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Aras an Chontae, Offaly

  • Architect:
    ABK Architects
  • Award Type:
    Best Public Building 2003
  • Location: Leinster
Aras an Chontae, Offaly


Eastern Over €3,000,000

Civic buildings demand civic space. From the small, stone-paved courtyard between kerbside and building, to the Aalto-esque council chamber and the tapering, top-lit, limestone-flagged atrium, this people's palace is an object lesson in how to represent contemporary civic values. Calm understatement is the guiding principle. The sophisticated planning appears effortless and commands respect. The architectural integration of the most advanced environmental strategies is seamless. This is a good place to work: open the wooden shutters and you can smell the flowers! Offices are housed in a latticed, parkland pavilion, a crystalline box in a mature garden, wrapped on three sides in a cooling, protective veil of timber.

It consists of 5200m_ of accommodation, and was constructed, on budget, at a cost of €16,000,000 euro (£10,500,000 sterling). The construction period was 18 month and the building was handed over on time in October 2002.

Architect's Comment
The new headquarters for Offaly County Council is located on one of the principal approach roads to the town of Tullamore, County Offaly, in the midlands of Ireland.

The building was designed to allow free and easy access by the public to a range of public services provided by the local authority. The ambition of the client was that the building should reflect both its symbolic place in the county and its role in providing a service to the community. It was their aspiration that the proposal should have a civic presence within the town while emphasizing its accessibility.

The site, with its fine trees and walled garden was to be one of the principal generators of the design for the new building. It seemed desirable that any new proposal should retain some of the sylvan characteristics of this sensitive garden setting.

A monumental hardwood lattice forms a protective veil around the primary office accommodation, giving shade to the office interior, protecting it from the over-heating effects of sun, while blurring the boundary between building and landscape. This screen also restricts overlooking from the offices into the adjacent two-story housing.

Timber shutters, incorporated within the bespoke curtain wall, ventilate the perimeter office areas.

Tempered air is distributed to offices through ducts in the thick service-walls of the atrium to the floor voids and is drawn up by stack-effect to heat exchangers located in the roof plant and, from there, ejected.

Clients Comment
The seat of administration of Local Government in County Offaly has been located for over 100 years in the Courthouse, Tullamore, which was built in 1835.

For many years the Council had recognised the need for a major upgrading of office accommodation to cater for its ever expanding range of activities and to bring the maximum number of services together under one roof. In recent times the reorganisation and re-focusing of Local Government service delivery further highlighted this need.

The Council was determined that the new headquarters (Áras an Chontae) would reflect the following aspirations:

Symbolic role of Local Government in the community; Highlight the role of the Elected Members by provision of a modern, publicly accessible, Council Chamber be inviting, open and transparent Be bright and flexible in office layout to reflect the changing needs of the organisation into the future Provide a pleasant environment in which Elected Members, staff and public can interact Cater for other staff requirements such as modern canteen facilities, creche etc. Provide a statement of best practice in quality of sustainable design and buildability Provide an atrium space to facilitate and encourage greater social and cultural interaction with the public Provide a quality landmark building in the county town

Áras an Chontae was completed and occupied by the Council staff in October 2002. The skillful fusion by the Design Team of all of the client s aspirations, varied and sometimes conflicting, has resulted in a building which accurately reflects the values and aspirations of the Council and makes a very strong and positive statement of the Council s focus on the future. Offaly County Council, Elected Members and staff, are very pleased and proud of this achievement.

In fifty years time Áras an Chontae will still be a modern building.