement of fenestrations, transoms, pediments and other pared-down Classical elements. A hint towards the Classical style is, perhaps, enough, to establish a striking aura. It is perhaps for the same reason that revivalism in architecture continues to fly high in the list of styles opted for when building central buildings of palpable or elusive importance.
The International Rugby Experience, a cultural institution and visitor experience centre in Limerick, Ireland, is designed by London-based Níall McLaughlin Architects in response to its surrounding Georgian streetscape. Picking up elements of symmetry, the architects arranged the mass of the structure to fit into the constricting space on the site. The result is a structure made distinct by the usage of lines and rectilinear forms, configured to employ the rules of symmetry and proportion—derived from Classical architecture—albeit in a contemporary way. The interiors of the structure, too, with their expansive plans, vaulted ceilings, buttressed walls and nave-like corridors, serve as a homage to not only the Classical elements that have time and again been abstracted and repositioned to fit different contexts, but also honour the city of Limerick, which is often referred to as the ‘City of Churches.'
The International Rugby Experience, as the name hints, is built in honour of the game, popular across the globe, both as a professional sport and as a means of informal play. Apart from serving as a spot that honours the game, the cultural building, located in the heart of Limerick, also seeks to revive the city centre, complement and draw attention to the local heritage—located in close proximity to the structure—and establish a lasting link with Munster Rugby, one of the four professional provincial rugby teams from Ireland.
Located on O’Connell Street, the main shopping street in the city centre, The International Rugby Experience is positioned in a prominent corner at the edge of a conservation area, within the city’s Georgian Quarter. It was a challenge to build a structure in a tight urban site such as this, while also respectfully sitting against the Georgian Quarter and responding to the scale of churches and civic structures found in the area. The juxtaposition of two masses, one of which is seven-storeyed, and the other, four-storeyed, come together to define this structure, with ample space for all kinds of activities and congregations, along with wide panoramic views of the contextual locale, as visible from the long glass windows. The architects approached this project as a special civic building instead of as a townhouse. The proposals for the structure were developed after a thorough case study and research of historic civic structures set in Georgian locales.
Limerick is also a city with the most number of churches in Ireland—on account of the large influx of immigrants into this city, which has remained a major industrial and commercial centre. The presence of people from different sects, as well as the availability of ample financial resources in the busy town, resulted in the development of various places of worship in the city. “We sought to create a Cathedral to Rugby in the 'City of Churches,' as Limerick is known,” the British architects from the studio explain regarding the inspiration behind the design of the structure.
The facade of the structure is decorated with deep vertical brick piers and horizontal pre-cast concrete elements which create a series of recessed bays within the building. The sculptural quality of the facade is enhanced by the use of brick and concrete, which are not clad, and function as structural members of the building. “Both inside and out, structural forces are expressed through brick and concrete detailing to create a building that reflects some of the forces found in the game of rugby. The structural and brick expression provide a tangible link to the building’s function and will be key to the visitor experience,” the studio shares about the concrete and brick architecture.
The entrance to the building is through a grand portico, which serves as a vestibular space, separating the busy main street from the indoors, and providing a public area for visitors to gather and for sports enthusiasts to meet players on match days. While the ground floor of the structure holds a retail space, the first floor comprises a cafe which is positioned next to the double-height entrance hall. A flexible space, demarcated for exhibitions, education, and events, sits in the basement of the building. A public hall on the topmost floor offers panoramic views of the city. The entire building is writ with open spaces that can be configured as desired, for events, meetings and activities.
The International Rugby Experience is split into six zones, each different from the other. Designed to feature as episodic additions to a larger narrative, each zone conveys a tale, an experience, that lends to the larger experience of the cultural centre. These zones—rooted in World Rugby's values of Passion, Discipline, Integrity, Solidarity and Respect—intend to take visitors on a journey that delineates the rise in the status and relevance of the game, through history. While the first zone is designed as a "dressing room" that builds up the anticipation for what's next in the multi-sensorial experience centre, the second quarter, designed to reflect the ethos of Passion, celebrates the grassroots of rugby, featuring stories of amateur rugby clubs that have come up across the globe from time to time. The third zone reflects the values of Discipline and Integrity. Divided further into four fun interactive areas, it beckons visitors to compete against each other in some of the key skills of rugby, such as kicking, passing, running and tackling. Additionally, it also educates one on the laws of the rugby union. The fourth zone in The International Rugby Experience hints towards the value of Solidarity. It delineates the stories of professional rugby clubs, and their community of players, supporters and staff, through a large-scale installation. The fifth section of the building expresses the ethos of Respect in rugby. An immersive projection communicates and elicits the emotions one feels while playing for their clubs and nations. The last and sixth zone, located on the sixth floor of the building, offers a spanning 360-degree view of the city. It also celebrates the stalwarts of the game and emphasises the five rugby values.
The proportions of the structure, and especially the bays complement the surrounding Georgian streetscape. The combination of solids and voids on the facade, on the other hand, is designed to complement the interior functions of the building. In collaboration with exhibition designer Event Communications, Níall McLaughlin Architects ensured that the architecture of the interiors would facilitate and enhance the user experience. Additionally, a hanging installation above the main entrance, designed by the architects in collaboration with Millimetre, serves as a tribute to the sport of rugby, and manifests as an element of surprise when entering the building and as an object of visual interest upon exiting.
Name of the project: The International Rugby Experience
Location: Limerick, Ireland
Floor Area: 2,110 sqm
Year of completion: 2022
Architect: Níall McLaughlin Architects
Main Contractor: Flynn
Planning Consultant: Town & Country Resources
Project Manager & QS: Engage PMS
Heritage Consultant: Consarc
Structural & Civil Engineer: Punch Consulting
M&E Engineer: Metec Consulting Engineers
Experience Designers: Event Communications
Fire Consultant: CK Fire Engineering
PSDP: Aegis Safety Management
Assigned Certifier: Punch Consulting
Daylight Consultant: BRE
Mechanical Sub-Contractor: DMG Engineering Ltd
Electrical Sub-Contractor: Pure Electrical Ltd
Key Suppliers: Techrete for façade, Charnwood/ Michelmersh for bricks, Ketley Brick for quarry tiles, millimetre for ticket hall installation, Alutec Facades for glazing systems, The KCC Group for internal doors and screens, Plant & Engineering Services for metalwork/ stairs, Feecast for precast stairs, Peri Ltd for formwork
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