Brick Magazine: Issue 3 - Johnston Central Library & Farnham Centre, Co. Cavan.

Issue 3 – Johnston Central Library & Farnham Centre, Co. Cavan. 

Architect: Shaffrey Architects.

Completed: 2006

In celebration of Cavan’s brickmaking history, it seems very appropriate that the twenty-first-century Johnston Central Library in Cavan, designed by Shaffrey Architects, is built with locally-made brick. This impressive public building, completed in 2006, is built with brick from the Kingscourt factory.

Project Specification

The library is an excellent example of a modern building where brick is used in a contemporary and practical way. The building is a three-storey cultural and administrative centre built for Cavan County Council, housing the county library headquarters, central library, county archive and arts office, a new cultural events space, genealogy department, tourist office and council offices. It is located adjacent to the courthouse on the principal street in the town and on the site of the former Protestant Hall.

The choice of brick for the exterior of the building was informed by the site and its historic context. The Protestant Hall had been a brick building and the fact that locally-made Cavan brick was available also had a bearing on the decision-making process. The architects visited the Kingscourt factory to see if a special, longer than standard, brick for the project could be made to suit the project and this was achieved through dialogue and with technical input from the brick manufacturer to ensure that there was no impact on the standards or guarantees for the finished material.

The bricks for the project are light red with a smooth face and have good colour variety. They are 290mm long but are otherwise the same height and width as standard bricks and they were extruded and fired in the usual process. The building is built in cavity wall construction using lime mortar joints, an innovative approach for a new building, and making possible the achievement of façade brickwork without expansion joints. The use of lime mortars means that the brick can ultimately be salvaged and reused if the building is dismantled in the future, an early example of the principles of circularity. The brick bond selected for this longer brick in the outer leaf is one-third lap stretcher bond. Samples of finished brickwork and mortar mixes were approved by the architects on site. Lime mortars were mixed on site by the contractors for the project, Kilcawley Construction. The same aggregate materials, selected from a quarry in Co. Tyrone, were used for both the lime mortar mixes and for the insitu concrete elements in the building.

Some internal walls are finished with brick but most walls are finished internally with lime render and painted using natural paints. One brick feature of particular interest is the inclusion of a ‘brick’ radiator in the main staircase. Using similar technology to underfloor heating, heating coils were built into a vertical panel in the staircase enclosing wall and expressed as a finished brick panel.

The design process involved intensive early and ongoing consultation with the client including visits to similar building types. A collaborative approach to design development was also pursued to produce integrated structural and service solutions. Sustainable design was key to the design in order to reduce demand on high energy service installations. Solutions adopted include low energy technology, such as geothermal heat pumps and low energy lighting and the building is designed to maximise natural ventilation and daylight. Accessibility for all was also a key client requirement and the success of the design was acknowledged when the building obtained the first ever NDA Excellence through Design award in 2006.

The library building is set back from Farnham Street creating an attractive public space in front, enhanced by the site’s mature chestnut trees which frame the building. The statue in front of the building is a tribute to the seventh Baron Lord Farnham, killed in a train accident in Abergele in Wales in 1865.

The Writer

Susan Roundtree is a conservation architect with a particular interest in architectural history and historic buildings. She obtained a Master of Letters in Trinity College Dublin for her research on the history of clay brick as a building material in Ireland and this continues to be her area of special interest. She has contributed to many publications on this topic and is currently completing her own book which is a gazetteer of brickmaking history in Ireland.

References & Further Reading

Information from Gráinne Shaffrey, Shaffrey Architects