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Combining an enlightened sensitivity as to how things are made, allied to an innate feel for materials, these council offices have great civic presence.

Rapid development has resulted in the physical growth of Ireland's capital far past its twentieth-century boundaries and in a bureaucratic structure establishing three new administrative counties within County Dublin. To the north of the city centre, Fingal stretches from me motorway and IT landscape around Dublin Airport up against the fringes of the Irish Sea to the rich farmlands of Meath and Louth. Swords is the designated county seat and it is here, facing the low, robust bailiwick of a Norman castle, that the young American-Irish firm Bucholz McEvoy has built Fingal County Hall.

To the authorities' credit, all three county halls are distinguished designs won through competition (the others being South County Dublin, at Tallaght, by Gllroy McMahon and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown by McCullough Mulvir with Robinson Keefe Devane). With impressive academic and professional backgrounds, Merritt Bucholz and Karen McEvoy had recently moved from New York to Dublin when they won the Fingal competition in 1995. Their proposal retained some mature oaks and a superb Himalayan cedar gracing the site, then cast a hypothetical arc about the castle grounds. The principal fragment of this arc is now a screen to civic and office functions behind.

As you walk or drive down Swords' busy main street today, you see the castle walls with some public and private houses still nestling against them. To the right, trees define the flowing, vertical street edge. The ground rises slightly and is broken into with geometric cuts that lead past the tree trunks into a tall, curving lobby protected from the elements by only a thin hanging membrane of glass. This is very much how the architects originally envisaged the public representation of Fingal County Hall, the screen acting almost as an X-ray into the workings of local bureaucracy and, in the opposite direction, allowing views through and over the trees to Swords Castle and beyond.

The central glass wall -- really a diaphanous curtain to the curving atrium -- and the canopy roof above were developed by Bucholz McEvoy in direct collaboration with RFR in Paris. Allowing for movement of light and air, the roof curves up away from the glass facade; its soffit is clad in birch ply, its exterior in copper. The projecting flanks to either side -- with the council chamber and a semi-basement studio intended as a creche -- are of warm terracotta tiles and glass shaded by exterior glass-finned boxes. Facing west/north-west, the central glass facade is made entirely of single-glazed sheets measuring 3.5m across by either 2.26 or 1.13m high. Upper segments have a light ceramic frit. The 36m long sheer wall is suspended from the roof and held n place by twin 32mm diameter cables looping out into the atrium from the concave building proper. These overlap a single 25mm diameter cable that curves inwards from both extremities of the facade's length. As the principal concrete frame has expansion joints at these two points, the glass and stainless-steel insertion is connected back in each corner of the atrium by individual sets of angled props and tie rods. The team designed every connection resulting in an intricate, trapeze-like system of cables and laminated oak spars.

This architecture is clearly about the expression of components: the large fragment of arc at the urban scale, the subsidiary wings (garden pavilions or returns behind the civic facade), and each element of construction as independent, coordinated modules. Office ceilings are made of thin, ribbed concrete slabs painted white and curving towards the natural light. Top floors have gull-wing roofs creating studio-like spaces for the architecture, traffic and planning departments. Uplighter trays are accommodated in a linear reveal along the mid-soffit spine and in the curtain wall transom.

The building was designed around certain simple ecological principles. Services have been managed so that there is a pleasing lack of clutter. The entire building relies on natural ventilation. The atrium lobby acts as a stack, with horizontal vents at floor and ceiling. Lavatories and photocopying machines are housed in knuckles between the office returns and the arc, and private offices are shepherded to the far end of the returns, thus allowing for cross ventilation. Upper openings in the north and south facades are operated electrically, those at desk level by hand. The three returns have clear and dove grey glass panels on their north elevations; clear glass, terracotta tiles and deeper external light shelves towards the south. Both facades have multi-coloured vertical air vents. These colours, plus views of abundant foliage and often rather grey skies, give the project a more vibrant spectrum than many comparable buildings. The council chamber is arranged about an elegant glass-topped circle of tables, with oak fins to control views to the forecourt. From the top floors of the lobby, you see how the architects have gradated that surface with gravel, stone and ivy so that the urban realm really does flow into the bureaucratic.
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Title Annotation:Fingal County Hall, Ireland
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2001
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