And, you know, that sort of space is cheap, actually – it’s affordable space.”
Increasing the external envelope of the building, on the other hand, comes at a cost, as Peter acknowledged: “We said, we want to reject the internalised school of the programme. We want every classroom to break the perimeter, to have an outside view, and then we said, what structure would compensate for this expense? It is in no sense a boast, but it was a very conscious way of doing it, to use the old portal frame, the factory shed.”
The portal frames vary in height and width to accommodate different activities. There are four column heights and nine different bay widths, increasing in 900mm increments from 3.6m to 10.8m, creating a series of rich spatial experiences. It was all assembled using a tractor and a JCB. By the way, the 3.6m grid, which is half the normal dimension, is the same as used by Mies van der Rohe (with whom Peter studied and worked) at the IIT campus in Chicago.
The modified industrial system, recorded in one of the best-known drawings in Irish architecture – a cutaway axonometric showing the construction sequence, from foundation pads to columns to portals to rafters and, finally, the envelope – also allowed the possibility of expansion and contraction according to future needs, what Peter and Mary termed an “ideal” architecture of “no fixed form”.
John Meagher, who was their collaborator on the competition entry, recalls: “I remember Peter saying during the competition, “We can’t do anything here. There’s no budget.” I said, “Just take precast portal frames,” and Peter said, “You’re mad.” I said you could use them at different sizes. I started a plan but he said, “No, you’re mad.” I said, “Just put a corrugated roof on it.” Mary said, “Let me have a go at it.” She made a plan and Peter said, “You’re right.” Mary could plan like nobody else on the planet. She did the competition sketches, in felt pen. She could lash them out. I drew the plans till I was blue in the face.”