An 'Ugly' UCD Building Explained: the New Centre for Creative Design

Image Credit: Laoise Tarrant

In the final installment of the ugly-UCD series, Sinéad Keating makes a case for why Steven Holl’s new Centre for Creative Design isn’t really that ugly

In 2018 UCD held a competition to design a masterplan for the future vision of the Belfield campus. In the centre of this plan, by the Stillorgan Road main entrance, would be the Centre for Creative Design. UCD wanted this to be a landmark building at the entrance, and a landmark they got. The winning design by American firm Steven Holl Architects proposes a masterplan of blocks and grassy quads and a tall geometric Centre for Creative Design. Holl stated that his inspiration (which has been criticised by some as somewhat cliched or cheesy) comes from James Joyce’s Ulysses, the UCD water tower and the octagonal stone columns of the Giant’s Causeway. The building’s form is what many would describe as ugly, or perhaps confusing, but looking beyond first appearances it is an improvement to the current buildings housing the School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy. 

The winning proposal is an L-shaped building with three octagonal towers sprouting from the corner at different angles and a football-like dodecahedron (sphere of pentagons) stuck on the back. It appears chaotic from the southwest, where all these forms are visibly colliding with each other, but from other angles, the drive for strong intersecting geometric forms is more successful.

The ground floor contains a café at the base of the towers, intended to be an inviting space for all students and visitors to UCD passing through the main entrance. Also on the ground floor is the library to replace the Richview Library and purpose-built spaces for plaster casting and woodworking among other practical skills, with access to an outdoor terrace. The central vertical circulation draws occupants up through one of the octagonal towers. One major improvement from the current Richview buildings is the group work and crit spaces adjacent to the studios, providing much-needed space to display and discuss students' work. The social life of students within the building is also considered, with several break-out spaces and casual group workrooms on each floor. 

The dodecahedron houses a tiered auditorium to be used as a lecture space. Accessed from the second and third floors, it rests on the library and nestles into the master’s studios space, all expressed on the facade as separate elements. The facade has a contemporary palette of metal panels and glazing to set the tone for the other masterplan buildings to come later. There is a focus on sustainability with green roofs on all flat rooftops and shelters over the new pedestrian walkways that will be equipped with solar panels.

An attractive feature of this building for the judging panel is the tallest tower, reaching eight stories, that houses The UCD Experience. Described as an exhibition space for visitors with an observation room on the top floor, it is unclear how this space will function day-to-day. Symbolically, this is the element of the building that will be visible as the beacon of UCD from the Stillorgan Road.

Overall the building achieves a striking form, a functional arrangement of spaces and above all, fulfilling the university’s agenda for the future vision of UCD.

Images and drawings of the building are available on Steven Holl Architects website, the UCD Competition website or the full planning application on the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown planning search under reference D20A/0028