An 'Ugly' UCD Building Explained: Agricultural Science

Nicola Kenny describes the redeeming qualities of the Ag Science building

Like other architectural projects featured in this series, the Agriculture Building is rarely acclaimed by students for its visual attractiveness and appeal. Indeed, its perceived 'ugliness' means it is often overlooked or cast aside. However, as we have learnt, a more in-depth understanding and analysis can allow us to develop a greater appreciation for the beauty of the Architecture at Belfield. This building is no exception.

It was envisaged that the Agriculture Building would primarily serve students undertaking courses in Agriculture, Horticulture and Forestry. As Ellen Rowley points out in Making Belfield, the project's development reflected the importance of agriculture to the Irish State. In the late 1960s, Patrick Rooney was appointed by advisors from the RIAI and UCD as the Architect for the project. In conversation with The University Observer, Patrick's son Kevin Rooney describes how he ran a much smaller practice at the time, making it an impressive accomplishment that he was entrusted with a project of this scale. "[He] would have been a bit of a wild card," Rooney explains. The building was completed in 1979 and opened to students and staff in 1980.

The Agriculture Building sits opposite the Science Buildings and is a close neighbour of the James Joyce Library. The five-storey rectangular structure is raised and set back with a generous entrance stair at its front. While adhering to Wejcherts spine system, the building stands tall and proud in the surrounding architectural landscape. The influence of the library is apparent in both material and structure. The white reinforced cast-in-situ concrete acts structurally, while the white moulded and acid-etched precast concrete screen emphasises its horizontality. The elements around the façade act as a brise soleil, sitting over the dark tinted windows to control solar heat gains. The result is visually striking. On the perimeter, the glass cantilevers run at a 45-degree angle at ground floor level. As Rooney reflects, the way the building visually floats on the rusticated stone base gives it a certain "lightness of touch". 

The building includes labs, a library, tutorial rooms, offices, and a lecture theatre. Ensuring the building design met a range of functions represented a challenge to the architect. Nevertheless, a considered and thoughtful approach was taken. As Rooney explains, there is a very clear idea in the plan form with the building's drum as the centralised focus for both social and spatial organisation. The lecture theatre in the centre of the space is "something you are aware of right through the circulation of the building". What may interest students the most today is that the commanding basement was made to house several farm animals, recognising the importance of practical experience in the student's education.  

All things considered, this building can best be described as being of high-quality finish and design - an unconventional beauty.