UCD Student Centre, Winner 2013 RIAI Universal Design Award


Main Facade

UCD Student Centre

Photo by Donal Murphy; courtesy of Fitzgerald Kavanagh and Partners

The UCD Student Centre complex encompasses 11,000 square metres of student facilities, composed of multiple dynamic functions including:

  • a 50m swimming pool
  • gymnasium
  • dance studios
  • debating chamber
  • 3D cinema
  • drama theatre
  • radio studio
  • seminar rooms
  • cafe

UCD Student Centre incorporates the various design elements that are now requirements in new buildings such as level access, lifts and accessible sanitary facilities; particular additional universal design aspects are outlined below.

Design Process

A key ingredient in the initial design process for the UCD Student Centre was the involvement of the end users, the students, and staff.

Fitzgerald Kavanagh + Partners commenced design in early 2008, conducting research of their own into UCD students’ perceptions of and aspirations for their campus. Students were invited to contribute to the inherently speculative design brief; their interviews recorded and published online to open the discussion yet more widely. This body of research became known as ‘A Day in the Life’ because it revealed the fascinating daily cycle of use, reinterpretation and reuse unique to UCD’s shared spaces: how the same room hosts a very diverse range of uses during the course of a single day.

In tandem with the user group consultation process, an independent accessibility audit was commissioned to establish best practice solutions for all users of the facility, both within the campus and from the wider community. As the design work progressively synthesised these recommendations and contributions, a functional and conscientious architecture with individuality emerged as the architect’s ultimate goal.

Mícheál Gallagher, UCD Students Union President:

‘The great thing about the student centre from a user prospective is that no matter what your favourite activity is there's something for you, everything from debating to swimming. Having the students so involved in the designing process led to the realisation of the perfect building for students.’

Wayfinding and Use of Colour

Each functional entity in the building was designed with its own volumetric quality and individuality. The resulting voids between these primary volumes provide easily navigable, corridor-less public space.

The student advisory panel was unanimous in calls for a foil to the predominantly grey modern architecture of the UCD campus. The earliest design concepts are recognisable for their application of primary colours, which were subsequently developed into a multifaceted system providing spatial orientation and a lively backdrop for student life.

Café under the Red Dance Studio

The Café under the Red Dance Studio

Photo by Donal Murphy; courtesy of Fitzgerald Kavanagh and Partners

The bold green-clad changing rooms, red dance studio and yellow radio pod are the most recognisable volumes, and form key elements in the ease of navigation of the Student Centre. The use of glazing and lack of corridors within the facility allows users to view these primary elements from most points within the facility. On the upper floors of the Gallery Walk a rubber floor with an electric green colour emphasises the circulation routes. Blocks of contrasting colour have been used to denote the beginning of steps and ramps.

Lorcan Sweetman, UCD Building and Estates Project Administrator: ‘A key element to the success of the project has been the ‘client focused’ approach by the team and although often used as a cliché in this instance it rings true, simply because the building works. The juxtaposition of bold architectural elements with functional design is a credit to the designers and reinforces the new Sports and Leisure complex as a flagship building on the University’s Belfield campus.’

Cropped Gallery Walk, Detail of steps under Radio Pod.jpg

Gallery Walk, detail of steps under Radio Pod

Photo by Donal Murphy; courtesy of Fitzgerald Kavanagh and Partners

The emphasis on colour contrast is carried through to the interior of individual spaces as well. Within the Cinema and Multimedia Suite, colour creates a bold and effective visual contrast between the seating and surrounding interior surfaces and circulation routes.

Performance Theatre

Performance Theatre

Photo by Donal Murphy; courtesy of Fitzgerald Kavanagh and Partners

In addition to the architectural finishes, clear wayfinding signage assists all users to navigate within the facility. Provisions include colour coded wayfinding maps at each lift landing and entrance areas and the use of graphic pictograms along with high contrasting text to wayfinding and room identification signage. Selected signage colours complement the primary red, yellow, and green finish colours for each area of the facility to reinforce the identity of each space.

The intuitive architectural legibility, with surface colour and materiality key to navigation, assists both visually impaired users and the wider population in their journey through the facility.

Sports Facilities

The Universal Design themes are carried through to the sport and fitness areas of the facility, which includes the 50m pool, tepidarium / spa, changing areas, gymnasium, and dance and fitness studios. All users are accommodated and provided with access to the pool, through use of a pool side hoist as well as a moveable pool floor to raise the floor up to deck level, and adjust the water depth, and a submersible boom to allow for varying uses and water levels on each side of the pool.

Safety of users is a key concern, with lifeguard and first aid offices located adjacent the pool, clear safety signage, and overhead pool hall light fittings selected to avoid adverse affect for users with epilepsy. Acoustic panels and a perforated roof deck overhead help to improve acoustics and audibility within the pool hall.

Swimming Pool and dance pod with submersible boom and Red Fitness Centre

Swimming Pool with submersible boom and Red Fitness Studio

Photo by Donal Murphy; courtesy of Fitzgerald Kavanagh and Partners

The changing room sizes and types in both the private members’ area and in the Changing Village accommodate different user groups, such as family, accessible and student group changing rooms, while using colour blocking to aid orientation. Accessible shower and changing facilities in all areas make use of bold and contrasting tile finish colours against the wall mounted fittings within each room.

Tina Lowe, Campus Accessibility Officer and guide dog user, UCD:

‘My personal experience of the Sports Centre is excellent. For the first time in my life I have been able to swim. It would be wonderful if in time all buildings could be as well designed as this one where accessible facilities and staff awareness of the needs of different people are so well met.’