An 'Ugly' UCD Building Explained: Newman

Image Credit: Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell

An 'Ugly' UCD Building Explained: Newman

The Newman (or Arts) building of Belfield is a complicated yet functional arrangement of blocks that is hard to define as a structure. Designed by architect Andrzej Wejchert, and built in 1970, it is a labyrinth of blocks. Almost every student will admit to getting lost between the alphabetical names and coloured lines. It is perhaps the most misunderstood building on campus.

To understand the design agenda of the architect it is important to note that the University had set certain limitations. The building was to be no higher than four levels to keep the students close together. No common spaces or social areas were allowed as these were to be saved for the Student Centre that followed in the 1980s. The University also wanted the building to be easily expandable, so it has the structure to support future added storeys, as well as space at ground floor level for the addition of new blocks. However, none of these spatial extensions materialised. 

Newman is better labelled as a megastructure rather than a building. It is all about circulation. Spaces on the bottom are for larger crowds but as students move up to smaller rooms it becomes more private and intimate. One downfall of the building is the lack of social spaces. It is not intended for students to stop and talk with friends, but more to move about and mix in corridors. The building’s design is always pushing them back out into the campus or through into passage to the James Joyce Library. However, in between classes students find themselves tethered to the walls, plugged into the sockets with laptops or phones charging.

While externally appearing as quite an austere building, the internal finishes are detailed and carefully chosen. The floors are a warm terracotta tile, the lecture hall entrances are adorned with fine brass lettering. The ground floor walls are lined with grey silicate brick and the ceiling is exposed concrete waffle slab. The woodwork, including the original furniture, is made from hardwood Afrormosia. Cedar has been used for acoustics within the larger lecture halls.

The entrance to the Newman is not a grand one as one would expect for a building that houses so many departments. It must be understood that this building is part of a wider campus, not a standalone building. It connects to the covered walkways that run through Belfield; glass tunnels connecting Newman to the neighbouring Tierney Administration Building and the James Joyce Library.

At the opening of the building by President Éamon De Valera in 1970, it was not just a home for the Humanities, but also the Law and Commerce faculties. This was a hub of interdisciplinary action; even if a student did Geography and another did Commerce, it was a lot easier to cross paths back then. This was following the idea that the different students would mix and mingle, and in turn that ideas from different areas of study would transfer. The whole idea of further education is to expand the students’ knowledge and open themselves to new experiences. Newman was to foster this exploration.

Newman is an essential part of the student’s university experience. It knows college life is more than a 9-5 office job. It is forcing students back out onto campus, to meet new people, both within and outside of their area of study. Newman wants them to go to the library, the Sports Centre or at the very least go for a smoke at the lake where, who knows, they might meet the love of their life.