A new higher education campus at the heart of the community – DIT at Grangegorman in Dublin

Although a short distance from the city centre, a sombre grey stone wall closed off a vast area of land from the heart of the community for as long as anyone could remember – a wall which was not there to keep people out, but rather to keep people in.  Many people in the community probably worked there and were the lucky ones who could come and go through the locked doors.

So near to the city centre – and yet so far.  Grangegorman in Dublin is less than a mile from the city centre, yet it was disconnected because of the large area walled off for an asylum which became a regional mental health hospital for over 2000 patients at its peak but, with changes in care, decreased in use in the 20th century until it finally closed in 2013 with only 60 patients.

With the closure of the hospital and its replacement with the new Phoenix Care Centre of 54 beds, the availability of such a large area of land near to the city centre provided an unique opportunity to open up and connect the site with the local community, provide new education and health facilities and enable the relocation and consolidation of the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) along with support for enterprise and commercial companies.

Last week The Higher Education Design Quality Forum (HEDQF) visited the new Grangegorman campus and was privileged to receive presentations from the development team and from the former City Planner Dick Gleeson who placed the regeneration of the area within the context of Dublin’s planning framework which has achieved a transformation across the city.

The Masterplan for Grangegorman seeks to create “an Urban Quarter with an Open Future” for a variety of public and institutional uses with high quality generous public spaces and routes through the site connecting facilities for the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), the Health Services Executive (HSE) and the local community. The Masterplan reuses historic hospital buildings and compliments them with new contemporary ones, taking advantage of the location of the site to provide views out to the city and to the mountains and proposes a new primary school on the edge of the site so as to be easily accessible from the local residential areas and a community library co-located with the DIT Library to promote linkages and encourage access and participation to higher education.  The theme of community continues with student residences, sports and social facilities being collocated there, connected by a variety of different public spaces within the site and out to the local community, where the old stone wall has been breached, and to future transport connections with stations for Dublin bus services and the future metropolitan transit systems.

Delivery of the long term development of the site is through the Grangegorman Delivery Authority (GDA) which established the masterplan setting out the framework for development, defining the height, bulk and massing of buildings, establishing routes for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, connections between individual projects and out to the adjacent communities and laying out a detailed landscaping plan so that all the components will add up to a whole. The Masterplan was developed, following an international design competition, by the USA firm of Moore Ruble Yudell (MRY) and their Irish Partners Duffy Mitchell O’Donoghue (DMOD).

Inevitably the masterplan will develop over time and a key aim has been to create a planning framework and landscape design in which individual buildings by different architects can sit. The first new building was the beautifully-detailed Phoenix Care Centre designed by Moloney O’Beirne Architects to replace the old hospital, some 7800 sq m of space completed in late 2012 enabling vacation of the existing buildings. Early phases also included installation of a primary infrastructure network across the site, including a district heating system and combined heat and power plant, and a relatively fast refurbishment of the existing historic buildings in order to bring them into use by DIT. Equally important was the provision of sports fields, new entrances into the site from the local communities and a children’s playground.

The first new building for DIT is a six-storey science research building of over 4000 sq m, comprising seminar rooms, laboratories, offices and social facilities for the Environmental Health Sciences Institute (EHSI) and a 2000 sq m “Hot House Incubator” (HHI) which provides rentable incubation units of varying sizes for outside companies to use.  The building, designed for future flexibility to support DIT’s changing requirements with a modern office workspace environment was designed by RKD Architects at a cost of 14 million euros and was complete in October 2015.

The next phases of academic and student residence buildings are in the process of procurement using different design teams to reflect the variety that occurs in evolving city developments.

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The campus will take many years to complete, but the infrastructure investment and the masterplan framework along with the detailed landscaping plan will prove their worth as, at the end of the day, the campus will read as a coherent piece of urban planning supported by connections to the city centre.  Such opportunities are few and far between and Grangegorman is an exemplar of partnership between the relevant partners including the planning authority which has worked with the Development Agency on the Masterplan, linking to the aspirations for the revitalisation of Dublin as a whole.

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