An 'Ugly' UCD Building Explained: Tierney

Image Credit: Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell

Nicola Kenny explains the hidden beauty of the Tierney Building

The Tierney Building, standing proudly by the University Campus lake, has long been considered 'ugly' by many students at University College Dublin. In fact, throughout the years, students arriving at this central part of campus may have even come to disregard its very presence while passing by on their way to visit the library or attend a class. Looking beyond these perceptions, we may, with greater understanding, come to appreciate and reconsider the building's significance in UCD's Architectural landscape.  

First opened in 1972, it was initially known as the Administration Building. Eight years previously, in 1964, a young Polish architect named Andrzei Wejchert, won a major International Design Competition to develop a masterplan for the UCD campus at Belfield. Wejchert envisaged a modern university campus in which the Administration building would play an important role. It was considered, by Wejchert, to be one of the highest points in the plan's development. The building was later named after Michael Tierney, the president of UCD from 1948 to 1965, who played a vital role in the Belfield campus development strategy. 

The building is constructed using precast concrete forms with fine detail and finish. Wejchert changed much of the building's material palette to concrete after realising that Ireland did not have much steel at its disposal. Using unifying materials, everything is incorporated in the building's exterior, from built-in seating, to planters and flower boxes. Inside Tierney features a dominant central space, containing the General Office Hall and Public Concourse, where there is a strong sense of warmth and dignity. The rest of the cellular accommodation is directly related to this space. On the contoured site is the arrangement of the building's intelligent use of floor levels and vertical circulation. The building's ceremonial staircase and generous landings are, at once, an expression of joy and openness from the architect.  

What may surprise many students today is that the building was, in fact, the recipient of the prestigious Triennial Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland. Awarded this honour between 1971-73, it was described as "a building of great character and strength." It was commended for taking "full advantage of a worthy setting" while finding a harmonious balance with the "other fine buildings" in its surroundings. 

Today, the Tierney building has a centralising function relating to the entire campus. As a centre for administration, it is used by academic staff, students, and outside visitors. Inside are the offices of key university personnel. The original precast concrete building sits behind the recent addition of a research building. This extension to the Tierney building, with a deep metal-clad soffit overhang and horizontal copper brise soleil, reflects the architectural features of the surrounding buildings. Aspects such as the curtain wall system and the brise soleil have been designed to maintain a sense of visual continuity. 

Understanding this building, beyond its perceived 'ugliness,' we may acknowledge its unconventional beauty in a more profound sense, while regarding its cultural and historical significance in UCD's architectural history.