The replacement building for a sports center that had seen better days marks the entry to a sweeping park in Derry/Londonderry. The architects arranged three decisive functions along a central axis and subtly differentiated them in their architectural expression: the façade skin combines zinc, wood, and light-permeable panels with Swisspearl panels in three different tones of gray.
In the past decade the city of Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland has aroused considerable architectural interest beyond the borders of its constituency. In 2010 it became the first ‘UK City of Culture’, the most conspicuous legacy of which is the new Peace Bridge spanning the River Foyle. A more recent example of the council’s ambitious public building program is the nearby Foyle Arena, a new state-of-the-art leisure facility designed by local practice Samuel Stevenson and Sons at the edge of the city’s popular St Columb’s Park.
With a multifunctional sports complex, the dimensions of the spatial program are largely pre-set, which means that the freedom in terms of design in articulating them is highly restricted. The challenge for the architects involved combining the spatial components, which in the Foyle Arena are a climbing hall, a double indoor swimming pool, and a multipurpose hall, to a coherent unit and assuring that visitors find their way in the large complex.
The architects of the Foyle Arena divided the layout into three parallel spatial levels running in a north-south direction. Along the central axis are the fifteen-meter-high climbing hall, which is also sunk three meters into the ground, as well as various gyms and fitness rooms in the back-facing areas of the building and on the upper floor. The two swimming pools are found in the western part of the complex; the eastern part accommodates a judo hall and a multipurpose gymnasium, which thanks to the support-free construction can be combined to form an events hall for 2,000 visitors. The main access leads between the climbing hall and the east wing to a central entrance foyer from where the visitors have an overview of all three building sections.
Zinc, wood and light-permeable panels
An archetype for the central building
From outside, the axial structure can be read in the building’s tripartite design. The complex’s eye-catching feature is the climbing hall, which as an entirely glazed, far protruding central projection marks the main entrance and produces a symmetry-like hierarchical relationship between the western and eastern building parts. In terms of form, the central building makes use of an archetype so that from a distance, it is reminiscent of a manor house embedded in an overhanging landscape garden. This picture is underscored by a private access road with a castiron gate welcoming visitors at the turnoff from the main road. The road separates the main face from the parking spaces. Also the north façade, which turns toward the adjacent outdoor playing fields and the park sloping downward to the river, is formulated in a similar way despite a different spatial configuration, and underscores the building typology.
The façades of the Foyle Arena are kept in a collage-like juxtaposition, contrasting in terms of color as well as material, as is omnipresent in contemporary British architecture. The most remarkable design feature is the double-layered zinc façade, which frames the central building volumes, continues as a roof over the swimming pool, and with its layered, rolling form, evokes the image of mountains. Serving as bracing is extensive glass, in part coated with green film, as well as Swisspearl panels in three different gray tones. The architects pursued an entirely different design approach with the orthogonal multipurpose hall, where they decided to forego a demonstrative gesture with the roof. In the upper area of the side façade they again combined Swisspearl panels in various gray tones; for the longitudinal façade, they chose, in contrast, a system of translucent panels, which direct natural light into the interior. On the ground floor, a continuous horizontal row of windows runs above a wood-clad base, behind which are offices, cloak rooms, and other secondary spaces, like in the west wing. A particularly successful application of the Swisspearl panels found on all facades is in the entrance area, where the outwardly folded zinc façade of the climbing hall shapes a covered entryway. The restrained coloring and precise panel alignment form a stylish background for the wood-covered steel supports, which in their formal design recall the Arts and Crafts tradition.
Collage-like façade design
It is a conscious intention of the design, to familiarize approaching visitors with the function of the building and to support this wherever possible with the use of transparent areas.
Samuel Stevenson & Sons architects
Limavady Road, Derry/ Londonderry, Northern Ireland, UK
2013 – 2015
Samuel Stevenson & Sons, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Lorcan Doherty, Derry, Northern Ireland, UK | Facebook
O’Hare & McGovern Ltd, Newry
O’Hare & McGovern Ltd, Newry
Edgeline Metal Roofing Ltd, Magherafelt
SWISSPEARL 8mm CARAT Crystal 7010
SWISSPEARL 8mm CARAT Black Opal 7021
SWISSPEARL 8mm CARAT Agate 7219