Drake Hourigan’s spectacular architecture recognised at RIAI Awards

4 Mar , 2020  

In early June, a stunning extension to An Ríocht, Scoil Chríost Rí, Boys National School, Caherdavin, Limerick – designed by Drake Hourigan Architects – was announced at a gala awards ceremony in Dublin’s Mansion House as winner of the Public Choice Award at the 2019 Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) Architecture Awards. Building Ireland took the opportunity to touch base with practice partners Ailish Drake and Conor Hourigan to find out more.

The winner of the RIAI Public Choice Award 2019 is An Ríocht, Scoil Chríost Rí, Boys National School, Caherdavin, Limerick. Designed by locally-based, highly-acclaimed community architectural practice, Drake Hourigan Architects, the school, which is located on the northside of Limerick city, beat off tough competition from a shortlist of 41 projects including entries from Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Limerick, Meath, Tyrone and Wexford as well as London and India.

The RIAI Irish Architecture Awards are the most prestigious awards of their kind in Ireland, celebrating the quality of current work by RIAI members at home and abroad and creating awareness of the important role architecture plays in delivering Ireland’s societal and economic infrastructure. All projects on the shortlist were designed by registered architects based in Ireland or overseas and were completed in 2018.

Developed in close collaboration with the school principal and teachers, the new building at Caherdavin provides for a two-classroom Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) suite with a central activities space and a sensory garden, new entrance courtyard and atrium space for whole-school circulation. Inclusion, compassion and flexibility of use were all cited as key drivers in the design.

The new accommodation facilitates the school and teaching staff in providing pupils with the necessary educational and social supports when starting school. By including these facilities within the mainstream school setting, children are able to develop social skills through participation in educational and social activities with their peers, with a view to moving to mainstream classes as they progress through their school years.

Commending the spectacular extension at the all-boys Limerick city primary school and referencing how seamlessly it was integrated into the existing building with inclusion as a key consideration, David Browne, RIAI President commented: “It gives me great pleasure to award Drake Hourigan Architects the 2019 RIAI Public Choice Award. The importance of good design in all of our built environment and public spaces is reflected by Public Choice being awarded to a school. Well-designed buildings can improve quality of life and social interaction, and in the case of Scoil Chríost Rí, in Caherdavin can promote inclusion, compassion and flexibility. The positive impact this building will have on the learning experience of the pupils cannot be underestimated.”

Meanwhile, Carole Pollard, FRIAI, Chair of the Jury added: “I would like to congratulate Drake Hourigan Architects for their spectacular project; everyone involved should be immensely proud of the work they have produced. The RIAI Architecture Awards celebrate the standard of excellence in architecture across Ireland and Scoil Chríost Rí is a prime example of this. The shortlist was made up of 41 exceptional projects including residential homes, commercial spaces, schools, heritage locations and public spaces and it’s encouraging that Irish people recognise the value that Irish architects add to all aspects of the built environment, supporting Ireland’s educational, economic and social infrastructure.”

“We’re totally delighted to have won the Public Choice Award,” states director Conor Hourigan. “The brief was a challenging one, to put special needs children and staff into the heart of a national school. It was difficult but we came up with a plan to integrate the new extension into the existing building and thankfully everybody is thrilled with how it worked out.”

The thought process heavily considered the overall school and how everything could flow to achieve a sense of belonging and togetherness for all students, those attending the ASD unit and also the mainstream students. “We applied to the Department for a new link building to connect the ASD unit to both the junior building and the senior building and this breaks out into a new entrance courtyard,” says Conor.

“The Department didn’t initially have any allowance for that but we pushed for it because we felt strongly that it was important that everybody was treated equally,” Ailish continues. “Parents have said to the principal that they love the fact that nobody is being singled out and that there’s a fluid situation where everybody goes through the same space.

“Everybody comes into school and leaves through the same area. There’s a clear overlap between the unit and the mainstream school, which is vitally important from a social aspect. The building is designed around a central activities space, with free movement around that and integration so that you have informal sociability and it enhances spontaneous socialising.”

With the main façade of the extension on the street side of the school, curved brick was used to soften its impact. On the east side of the building, the classrooms are orientated onto the garden. The prestigious 2019 RIAI award brought the curtain down neatly on a successful project that was conceived four years hitherto. Drake Hourigan Architects started work on An Ríocht in 2015, with planning permission secured the following year after the architect’s idea of integrating the building went back to the principal and appropriate funding was allocated. Work commenced in September, 2017 and was completed in October, 2018. Once the building was furnished, pupils were able to move in during February of this year.

Established in 2007, Drake Hourigan is an RIAI-registered, Conservation Grade II, architectural practice based in Limerick. Their work – which focuses on the creative and adaptive reuse and extension of existing buildings and historic properties – takes them to all parts of the country. With special expertise in the design and delivery of community and school projects, historic building restoration and extension, private dwellings, landscape and garden design, their track record speaks for itself.

Projects undertaken this year include Moyross Community Enterprise Centre and refurbishment of the adjacent park. “We take on a lot of community-based work, including schools and small extensions. We are currently working on another ASD extension to a school in County Clare, where we are working with the Department on how the additional spaces can be integrated seamlessly into the existing school,” Conor notes.

“For the school project in Limerick, we had to have a full design team on site – engineer, QS and M&E – and the QS had to make sure everything is going to come in within budget,” Ailish continues. “It’s a collaborative process and there’s a lot of work involved in keeping everyone happy.

“On any project, the most important thing is to develop a good relationship with the client and find out exactly what the user needs. You can’t go in with assumptions as to what any building or client needs. On this project, it was about teasing out what the teachers needed, and how the children would arrive at school and what they’d do at school before leaving. With Moyross, we also did a lot of work to find out what would be going on in the building. That really helps in the initial stages.”

Conor continues: “As the project goes on, it’s not just a functional building you are aiming for. You have to be creative and able to design something special and express yourself. And that’s not an indulgence … this is our job! You have to be creative, to create a space that people are going to find attractive, get the right balance between functionality and creativity but definitely expressing yourself. It’s a living process … when you get to site, things can change unexpectedly and if you can control these changes you can add another layer to it.”

Ailish takes the baton: “The creative part is very important to us. We are extremely interested in materials, shapes, colours and patterns. Everything that’s under your feet all the way up to what’s overhead and the landscape around it. We think long and hard about the wider creative process. There’s always an opportunity to bring something extra special if you think about every element of the building. It’s important that everybody involved wants the building to be the best it can be.”

As with any challenge, if you embrace and enjoy it, that can be half the battle. “It’s a difficult job so you have to try to get something out of it and often that comes from the creativity you instil,” Conor concludes. “If you have included something interesting in the initial sketches, you have to try to hold onto that and stick to your natural design instincts rather than giving in to the temptation of allowing them to be reduced or removed.”

Drake Hourigan Architects,

Mona Lodge,



County Limerick.

Tel: 087 9171599

(Conor) or 087 6772602 (Ailish)

Email: [email protected] / [email protected]

Web: drakehourigan.com

Taken from Building Ireland Magazine, October, Vol 5 No 10