The project - a Maritime Energy Research and National Ocean Testing Facility for the Hydrology, Maritime and Coastal Research Departments of University College, Cork - is located on a natural harbour in the south west corner of Ireland. Designed as a tall research tower and a lower tank hall containing testing facilities, it makes a place for people to think, looking at the sea in one direction, and work in an artificial world of testing tanks looking in the other. Balancing the reductionist tendancies of scientists, the project works to make architecture from a hard utilitarian programme full of tanks, water and equipment, finding beauty and inspiration in the scientific brief of precise measurement and dry observation.
Conceived as a stone outcrop on the edge of the water, subject to the action of wind and sea, the plan form is driven by the size and relationship of the four testing tanks, used alternately still or agitated with paddle mechanisms and profiled floorplates to test marine devices, simulate wave action, coastal erosion, ocean floor modelling.
A large volume, long-span space is required to facilitate a slow balletic movement of heavy lifting gantry cranes, instrument bridges, access gangways, suspended camera equipment, people and forklifts moving independently over each other and travelling along and across each tank – thus a series of 45m long trusses swing across the volume supporting a folded roof. Workshops cluster along the east side of the tank hall, indented for natural ventilation like gills of a fish or barnacles on a rock outcrop, while larger indents give access for deliveries (east) and people (west).
The tank hall roof is geometrically resolved as a series of mathematically generated planes triangulated into different slopes, reflecting the Z-shaped swing of the trusses over the tanks mapped onto the fixed points of the workshops. Tension between the folded form above and the captured volumes beneath present an oscillating rhythm which intersects the serrated edges of the plan in a range of relationships. Light reflects up and is refracted down under folded roof planes.
Research spaces are stacked to the sea, open to light and views northwards. Continuing the indented nature of the tank hall on the edge of the Harbour, surfaces of the research tower are eroded deeply on north and east facades, analogous to the action of wind and water on driftwood, generating a series of indented planes on the elevation to the sea - windows and balconies for discussion and writing. The southern face of the tower, Pirelli-like sculpted planes of granite, is more closed to reduce solar gain on workplaces.
Entering the research tower, a sharp incision in the slab overhead links first floor research carrels and offices with break out spaces and the main canteen at ground level, which has direct access to the exterior world of rock and sea. There is direct access from the entrance to the workshops and tank hall testing facilities, with a first floor viewing gallery to observe experiments and testing procedures. Above, stacked floor plates offer views over the harbour and islands.
Structure and Envelope
Piled foundations on this reclaimed piece of land support a steel structure to the tank hall, while reinforced concrete tanks are secured with rock anchors resisting hydraulic pressure. A series of steel trusses span to give clear space for gantries, walkways and measurement trusses over the four tanks – ocean wave tank, deep water flume , coastal flume and training tank. A folded metal deck roof supports an insulated roofing membrane.
The research tower is a concrete structure with insitu flat slabs.
Tank hall and research tower are clad in 40mm thick granite cladding with aluminium powdercoated glazing and curtain walling, and linenfold aluminium panels in a bronze anodized colour.
Designed to an exemplary level of thermal insulation and air-tightness, exposed concrete soffits provide thermal mass to assist in passive cooling in offices and research spaces during the day. Generous levels of high performance glazing optimise natural daylighting in the research building, while a more closed roof reduces light to the tank hall, minimizing the growth of algae within water tanks, and reducing heating and cooling load on the building. The orientation of the glazing - primarily to the northern façade - reduces thermal gains, while plan depths allow office spaces to be naturally ventilated. The tank hall itself is unheated, and humidity reduced by a passive ventilation system through the indented ‘gills’ between the workshops, controlled by the BMS. Heat recovery systems are used in bathroom areas.
Solar thermal panels provide year round hot water and the large roof provides an ideal collector for rain water harvesting. Water saving devices internally ensure that this water is used as efficiently as possible with 60% of water used for toilet flushing being harvested.
M&E services also reduce energy demand by utilizing low energy, long life light fittings throughout; dimmable, intelligent lighting controls ensure lighting is only operational when required, reducing lighting load by 40-60%. A mix of efficient trench heaters and radiators, zoned and controlled by the BMS, optimises energy use.
Electric car charging points and bicycle parking, storage and shower facilities are provided as part of the University’s sustainable transport plan.
During construction, the concrete slab of an existing warehouse on the site and excavated rock were crushed and re-used as aggregate, reducing the embodied energy required in construction.
The building has been future proofed to facilitate integration of other sources of energy generation. Infrastructure is in place for connection of a wind turbine and photo-voltaic solar panels to generate all the building’s energy requirements. The building currently achieves an “A3” rating which can be upgraded to an “A1” rating when additional energy generating devices are connected.
McCullough Mulvin Architects is an innovative contemporary architecture practice based in Dublin, developing work through explorations – in climate, typology, geology, archaeology. Working with Ireland's diffuse light and stark materiality, and based around a search for form to support new ways of living and working, they make a specific response to site and place, walking the line between ordinary and extraordinary. Shaped around landscape, the sea, or the phenomenology of their home city of Dublin, every project is different – urban interventions, houses and public buildings that reflect the spirit of the city. In parallel they are working in India– an investigation of constructed geography and place making on the red plains of the Punjab, where they are building a university.The work of the practice is extended through publication- writing on typologies, the process of change, the city, and on project-specific work; and by lectures and exhibitions in Ireland, Europe and India.