TU Dublin’s Enlivened East Quad

A Cultural Hub for staff, students and the community

Gareth Banks is three minutes late for our screen-call to discuss the East Quad. He apologizes profusely, explaining he has just stepped out of another meeting, in a different city. Such is the nature of the always-on, and on-demand world of remote working. We counter with an apology of our own; for wondering where he was, or whether he was ever going to show — and so we’re back on track; humans conversing.

At the East Quad it’s all hands to the pump with only weeks to completion. Gareth (practice director), and project architect Steven Leung from AHR Architects (lead designers on behalf of Eriugena) are frustrated to miss this squeeze in person. Site trips from their Manchester base are in abeyance for the time being.

Architecture is a broad church, Gareth starts, and his interests are systemic. He is less interested in self-serving monuments and more in the potential impact of architecture as an instrument of public good — allowing greater access to fundamental components of society. The East Quad is being delivered together with the Central Quad as part of a single Public Private Partnership. According to Banks, over two-thirds of AHR’s workload falls within Public Private Partnerships.

Like the Central Quad, the final development of the East Quad brief took the form of a competitive dialogue between three teams vying for the project. An exemplar design for the East Quad had been produced in advance of this process, confirming the project feasibility. Gareth’s team at AHR were reacting to the exemplar and also a written briefing document which sought an engaging, urban and inspiring building for the musicians, designers and art practitioners of the future. Gareth remembers sensing a gap between the exemplar design and the written brief. He felt the way it had been described, was not as it had been drawn. He illustrates this concretely; a desire for a sociable atmosphere was countered by a set of stringent technical requirements for acoustically separate functions. Banks’ team challenged the standing assumptions, and were ultimately rewarded with the job for following their instinct. The East Quad is a dense and compact block and it is simply planned. Entered off St. Brendan’s Way, an internal stone-paved ‘street’ slices the building between the worlds of music (west) and art, performance, dance and design (east). We debate whether the building is a quad or not. As opposed to a single external open-air quad, about which rooms are gathered, at the East Quad this idea has been flipped. The volume of the quad has been distributed internally in a series of day-lit atrium — four to be exact. Two of these rise from street level; the Public Atrium and the Student Atrium. The other two rise from the first floor — and so are more private; One of these Banks refers to as the Learning Atrium, the other as the Music Atrium. The main performance hall is clad in brass-coloured panels, inside this box the building contractors are clamouring to finish out the curved acoustic ceiling baffles and tune the speakers. This box was never intended to be opulent — but the brass-finish used relates to the musical instruments it will cocoon. Gareth is not precious with detail, nor authorship. He is an infectious optimist; giddied by the collective achievement of having realised a set of spaces that go well beyond the written words of a brief. He imagines a casual pianist in the finished building; hearing their tinkle without necessarily seeing them — which reminds us both that the site will remain quieter than intended for the some time yet.

The East Quad will be home to the TU Dublin’s Dublin School of Creative Arts, Media, Conservatoire of Music & Drama and Social Sciences.