Meitheal Architects’ outstanding work on the historic extension at The Dingle Skellig Hotel was shortlisted in the ‘Building Refurbishment for a Single Building or Development’ category at the Building and Architect of the Year Awards 2019. Building Ireland had a chat with director Luke Hickson to find out more.
Recognising architectural excellence in building and design, the 2019 Building and Architect of the Year Awards ceremony took place in The Round Room at The Mansion House, Dublin on Thursday, October 3rd.
The annual Building and Architect of the Year Awards provide a much-needed platform for architects and their buildings where the rich variety of architecture encompassing all the main building types can be appraised. Rubbing shoulders with their esteemed peers, Meitheal Architects were honoured to be involved in this prestigious black-tie gala event, having been shortlisted in the ‘Building Refurbishment for a Single Building or Development’ for their stellar contribution to the major extension and re-development of the Dingle Skellig Hotel – one of the finest hotels in County Kerry and, indeed, Munster.
As an experienced award-winning architectural practice with a national portfolio of work, Meitheal Architects were pleased to have their work recognised, according to director Luke Hickson. “I oversaw the project with a couple of younger project architects – a full team was required on it because we did everything from planning through to interior design. We looked after everything, which is what we always offer our hotel clients.
“There is a small window of opportunity to get this work done and you have to box clever to get results as you are working in a live environment. We started on site in October 2018 and had a phased completion from the bottom floor to the top, finishing in the third week of May. Thankfully, the weather was with us and we had a very motivated contractor with a can-do attitude, which got us over the finish line.”
Established in 2003, Meitheal Architects are a client-focused practice which values appropriate and contemporary design that is innovative yet functional, sustainable yet economical, and understanding of the complexities inherent in conception and execution of a project. They place emphasis on delivering value for clients and on nurturing long-term working relationships.
The practice name ‘Meitheal’ describes their approach; one based on co-operation, client-service and process management. They assist clients with all stages of development appraisal, site selection, and finally, permission and procurement execution, creating contemporary and innovative design-led solutions that are derived from the context of the site, its environs and the objectives of all stakeholders.
Meitheal Architects boast broad experience in the design and delivery of a variety of hospitality projects from city centre bars and restaurants to hotels in city and country surroundings and in developing new ideas in the ever-changing hotel market. Their in-house interior design skills mean they can offer a fully comprehensive and unique design service where the concepts blend seamlessly, adding efficiencies in the process for clients as well as contractors.
Meitheal’s goal is the pursuit of excellence in their hospitality projects, taking cognisance of budgets and delivering quality through a design led approach.
The brief for the project at the Dingle Skellig Hotel – which is situated on the magnificent Dingle Peninsula and regarded as one of the finest hotels in Kerry – was to provide a new wing of 32 rooms, maximising the stunning views offered by the site. The rooms were to be the best possible to current standards, but referencing the strong character and reputation established by the hotel over the years.
Due to delays in planning, the timeline was very aggressive to fit into the low season and to minimise disruption to the remainder of the hotel which was to stay open during construction. Site strategy was key, fitting into an already tight carpark area, and connecting to a hotel with 30 years of expansion and rambling extensions. Together with the new wing, a strategy for renovation of existing rooms at a future stage was included in the masterplan, of which this is Stage One.
“The Dingle Skellig Hotel has a long history and a strong, established reputation as both a family hotel and a tourist hotel and also for function services for weddings and corporate clients and all the festivals in Dingle. You have to meld all of these elements together into the overall theme,” Luke continues. “As this was their first extension in decades, there was a real need for them to put their best foot forward and we really had to gain their trust to bring the full package together.
“But they were fantastic clients and they gave us a lot of scope. Once they had confidence in the vision we had for the project it went very smoothly.”
Often the key to ongoing hotel, leisure and hospitality work is to develop a long-term strategy to achieve a progressive result while the core business remains open. This requires flexibility, inventiveness and excellent process management skills that Meitheal Architects have honed over the years. The real challenge in these situations is to maintain a quality, client-driven end result that isn’t watered down by the demands of the commercial realities involved. Key to this is working hard to gain an understanding of the client and their aspirations, and then moulding this into a construction and procurement process that fits the client and end-user demands.
The entire process had a long gestation as this new wing was the first new intervention in the hotel for 20 years. Care was taken to understand the strong character of the hotel as a high-quality hotel with a strong family customer base that return regularly. Alienating these customers simply could not be entertained.
Once the planning strategy was established, detailed design began to ensure a new aesthetic for the hotel that tapped into the nature of the area as well as the character of service in the hotel. All stakeholders, from management, housecleaning, maintenance and food service staff were all included to ensure a good fit.
Establishing a strong ethic of connection to the landscape gave the design team a thematic basis for every stage of design, from concept to detail, and interiors. The sense of teamwork was essential going into construction, whereby all of the stakeholders continued their contribution into the construction phase, where a strong sense of common purpose was established with the design team, contractors and suppliers.
At every stage, Meitheal Architects ensured enough time was given to allow the maximum review and input from all stakeholders, ensuring communication protocols reinforced the need for teamwork. Key to this was the architects taking on Project Management and interior design to allow a fast, consistent and quality-assured process.
“We didn’t limit it to the extension,” Luke reveals. “Despite the time and budgetary constraints, we also remodelled some other areas of the hotel, including the restaurant / bar, and created a new atrium space. It was all part of the ongoing masterplan, of which this was the first phase, with more work to follow over the next five-six years. We’re already discussing what will happen next and looking at a few tweaks.
“Now with one summer under their belts with the new rooms, the manager is thrilled and the reception to the extension from established customers and tourists alike has been extremely positive. We’re discussion taking some of those same elements to other parts of the hotel – inside and out – during the next phase of the development.”
There were two distinct challenges in the brief that drove design innovation for this project. For the new bedroom wing, the orientation of the bedrooms on three elevations offering various panoramic views leads to the bay windows becoming a central feature of the rooms. The primary southern elevation allows the guest to feel like they are outside without exposure to the fickle and changeable elements. On the eastern gable, these bay windows open up the southerly aspect in a surprising way, adding an amenity to these rooms which far exceeded the client’s expectations.
The new atrium space in the main hotel was generated from a leftover space creating a new spatial centrepiece for the hotel by closing in an external courtyard. Catering for the hotel’s varying functions, the versatile new atrium is part-time breakfast room, bar, restaurant and reception area, reacting through openable doors on all four sides to be flexible in its needs at varying times of the day and year. The interior design here reacts to this new identity with a distinctive fresh scheme and lighting underneath the vaulted rooflight, giving an outside / inside feel, visible from many parts of the hotel’s public areas.
Commenting on the completed project, Graham Fitzgerald, General Manager, The Dingle Skellig Hotel stated: “Meitheal were an outstanding partner on this build. Luke and his team worked with us to ensure our briefs were fully met, both on time and financially and calmly overcame any build issues that cropped up. The hotel operated as normal during the build which demonstrated their understanding of how our business works and our important operational needs. The design of the new bedroom block and the redesign of the internal dining areas works exceptionally well with the existing structure of the hotel to bring a new dimension to the property. Their design works perfectly to enhance our offering and ensure we move into the next 50 years of business with an outstanding design to carry us through. We wish Luke and the team all the very best.”
With offices in Dublin, Cork and Kenmare, Meitheal Architects bring specialist expertise and knowledge to any hospitality project. The founding directors of Meitheal Architects have decades of industry experience of design, development and construction management knowledge gained in Irish and international markets. One of the stated goals of the practice has been the pursuit of excellence in the development and refurbishment of specific hospitality projects, delivering quality through a design-led approach, and they clearly excelled in meeting that stated objective at The Dingle Skellig Hotel.
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Tel: 021 4226090
Email: [email protected]
This article was published in Building Ireland Magazine, February/March 2020, Vol 6 No 1