Mullingar, Ireland

The Westmeath County Buildings and Library, in the town of Mullingar, express the ambitious political and social agenda that held sway in Ireland in the first decade of the 21st century, before the country’s economic bubble collapsed. In those years, fueled by a rapidly growing economy and a belief in governmental decentralization, Ireland built a series of new administrative and cultural centers across the nation’s 26 counties with the goal of making state facilities more accessible and visible to the public.

Bucholz McEvoy Architects, a Dublin-based firm led by American Merritt Bucholz and Dubliner Karen McEvoy, has designed three of these complexes — in Fingal/North County Dublin [RECORD, August 2001, page 98], County Limerick [RECORD, March 2007, page 140], and now Westmeath, which opened in June 2009.

At Mullingar, Bucholz McEvoy had to incorporate some not particularly significant 19th- and 20th-century buildings into a plan that would include a new boomerang-shaped office block and a 25,000-square-foot public library extending out from a central atrium “like a pulled-out drawer,” the architects say.
By placing the library at a strategic junction in the 100,000-square-foot complex, the architects used it as a pivot in a collage of old and new elements. The library fans out laterally, away from the atrium and its views of the old buildings, and looks out through generous floor-to-ceiling glazing to a small public park to the east, with trees and a stream. “The library had to address the park,” says Bucholz.

The site drops from north to south, taking visitors from the stone-faced county building, constructed before Ireland won independence in 1921, down between surviving fragments – described frankly by McEvoy as “unloved” – of a prison built by British authorities in the early 19th century. This descent across the property serves also as a transition between the town center to the north and the countryside to the south. To the west lies an undistinguished zone allocated to future commercial development.

A wavelike roof sits above the complex’s curving glass entry facade and is held in place by an external web of thin laminated-wood beams. Inside, narrow trays of offices open onto the sun-filled atrium and are equipped with simple linen shutters to control the daylight. The offices also look south through a double-glass membrane, its outer layer serrated in plan to provide acoustic protection from a nearby railway. The architects emphasize that this wall assembly is not a vertical void working as a chimney for air, but is instead made of contiguous horizontal compartments. Some portions of the south elevation are protected by a checkerboard of vertical metal panels and metal mesh.

Because of the site’s change in grade from north to south, the architects were able to exploit sectional opportunities. Characterizing the library as a “floating volume” within the larger group of functions, Bucholz and McEvoy made it accessible at several points in both plan and section. From the town center, visitors approach the library from the old county building (now refurbished to accommodate a council chamber) and cross a concrete footbridge (spanning a broad flight of steps that leads below to the project’s main, curving facade). High above this complex landscape, another bridging element, a truss enclosed in glass, connects the county building to a suite of senior managerial offices above the library.

Visitors either enter the library from the concrete footbridge on the second level or go to the ground-floor atrium, where they can engage county agencies dealing with housing, planning, and motor vehicle issues, then climb a ribbonlike internal staircase to the library entrance on the second floor. Inside, meeting rooms hug the atrium side, while on the other side a double-height reading room rises to clerestory windows.

A staff canteen above provides access to a roof terrace where people can look down into the library through the clerestories.

As they do in all their projects, Bucholz and McEvoy took a straightforward approach to materials here, exposing concrete ceilings and protecting outer facades with vertical timber baffles. Light fittings hang simply from the ceiling. The information desk, or command control, adds a cheeky splash of color, with green and yellow enamel panels facing the landscape and red and pink ones facing the books, McEvoy says.

The architects have earned a reputation for designing environmentally responsive buildings in collaboration with talented consultants. At Westmeath, they worked with Paris-based RFR on the complex’s curving glass facade and with Stuttgart, Germany–based Transsolar on making the building entirely naturally ventilated.

Favored by senior citizens in the morning and kids in the afternoon, the Westmeath library acts as an informal hub for social interaction. As Bucholz explains, the architects used the library as the centerpiece of the county complex to “foreground its role in civic life.”

Raymund Ryan is curator of the Heinz Architectural Center at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, where his recent exhibitions include Design Competition: New Cottages at Fallingwater and Gritty Brits: New London Architecture.

Bucholz McEvoy Architects

Location: Mullingar, Ireland

Completion Date: July 2009

Gross square footage: 100,000 sq. ft. (complex); 25,000 sq. ft. (library)

Total construction cost: $43 million


Westmeath County Council

Bucholz McEvoy Architects

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Interior designer: Bucholz McEvoy Architects

Environmental Strategy Consultants:
Transsolar, GmbH
Persons Responsible : Matthias Schuler, Stefanie Reuss
Transsolar Energietechnik GmbH
Curiestraße 2

D - 70563 Stuttgart

T +49 (0)711 - 67 97 60
F +49 (0)711 - 67 97 611

Mechanical & Electrical Engineers:
Person Responsible: Michael Carroll
Project Management, Ltd
Killakee House, Belgard Sq.
Tallaght, Dublin 24
T: +353 1 4040700

Atrium Structure & Facade Engineers:
RFR Stuttgart, GmbH
Person Responsible: Dr. Mathias Kutterer, Director
Rotenbergstraße 20
70190 Stuttgart
T +49 711 550425-18
F +49 711 550425-22

Structural Engineers, Concrete Building Frame:
WYG Engineering (Ireland) Ltd.
Person Responsible: Ciarán MacIntyre, Declan Carew
PH McCarthy House,
Nutgrove Office Park,
Nutgrove Avenue, Rathfarnham,
Dublin 14,
T +353 (0) 1 291 4800
T +353 (0) 1 298 9521

Interior/ Exterior Lighting:
Persons responsible: Peter Pritchard, Alexis Themis
2nd floor studio
18-20 Scrutton Street, London
T +44 207 650 0700

Quantity Surveyors:
Mulcahy McDonagh
Person Responsible: Trevor Schwer
46 - 48 Pembroke Road
Ballsbridge, D4
T +353 1 6689833

General contractor
Bennett Construction Ltd.
Director in Charge: Paul Bruton
Forest Park Central, Forest Park,
Co. Westmeath.
T: + 353 + 44 + 93 46000
F: + 353 + 44 + 93 46040

Michael Moran

CAD system, project management, or other software used
Bentley Systems Microstation



Structural system: In-situ concrete frame.

Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project:
Specialist Steel Structures:
Dieselstr. 41
86368 Gersthofen, Ger
T +49 821 49006 32

Specialist Timber structures:
Linzerstrasse 24
4950 Altheim, Austria
T + 43 7723 465 335

Exterior cladding
Timber, Steel and Glass roof and curtain wall structure:
Dieselstr. 41
86368 Gersthofen, Ger
T +49 821 49006 32

Structural Timber façade, timber components
Linzerstrasse 24
4950 Altheim, Austria
T + 43 7723 465 335

Curtain wall:
Pressiton Construction Ireland

Unit 6
Western Business
Oak Road
Dublin 12, Ireland
T +353 (1) 408 97 81

Other cladding unique to this project:
Carlow Limestone rainscreen cladding:
Unit 12
Clonmore Ind. Estate, Mullingar
Co. Westmeath, Irl
T +353 44 9333599

External fabric blinds:
Contact: Phil Robinson?
Cabourn House, Station Street
Bingham, Nottingham
NG13 8AQ
T+44 1949836600

Wood frame:
GEM Manufacturing Co. Ltd
Athlone Road
Longford, Irl
T +353 4345217

Interior finishes
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
REDWOOD Design Ltd
Contact: John Kinahan
Unit 3 & 4 Ashcroft
Ashbourne Ind. Est.
Ashbourne, Co. Meath
T +353 1 8357577,

GEM Manufacturing Co. Ltd
Athlone Road
Longford, Irl
T +353 4345217