The centre of attention

With curiosity of the new Student Centre growing, Features Editor Leanne Waters goes on site to get a taste of what students can expect from the development. At a time when the country seems to have reached a point of utter stagnation, UCD and its alumni are apparently facing what appears to be a much brighter future. In the midst of tax hikes, reduced wages and a turbulent shift in government, a most industrious change is occurring on the Belfield campus.Most of us, at some point or another, are sure to have passed by what currently looks like an old quarry site from the onset. Looking slightly closer, however, one may see the rapidly growing design of UCD’s new Student Centre.The project administrators promise: “The new Student Centre will revolutionise student life in UCD. In a single step, UCD will jump to the top of the league of Irish universities for on campus, accessible, quality student facilities”. With this in mind, The University Observer went on site of the development to get a feel for what we have all been waiting for.One of the first impressions the construction makes is that of scale. A maze of building work and scaffoldings, the centre is an architect’s playground and retains tremendous presence when up close.Indeed, in terms of size, the structure champions our beloved old Student Centre effortlessly and near swallows it up entirely by comparison, with its 11,000 square metres, three storeys, and near three acres of coverage.To the front of the design, we are guided through what will become a magnificently crafted outside area. It boasts a small cafe looking onto an animated live space and to the inside of the building, the structure is spread over three floors. The ground floor encompasses a theme of relaxation to the right and work to the left. To begin with the relaxation aspect to this design, the hugely anticipated cinema is sure to not disappoint.With a 100-seat capacity, the cinema promises to “add hugely to the range of facilities available to the UCD community on campus”. It will be open to societies for “film showings, clubs for video analysis, classes for academic screenings, private parties as well as public screenings of the latest blockbusters and some of the great classics in cinema history, as well as the opportunity to organise student film festivals and showings of original work”. In adding to this already famous feature of the new centre, the entrance will be donned with couches, flat screen televisions and a shop.Up a floor now and the left side of the structure is to boast the much-anticipated UCD gym. The 850 square-metre space is to include new equipment, a spinning room, a cardio area, a separate weightlifting area, as well as two dance and aerobics studios. It looks set to be an exercise-junkie’s dream and set up to overlook the pool, which sits firm as the heart of the hub.Having ten lanes and a measuring of 25 by 50 metres, SC2 administrators say that: “A long sought-after goal of both students and staff, the new pool will move UCD to the forefront of sporting facility provision in Ireland. It will be the largest pool in south Dublin, and will be a full-sized 50 metre Olympic pool, endorsed by FINA and the OCI.”Walking around the entire building – while still skimming over details – takes a little under an hour and thirty minutes. This can stand to prove not only the scale of the project, but the complexity of it also. And yet in spite of this, the result of such an intricately complex design remains rather simple.There is a tremendous feel of continuity throughout; a fact which most incoming students destined for the Newman building will be sure to find comforting. The grandeur of the new Student Centre does not compromise the minute attention to detail that has been so affectionately agonised over at every turn. In the execution of such a project, it seems that the concern is forever about the quality and perfection of student life.How such a project began can be found in the new Student Centre brochure, in which the motivations of the construction are greatly detailed: “It has long been a goal of UCD to have the best student facilities in the country. The Student Bar, near the restaurant, was originally conceived as part of a larger complex of student facilities that were never finished in 1970s.”The opening of the Student Centre in 2001 was intended to be the answer to the problem of the lack [of] facilities for student life. However, as the student population continued to grow, the range of student activities at all levels continued to expand and the space available in academic buildings was constantly reducing, the Student Centre was beginning to [be used] beyond its capacity and so the new Student Centre project was developed.”The objectives of the new Student Centre are simple. Among the many reasons to be found, the project aims to “significantly upgrade” the already existing sports facilities, to create “dedicated, purpose built, high quality facilities for student organisations,” to “augment and compliment the already existing student life facilities”.Arguably the most important of all the aspirations, however, is that of the empowerment of the student. The project aims to endorse student control over their organisations and facilities.In this way, both the desires and the needs of the students are greatly being met; as such an objective means that a potentially vacant space is being transformed to one of lively interaction. It is therefore the ongoing utilisation of these facilities that will ultimately make the space a success.On the academic side of things, thankfully there appears to be little to let up. The upcoming debating chambers is the focus here, with a seating capacity of 250, as well as space for a further 200 people along the balconies. “Debating had always been at the heart of UCD’s student life. The Literary and Historical Society and the Law Society have consistently been the largest and most active of UCD’s student societies.“They have been at the forefront of debating the most controversial issues in Irish society and have brought guest speakers of international renown to the University. As part of the new Student Centre project, a modern, historic and unique debating chamber will be built to give both societies (and more) a permanent home. This chamber will put UCD on the map.” Said chamber will be fully soundproof, a green room for speakers and guests, a PA system and space for rehearsals.The 120-seat theatre provides the same high standard. With a 12 by 10 square-metre stage, 24-hour rehearsal and production access, full lighting rig, prop and costume storage and more, the DramSoc along with the entire alumni are sure to be impressed. It is also added that the fully equipped black box theatre will “represent a huge expansion in the range of facilities available to UCD students who hear the calling of the stage...the theatre will also be available to host touring theatre companies and students studying drama.”Consuming the top floor of the three-acre centre is the already famous Media Suite, which will be sure to bring UCD student media to greater heights than ever before. Highlights of the sector include a production studio and broadcast suite for Belfield FM, a film studio, newsroom and editing suite for the Campus Television Network, as well as production and administrative offices for The University Observer. As a result, student journalists will have 24-hour access to a variety of high-tech and efficient resources. “UCD has one of the most thriving and successful student media of any Irish university. The new Student Centre will contain permanent, purpose-built, state-of-the-art facilities to ensure that UCD will continue to lead the way with the most active and innovative student media in Ireland.”As curiosity grows, so do the hopes of staff and students alike as to the many opportunities this monumental scale investment could potentially provide. With hopes that the new Student Centre could be in use as early as December 2011, current and future students will forever have at their disposal one of the great markers of the UCD experience.As someone who entered the current site with a rather pessimistic view of what would be found, one may contend that such views will be short lived and rapidly transformed when the might of this structure is seen through its very purpose – to greater enhance the student life.Information about the new Student Centre can be found on the website at Information and updates can also be found on the new Student Centre Facebook page at