The Luan Gallery, designed by keith williams architects, is Athloneʼs 575m2 museum for contemporary art. It is located on a spectacular site by the townʼs historic bridge, castle and the church of St Peter & St Paul. The project involved the adaptation of the historic 1897 Father Matthew Hall into a new gallery, the addition of new build wing to provide temporary white box gallery spaces, and a river gallery overlooking the Shannon.
Originally built to designs by William Tanner the 1897, the Father Mathew Hall was commissioned as a temperance hall. It was hoped through providing a centre offering recreational facilities and a temperance café that workers from the nearby woollen mills would eschew the public house and remain sober. Records do not testify as to whether or not this ambition was successful.
Subsequently, however, the hall became a concert venue, and then in 1947 was handed over to Athlone Town Council, the upper floor becoming the town hall until 1949 when a branch library opened on the ground floor. In 1980 the entire building was renovated and re-opened as a library, but had been vacant since 2004 when the library re-located to the new Civic Centre also designed by keith williams architects.
This project has radically altered the Father Matthew Hall. The accretions added over time have been swept away leaving the core form intact, and the elevations modified by the introduction of new large glazed panels opening up the building to the river and the Shannon Bridge. The new wing has provided contemporary gallery space with black out capabilities to enable multi-use gallery, lecture theatre/ cinema for film exhibitions, meeting space for literature, music, drama workshops, and digital art exhibitions. The two galleries are linked by a glazed entrance from the main road, and by a linear river gallery facing the Shannon.
The palette of materials for the new gallery wing is limited to limestone and zinc. Limestone as a building material has a history of use in public buildings in Ireland, and here has been laid in random cut horizontal strips of varying widths, smooth for the upper gallery and rough cut for the plinth, asserting the contemporary nature of the new wing. Zinc clad roof lanterns have been set back from the parapet wall to centralise daylight penetrating into the gallery. The Father Matthew Hall has been re-rendered and the roof replaced with a new structure and natural slate tiles.
The Luan Gallery was established to promote a dynamic contemporary visual arts programme of both established and emerging artists. It has already developed strong links with Dublinʼs Irish Museum of Modern Art enabling major contemporary art to reach the Midlands.
The Luan is Keith Williamsʼ third project in Athlone, having earlier completed the Civic Offices & Library 2001-2005, and the Army Memorial 2008 – 2009.
The Luan was formally opened on 29 November 2012 by Jimmy Deenihan TD Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Materials and method of construction
The substructure was formed from a combination of bored + driven pile foundations. The superstructure was formed from in situ rc frame and shear walls with a steel frame superstructure to roof lights and river gallery. The envelope was clad in pale limestone both honed and rough split and the rooflights clad in zinc.
The existing building was retained, new large apertures formed at river level, and the existing timber floor strengthened, stiffened and fire proofed. Insulation was added and services renewed. The building was re-rendered and re-slated externally.
Appointment to the Project + Feasibility Study – 2004-2005
Design + Funding Approvals – 2008-2011
Construction – April 2011 – October 2012
Public Opening – November 2012
The project was funded by public funds and delivered to an out-turn construction cost of €2.638 million
2013 RIAI : Best Cultural Building