National Gallery of Ireland
The National Gallery of Ireland is located in the heart of Georgian Dublin, on Merrion Square beside the Parliament (Dáil Éireann) and adjacent to the Natural History Museum, National Library, National Museum. The Gallery’s Millennium Wing creates a street frontage and connection to nearby Trinity College.
The Gallery houses the National Collection of European and Irish Fine Art and has evolved over 150 years through a number of significant alterations and expansions. The piecemeal, disjointed development of the Gallery complex has caused various mismatching floor levels and complicated, confusing circulation routes throughout. This refurbishment of the historic wings is part of an overall master plan that aims to develop a coherent and accessible circulation system through the various layers of the Gallery. By opening up forgotten windows, reimagining a lightwell as a courtyard, the Gallery has been opened up and allowed to breathe again. New lift cores and stairs create universal access throughout with attention being paid to lighting levels, visual contrast cues, materials, audio aids, fire escape & safety systems. A major element of the work was to devise a strategy to implement environmental control throughout the Gallery. In order to minimise the extent of service runs in the listed buildings, an energy centre has been placed under the garden of the Gallery’s Merrion Square entrance removing most of the major systems from the building. Services installations are threaded under and within the existing fabric, with minimal visual impact. The Gallery remained open during the construction period requiring close co-ordination between the construction team and Gallery operations.
Originally designed as an art gallery in 1864, the NGI has needed to adapt to both in terms of today’s code requirements and the number and expectation of today’s visitor. A space between the Dargan and Milltown Wings, which was originally intended as a light-well for the adjacent galleries, had been blocked up and forgotten about in subsequent alterations. By uncovering and restoring the large gallery windows looking on to this space we have allowed it to regain its original purpose as a light source. Brightly day lit and visible from the surrounding galleries, it becomes a locus by which people can continuously orientate themselves. A glass roof brings light into the Courtyard deep into the gallery, providing an informal break from the quiet intensity of the surrounding galleries. Architecturally, the approach to the space has been to treat it as a found space, leaving the original wall finishes intact which reveal the story of the Gallery’s development. The Glass Roof is supported on triple laminated toughened glass fins that span the 7 meter gap between the two historic wings. These minimise the visual impact of the structure and achieve a more ‘external, open quality in the space below. New Lifts at either end of the Courtyard provide access to the multiple levels of the Gallery both improving access for visitors and art handling teams.
Natural Light, so important to the design of the original galleries, has become the most important element of the re-imagining of the NGI. The light is controlled yet its variability, sparkle and change can be seen. The conditions within the gallery reflect conditions outside, the range in lighting permitted by considering the lux levels cumulatively over the course of a year rather than an absolute level on the wall at any one time. In order to control natural light yet maintain natural light levels, micro louvres are incorporated within the glazing. The micro louvres redirect light to eliminate direct light and have a UV transmittance below 1%. A glazing g-value of 0.14 reduces solar gains and heat transfer by almost 70%.
The garden is the threshold from Gallery to Merrion Square. Parking has been removed and the forecourt regraded with a gradual slope from the Merrion Square Gate to the Gallery Entrance enabling un-biased universal access. The benches surrounding the grass incorporate ventilation extract from the large energy centre hidden below.
The revitalisation of the existing buildings is in itself a fundamental way to conserve energy. The embodied energy – resources, materials and labour that went into constructing and maintaining the galleries over the years is preserved. The project has enabled the building to continue serving the purpose for which it was designed, prolonging its life and retaining its central role in the cultural life of the nation. The environmental plan diagram of the building is layered, at the centre are the closely controlled Galleries, the Courtyard and entrance serving as a buffer space, a protective layer to the outside. The design of the mechanical systems achieves a reduction in environmental impact through integration of an advanced Control System, using multiple sensors within each space in order to control and reduce flow rates that results in significant energy savings. A CHP system provides the majority of heat for the gallery with excess heat transferred to the adjacent Millennium Wing gallery. Over time, as the efficiency of the electrical grid improves the CHP unit will be de-prioritised and the heat pump will be take over the load. The chiller system recovers waste heat, operating as an air source heat pump and can allow a large proportion of the electrical load to be transferred to the night, smoothing demand on the grid. LED lighting is used now in all areas for the museum. With high efficiency and low maintenance, the light creates an optimum neutral colour to view the paintings.