• Original €450 Million Plan Cancelled Due to Recession
  • New Design Competition to Develop 24 Hectares Beside N11 Entrance
  • UCD Financing the New Project, Including €48 Million Centre for Creative Design

UCD is reviving the Gateway Project, one of the most ambitious construction projects in the history of the Belfield campus. The Project covers the land surrounding the entrance to UCD beside the N11, and is set to return with both a new name and design.

A key initiative of former UCD President Hugh Brady, the original Gateway Project was cancelled in 2009 due to the recession. The Project’s design had been chosen by way of an international design competition in 2007. It envisaged ‘extensive green spaces, a hotel, underground parking and grandiose six-storey buildings flanking the entry to the campus from the N11 dual carriageway.’

Plans went silent for several years, with only an indirect reference in the UCD Strategic Campus Development Plan: 2016-2021-2026. Now, UCD is now in the process of carrying out another competition, which is being run by UCD alongside Malcom Reading Consultants, a UK based consultancy firm with an international reputation for hosting design competitions.

This international design competition is titled ‘Future Campus – University College Dublin International Design Competition.’ The competition calls for architects to design a vision for around 24 hectares of UCD, along with the Centre for Creative Design. The five shortlisted entries will receive €40,000 and move on to Stage Two, where they will visit the campus and produce their final design proposal.

The competition has two distinct projects combined into one. The Entrance Precinct Masterplan is the new Gateway Project, which will cover 23.8 hectares of UCD. The other part is the design for the Centre for Creative Design. The Centre is budgeted to cost €48 million in total, including VAT and professional fees, with €30 million of that cost covering its construction. The Centre is to be located within the Masterplan.

While the original Project was to be financed by way of a Public-Private partnership, UCD is exclusively financing this one. UCD President Andrew Deeks confirmed that a philanthropic donor had made a donation to help finance the cost of the competition. The Search Statement included in the application pack explained that UCD has ‘secured initial funding and will continue to fundraise for the project, targeting a mixture of private sources and public grants.’


The Competition Site

The Entrance Precinct Masterplan will create a ‘strong urban design vision that foregrounds a highly-visible and welcoming entrance experience and, overall, combines placemaking with a stronger physical presence and identity for the University, while also strengthening links between the campus and the surrounding city.’

The Masterplan’s 23.8 hectare site includes the entrance to UCD, the Engineering and Material Science Centre, Belfield House and NovaUCD. The Centre for Creative Design should be located in ‘a prominent place’ within the area. The site contains space for up to 335,000 square metres of new development, ‘representing a footprint of circa 67,000 sq m.’

An outline area schedule provided for guidance to entrants gave estimated new build figures. The 335,000 sqm could consist of 100,000 sq m for ‘wet’ academic facilities, 75,000 sq m for ‘dry’ academic facilities, 75,000 sq m for ‘chalk and talk’ academic facilities, 45,000 sq m for innovation and outreach, 25,000 sq m or amenities, conference hall or welcome centre, 10,000 sq m for retail, and 1,000 sq m for residential facilities.

‘Wet’ facilities are those with laboratories for chemical-based disciples, ‘dry’ ones contain less ventilation and piping services, like engineering, electronics and physics, while ‘chalk and talk’ covers traditional teaching environments for humanities, social sciences and research-based subjects. The new Centre is classified as a ‘dry’ development.

The project brief included notes on a potential welcome centre, and conference halls with dining facilities. Potential designs for a hotel should be ‘intended to support the overall conference business on campus. The project has scope for a small residential facility, as UCD’s main Residences are located elsewhere. Plans must focus on ‘student and staff accommodation, including student residences, post-doctoral researcher accommodation and some new recruit faculty accommodation.’

The Arrival Experience

The University wants entrants to ‘look to address the current difficulties with the arrival experience at UCD, which is considered to be underwhelming. The entrance, framed by 1960s traffic engineering, is low key, nondescript and unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists.’

‘A welcoming arrival experience is essential to showcase the expansive green campus and needs to reflect the University’s long-term ambition to consolidate the core estate, ensuring an approximate five minute walk between key academic buildings.’

‘It should be highly-visible, communicating the University’s intent as an internationally-minded, dynamic and creative place of learning. It should provide a highly-attractive environment (day and night, season to season) that promotes a strong sense of community and sociability and inspires students and faculty, visitors and local innovators to explore new ways of learning and thinking.’

Deeks told staff in his Presidential Bulletin that ‘we want the precinct to provide a visible, effective and welcoming entrance to the Belfield campus, possibly including a new entry off the dual carriageway.’ He commented that ‘while the Belfield campus benefits from a wonderful natural setting and has a serious architectural pedigree, the campus and main entrance are largely hidden from public view, and the interaction between pedestrians, bicycles, public transport and cars at the entrance is far from ideal. In addition, the University has no piece of architecture which is symbolic of the campus (except perhaps the water tower).’

The project also covers 5.35 hectares owned by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, such as part of the N11 and bridge just outside UCD. This has been included within the project as UCD wants the entrance to act as a nexus between UCD and the city. Therefore, ‘this embraces wider initiatives planned for the Greater Dublin Area, but which are advantageous to the University, such as Bus Connects, a Bus Rapid Transit service with its initial southern terminus planned at the University’s entrance.’

The Centre for Creative Design

The 8,000 square metre Centre for Creative Design should become a prominent landmark, both from within and outside of the University. While it will be designated as part of the Architecture and Engineering cluster, ‘the building is intended for all to use, allowing for ‘true enlightenment of the mind’ across all academic disciplines.’

UCD aims to establish an Engineering and Architecture Precinct in the medium to long-term covering 22,000 square metres consisting of the new Centre, ‘an extension, of up to 5,000 sq m, and refurbishments of the existing Engineering and Materials Science Centre’, and another 9,000 sq m of new buildings.

Stage One of the competition involves applicants submitting an Expression of Interest. It closed on Monday, 26th March. Stage 2 entrants are expected to use local architects for the project as UCD has declared that the Executive Team must be ‘based in Ireland for the duration of the contract.’ The winner will be chosen by a jury of distinguished architects, chaired by Deeks.

The Original Gateway Project

The first Gateway Project was included in a Campus Development Plan in 2004, with an international design competition for the project held in 2007. It attracted 62 entrants, with 23 coming from UK firms. 8 Irish firms entered. The competition was won by Christoph Ingenhoven, a German architect.

Ingenhoven’s plan included ‘extensive green spaces, a hotel, underground parking and grandiose six-storey buildings flanking the entry to the campus from the N11 dual carriageway.’ 780 surface car parking spaces would have been removed for the project which included ‘a landmark open-air atrium including exhibition space, arts and cultural facilities, a conference hotel, an apart-hotel, retail facilities and a medical centre.’ The plan included scrapping all car parks to be replaced by multi-storey and underground car parks.

UCD were in the process of choosing a developer from five on a shortlist before the recession hit. The builders were obliged to construct, maintain and operate the facilities for a fixed period of time. Under a Public-Private partnership, UCD would have obtained ownership of the facilities after 25 or 30 years.

The Project was one of the last cancellations due to the recession. Despite worsening economic conditions and cutbacks in government funding for third-level education, Brady pressed on despite objections. UCD justified its continuation as money was supposedly coming from third parties rather than the university itself. Despite never going ahead, the University racked up over €10 million in consultation fees before it was cancelled.

Cian Carton – Editor