Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT, is located on the approach road to Galway City, along the Dublin Road. The site is due south and overlooks Galway Bay. The former campus reflected standard seventies regional-college architecture with pre-cast concrete cladding panels, ribbon windows and no sense of identity. GMIT wanted to create a new landmark frontage, a building that responded to environmental conditions while referring to and utilising local materials. The palette of materials used includes painted render, native limestone and patinated copper. Copper was chosen for its vibrant colour and malleable qualities, best suited to the organic forms that contrast with the orthogonal building elements. The building comprises two rectangular volumes: the Lecture Block and the Library-IT Block. The Lecture Block consists of sixteen lecture theatres and auditoria of varying capacities stacked above each other over three levels, with the Administration Department set back at roof level on one side. In the adjacent block, the IT Department is topped by the two stacked levels of the library that are connected by a gluelam beech central staircase. The main entrance occurs where these two volumes overlap, demarcating the new axial route through the existing college. The Centre fits within a contoured landscape with ground levels rising and falling around its perimeter, mirroring the footprint of the building. A triangular wedge of land addresses the difference in level between the new and existing buildings, rising towards the GMIT with a cantilevered bridge connecting to the main entrance. A purple, free-form fabric canopy stretches across the bridge sheltering it from SW winds.
A cast-in situ mass concrete wall links the two rectangular forms, denoting the primary line of movement through the building. At the library end of this wall, a series of three-pin steel portal frames push out a layer of the Library-IT enclosure which recedes into the landscape, creating a more organic edge. This edge segments into three copper-clad forms shielding the library areas from solar gain and acting as acoustic baffles and light reflectors. Framed views of Galway Bay are strategically gained at the sail junctions where stainless steel strip windows are inserted. The free form compositions reflect the shape of trapezoidal sails and take cognisance of Galway’s location on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and its maritime past. The three wide sculptured copper sails act as large air dispensers and form part of the library’s natural ventilation strategy. Form intertwines function to dictate the final modelling of the sails’ cross section.
The library interior reflects the organic external forms. Racked columns push ‘islands’ of floor plane towards the sails. At the east end of the library, the floor plane fractures to create trapezoidal voids through which light filters to the lower library floor where the majority of the book stacks are located. The concept is developed further at roof level with glazed elements peeling off the roof plane as if suspended in thin air. The library space is enclosed by a glazed wall that runs from the end copper sail right to the flat façade. Steel trusses emphasise the horizontal lines along this glazed surface, creating a structure that seems to be restraining the sails in the wind. The natural daylight that filters into the building at 360 degrees continuously “remodels” the interior as the sun changes angle. The design uses architectural elements as orientation devices, the building form to zone its functions, its skin to control the environment and the use of materials as a hierarchical index. Sculptured, patinated copper forms enclose one of the most important spaces on the campus, the library, and occur strategically at the most public corner of the campus.