LocationLetterkenny, Co. Donegal, Ireland
Design TeamAntoin MacGabhann, Tarla MacGabhann, Nanni Grau, Niels Merschbrock
Text description provided by the architects. The location of the building – set back from two main streets on the inside of a deep site and stuck between the An Griannan Theatre and the Leisure Centre – required a special approach to its form and its façade. As it is not located on a street edge there was a chance to create a new layer of urban structure, i.e. a new footpath connecting the two existing roads and giving Letterkenny not only a new building but a new patch of urban (infra) structure.
The Regional Cultural Centre (RCC) is visible from different places in town: the Port Road and the High Road as well as approaching the town centre from the Station Roundabout. It makes itself visible through the big cantilevered gallery box acting as a modern day obelisk announcing the existence of something important on that slightly hidden so far “undiscovered” plot behind the theatre. Due to its direction the cantilever guides visitors and pedestrians approaching from the swimming pool to the entrance of the building – or further to the Port Road.
The cantilevered box contains the most important part of the building, the Art Gallery. This is made visible in the city through the golden wall that emerges from within the building covering a complete side of the gallery. Facing west it reflects the evening light and provides a golden glow on the ground at the entrance. This 270m2 gallery provides ample high-spec exhibition space. Two large skylights extruding over the roof of the building and a flexible lighting system ensure the best light conditions for different exhibition types.
The building is communicating to its surrounding in many ways. The proscenium stage-like 2-storey foyer with its fully glazed front, acts as an intermediate space between art and public. With its back wall designed to facilitate changing exhibitions, the contact of the passing public and the institution of art becomes literally unavoidable, thus breaking down an often existing invisible barrier between the two.
From the entrance area there are two separate routes leading to the two main facilities of the Cultural Centre: a descending ramp leads the visitor towards the 154-seater black box theatre, half a level below the entrance level. The prominent main stairs – clearly expressed in the façade -lead up to the building’s core – the art gallery. The second stairs from the first floor to the roof level –called the sky stairs - leads to a small intimate exhibition and contemplation space – a sheltered sky-box defined by two corner windows providing framed views towards the Cathedral spire and Letterkenny with its Public Services Centre. Thus the new RCC complements the triangle of administration, ecclesiastical and cultural headquarter. This small space on the roof of the arts centre is also the only place in Letterkenny where one can get an elevated view over the town.
The building can be perceived as a large organic structure, emerging from the sloping ground it sits on not dissimilar to the way Donegal’s beautiful mountains seem to grow out of the ground like giant animals. It is a different, beautiful object rising from the ground and being shaped from one homogenous piece. The material of the façade had to be able to reflect and support the ambiguity between wall and roof. The chosen aluminium is suitable for both surfaces and at the same time provides this organic structure with solidity and a glow appropriate to its function in an urban, public and cultural context.