The MACRO Building, Dublin by Derek Tynan Architects

The new MACRO Community Resource Centre on North King Street is big on program. Accommodation for local groups sits alongside meeting and training rooms, counselling services adjoins senior citizen’s care, a crèche abuts youth facilities, while a café shares street frontage with an information centre and community newsletter headquarters. This diverse brief seems ideal for Derek Tynan, who studied under renowned urbanist and author of ‘Collage City’, Colin Rowe and was architect of Temple Bar’s Printworks, ‘an urbanism of collage and potent amelioration of modern everyday life’. 1

The building completes the block bounded by Halston Street to the west and Green Street to the east and presents a new face to the busy North King Street, offering a fresh vista from Bolton Street before it turns into Capel Street. Like the theatrical arrangement of the latter with City Hall, the tradition is continued here. With the MACRO building the entrance is set into the elevation to Green Street terminating this oblique relationship the building has with the line of Bolton Street. This entrance is marked by a series of stacked spaces running the full height of the elevation, from the ground floor covered entrance court, to the play area of the first floor crèche, to the double skin treatment of the upper floors. These moves extend the public realm of the city through to the ‘central organising space’ reminiscent of the 18th Century Parisian hotel typology.

Enclosed as it is by the building’s two main elements: the exposed concrete service core and the served spaces wrapped in a continuous skin of brick, it works as both continuation of street and spatial device for the whole building. The café and information room lead directly off this space via the reception desk, the semi-public spaces of the crèche and meeting rooms are accessed from the central staircase, while the more private elements of the program are placed in the upper floors.

In response to the contemporary role of computer screens in such centres, the offices and youth rooms are all intelligently arranged on the north façade, the latter offering a magnificent sentinel view towards Bolton Street. The south wall offers no such views so the rational is to build up to the light with the service core. On first appearances this concrete mass is oversized and overtly dominant. However, the two separate outdoor courtyards used by the staff and the elderly groups included in its section more than compensate for its massive bulk. Indeed these spaces deserve merit as adding to Dublin’s diminishing stock of semi-public outdoor spaces, Lilliputian piazzas sheltered but not isolated from the activities of the street offering spectacular re-framed views of the Dublin sky and the roofline of the neighbouring Debtor’s Prison.

Aside from the cool stainless steel reception desk and the choice of lighting fixtures, which I found slightly oppressive, the choice and employment of material in this building is coherent and precise. The brick and glass both clad and hang off the concrete structure. The granite flooring in the central space follows through from the street while a more pliable grey vinyl is adopted for the more intricately arranged upper floors.

The MACRO building expresses a desire for urban continuity in contemporary Dublin architecture. Yes, much attention has been paid to the efficiency of its inner workings and it displays a formalism specific DTA’s personal predilection yet it acknowledges its wider context and position in the theatrical play of Dublin. The elevation to North King Street is restrained and as such reveals the quality in diversity of its wider setting. The café and information centre with its shear uninterrupted wall of frameless glazing breaks down any formal delineations between pavement and interior offering a unique experience to the everyday Citizen. It makes an ordinary ‘sidewalk’ special.

The other main elevation to Green Street reads as a reinterpretation of the classical elevation arrangement of podium, piano nobile and entablature, albeit all turned 90 degrees. The vertical concrete core acts as podium grounded against the wall of the Debtor’s prison, the inside/outside vertical section reads as an expression of the primary space and the punctuated surface of grey engineering brick as the transmitter of the building’s unique signature. With the potential to reinterpret this quiet street and encourage the regeneration of the much-underused garden of the Debtor’s Prison this work holds a deserving position in a tradition of urban intervention neglected in 20th Century Dublin, one where a new addition consolidates the existing and has the potential to transform its surroundings.

Douglas Carson, Dublin 2002

Top: Exploded isometric drawing by Derek Tynan Architects

1: R. Ryan. 'Printworks, Dublin'arq, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1999, Cambridge University Press