• Monday , 23 October 2017

Backyard Brutalism – Naas Telephone Exchange

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Nestled in the hinterlands of Kildare’s county town Naas, is a brutalist building, rarely visited, misunderstood and detached from the daily lives of the local people. The seemingly windowless, concrete Eir building is located on Abbey Road, which runs parallel to North Main Street, the artery of Naas town. Commissioned by the Office of Public Works, designed by Cathal O’Neill Architects and built in 1980, the building fronts onto the street with an imposing board marked concrete façade resting on an infill brick wall above a raised plinth. Hunkered down behind the façade line of the main street, this stocky concrete mass only shows its face to those wishing to park their car or peruse the backstreets. Glimpses of the side and rear elevations can be caught through mature trees and where gaps in the urban fabric allow. Built at a time when security of communications was high and a fear of bomb blasts existed, a minimal amount of windows were added to the outer envelope of the building. This resulted in an introverted building.

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The striking form consists of an unbroken row of board marked precast concrete panels that dress the front façade. This hung panel system, each measuring 10m x 1.5m, turns the corner to form a protected ring around the building, broken only once to it’s side to allow for service access to the building. A seamless strip of grey metal panels within the facade grid, running from first floor to roof, ensures no damage can come to the board marked panels during plant replacement.

At ground level, the point of entry is marked by a set of varnished wooden double doors of a domestic scale, with no indication of how to announce your arrival to the buildings inhabitants. These doors sit within a bay of translucent glazing panels and centred on an otherwise unpunctured elevation.

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A central courtyard pierces through the mass of the building, exposing it’s innards and allowing light to flow into the building. Concentric work and equipment spaces overlooking the courtyard gaze down to an outdoor seating area used by the building’s staff in finer weather. Spaces closest to the courtyard are flooded with light through large glazed panels which compose the interior of the building, revealing a softer side to the hard-shelled exterior.

In the centre of the floor plan light struggles to seep through an array of humming machines and a mesmerizing patchwork of wiring. Ventilation systems and careful placement and arrangement of equipment in the plan away from direct sunlight helps to prevent overheating. In the absence of lifts, the building is circulated vertically by light filled staircases which open onto corridors adorned by high ceilings and neutrally painted blockwork. The building unfolds as a series of spaces of various uses, noises and temperatures. Moving from corridor to office to plant room, some spaces are dark while others are light filled. These spaces emanate different qualities of light and importance linked by one door opening and another closing.

The telecommunications building in Naas is a building closed to the general population, alluding to secrets held and thus shrouded in mystery. The building functions to connect people but is itself disconnected to the public. Showing little or no sign of decay the building is testament to the care and diligence in the design and detail. A brutalist gem, an introvert and a slumbering mass, it sits tucked away undisturbed and allowed to function undeterred in all its concrete glory.

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