Youth and Community Centre, Donore Avenue - February 2017
Youth and Community Centre
Donore Avenue, Dublin
2001 – 2004
Photographs – Paul Tierney
courtesy of Henchion+Reuter Architects
Situated between The Coombe and South Circular Road, Donore Avenue Youth and Community Centre was built to serve a socially and economically disadvantaged parish that has the least recreational outdoor space in the inner city. The need for the building, which replaced a dilapidated community centre on the same site, was identified in the Liberties-Coombe Local Area Plan drawn up by Dublin City Council. It was the first step in a regeneration programme for the St Theresa's Gardens flats complex (the last of the 1950s flat blocks was finally demolished last year) and the surrounding area.
The building brings together a wide range of community facilities, including a drop-in centre with a crèche, a 200sq m multipurpose hall and five-a-side changing rooms. It provides a permanent base for youth and community workers, and is also home to the local community drug treatment (CDT) team, offering counselling and support services. The articulation of the various volumes and functions within the building is deliberately suppressed into a simple form to express the whole as a large villa. Martin Henchion says it was important that the building should feel like “a big house” for the community.
Despite being freestanding, like a park pavilion, the Youth and Community Centre is a deeply contextual building in a place without much context. Built hard against the footpath, it mediates between the different scales of the (former) four-storey flats, the adjacent church and rectory, and the backs of 19th-century terraced houses on the other side of the road.
Construction consists of a solid brick base with fibre-cement rainscreen cladding on the upper levels. The colours are deliberate: the bricks and fibre cement echo the neighbouring slate roofs, while – in a nod to the granite and rendered walls of the church and rectory – solid and slatted iroko was chosen because it weathers to a silvery grey. The form and spacing of the attic windows in the otherwise blank west-facing façade take their cue from the rectory, which also overlooks the small, shared green.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Henchion likens the building to Giuseppe Taragni’s Casa del Fascio of 1932-36, now the Casa del Popolo: it possesses a similar villa-like character while accommodating non-domestic functions. And although made of homely materials, the Youth and Community Centre is certainly imbued with civic character. It may lack the monumentality and rational precision of Terragni’s white marble half-cube in como, but other connections are there: in the large, double-height, top-lit volume at the heart of the plan, surmounted by a pergola roof terrace (here wood-lined); in the liner-deck loggia overlooking the green that suggests public accessibility, albeit under licence; and in the controlled ordering of the street front elements.
The drop-in centre, with its inviting strip window, faces the road, linking and separating the two entrances for the building’s different users: the discreet, compressed threshold for the CDT functions; and the lofty, civic, big-windowed, welcoming front door that gathers in other visitors. The community hall is wrapped in beech on three sides and lit from above through a concealed clerestory. Iroko slats slide past the west-facing first-floor windows, eliminating glare and practically concealing them on the façade. The white internal corridor wall acts as a light reflector.
Henchion+Reuter was established in Germany and makes frequent use of building techniques that are common there. “We have used fibre-cement rainscreen cladding on several jobs in Germany, where it is more commonly available as a simple building material,” says Henchion. “It is a durable, hardwearing, robust material, suitable for the context at Donore Avenue, and has performed as anticipated. It makes a good shadow layer to the open-jointed hardwood cladding,” he says. “And it gives no surprises – as long as the contractor has a very sharp saw!”