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Solstice Arts Centre

Grafton Architects

The Solstice Arts Centre forms a centre point in the town of Navan in eastern Ireland’s County Meath on the River Boyne. Although in many ways similar to neighbouring Trim, from which it has taken over the role of county town, Navan lacked any centring feature to rival Trim Castle, and even the historic market place, until taken for the Solstice site, was an uncomfortable void: a parking lot except on market day- a gap amid the spires and purple slates of two stone churches. A tricky site for development with its sloping terrain and converging road system that eclipsed all sense of a place that was lived in. One aim of the project was to make an island of slowness in the midst of the traffic and the bustle. Raised above the road infrastructure like some man-made rocky outcrop, and embracing a kind of secret garden within its walls, the new arts centre sets up a dynamic choreography with the surrounding public buildings and restores a much-needed architectural focus to the town. Initially the project was for a theatre, with a courthouse above at roof level, but the brief changed during construction. The courthouse idea was dropped and the premises were destined for an exhibition centre, while on the ground floor the theatre became flanked by a series of rooms for community use. From a hybrid conception, the centre now has a unifying cultural theme: a quiet contemplative art space, removed from but connected to the active floors below. From the upper end of the sloping terrain a limestone plinth, in its first stages carrying the civic centre rooms, stretches out and above the shelving pavements and surrounding streets and contains sunk within it the theatre dressing rooms and stage. Rising all around, the walls of the garden serve as supports for the clear spans of the roof, minimising the need for supporting columns. The other main supports are the three independent staircases originally designed for the court. The “defendants’” stair now serves for delivery of...

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