A rising star of architecture

30 Aug , 2022  

In April, Fergal Rainey of McGurk Architects in Magherafelt, Co. Derry received the Project Architect of the Year accolade at the RSUA Design Awards and that was followed by him being named Rising Star in Architecture at the Building & Architect of the Year Awards.

Neither Fergal nor McGurk Architects are strangers to winning prestigious awards which speaks volumes for the design excellence of the small, but hugely creative Mid-Ulster practice. “We’ve done well recently,” a modest Fergal says.

“Any award we’ve won is a reflection on the team as a whole. We’re a small office of 10 people who take a collaborative and innovative approach to every project. Our clients buy into our vision which is crucial as it gives us the freedom to be creative and innovative. There is great variety and that’s what I love most about working for this practice.”

This year’s RSUA (Royal Society of Ulster Architects) Awards were hugely successful for McGurk Architects who scooped four awards, including the coveted Liam McCormick Prize for Northern Ireland’s Building of the Year for Áras UÍ Chonghaile, the new James Connolly Visitor Centre on the Falls Road in Belfast.

The centre, which McGurk Architects designed for Fáilte Feirste Thiar (Visit West Belfast), joined the likes of the Lyric Theatre and Giants Causeway Visitor Centre in winning the award. The project was also awarded the RSUA Integration of Art Award for the portrait of James Connolly on the perforated-metal gable wall. Central to the creation of this was Fergal who was named Project Architect of the Year. In addition, the project won the RSUA Design Award and the RIBA Regional Award.

RSUA Director Ciaran Fox said: “This year’s overall winner is a brilliant example of building re-use. To help tackle our climate emergency, we need to focus on how our existing buildings can be re-purposed, not just those of great historic value.

“Demolishing and starting from scratch should be a last resort. This year’s entries were required to have been in use for at least one year so that the judging panel could better evaluate the sustainability and real-life performance of these projects.”

The construction of Áras Uí Chonghaile entailed the adaptation and extension of a Victorian twin end-terrace building, transforming the structure into a museum with learning and exhibition spaces as well as a café, library and office with conference facilities. The judging panel described the building as a “crafted and characterful addition to the local community… and a fine demonstration of what can be achieved through re-use”.

Commenting on the win at the time, McGurk Architects Director Colm McGurk said: “We are delighted that our work on this very special project has been recognised by the RSUA. It was a privilege to work so closely with our client to create a new landmark building for West Belfast, one of which will attract visitors to the area for many years to come.”

There was further recognition for Fergal Rainey in the historic Round Room at the Mansion House in Dublin on June 16 last when he was honoured with the Rising Star in Architecture Award at the Building & Architect of the Year Awards (BAYA), which recognise architectural excellence in building and design. These 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.

Now an Associate Director with the practice, Fergal joined McGurk Architects in early 2016 as a Part 2 Architectural Assistant. After successfully completing his Part 3 studies, he registered as a Chartered Architect at the end of 2017. Since then, Fergal has developed into a trusted member of the McGurk team, immersing himself wholeheartedly into the life and soul of the practice. He has an exemplary work ethic and professional attitude to projects, and is handling clients with a confidence and guile belying his short period of post-qualification experience.

Fergal has designed and managed several unique multi award-winning projects such as Raidió Fáilte and Áras Uí Chonghaile in West Belfast, Belfast Back Care & Physiotherapy Centre in North Belfast and Bunhill 2 Energy Centre in Islington, London. He is currently working on construction design for the Roddy McCorley Heritage Museum in Belfast and the New Gates Arts & Culture Centre in Derry City. He was named Young Architect of the Year in 2018 at the Belfast Telegraph Property Awards and was shortlisted for the same award in 2019 as well as for the RIBA Journal’s Rising Stars.

Set up by the Lavey and Derry All-Ireland football medallist Colm McGurk, McGurk Architects provides architectural consultancy to the public and private sectors across Ireland and the UK. The practice specialises in hospitality, leisure, tourism, community, healthcare and residential projects. It has also a developing commercial and industrial portfolio with several niche bespoke renewable energy projects.

McGurk Architects engage and connect with their clients to understand their needs, their cultures and their environments while delivering on their belief that they can add value to communities. The practice promotes sustainable development and works actively to reduce the carbon footprint on its buildings through design options, latest technologies, choice of materials and life-cycle cost consideration.

McGurk Architects have an experienced and creative team – which includes senior staff members, Edelle Dodds (Associate Director) and Michael McCormick (Senior Technician and Office Manager) – who engage with their clients under a range of different procurement routes. They help guide clients through all stages of their projects, from scoping of the brief, feasibility options, detailed design, consultation processes, technical design, tendering processes, building contract management and delivery of projects on site through to successful completion.

Since this interview and the success of the McGurk Architects in this year’s awards, the sad passing of Colm McGurk took place. Colm leaves a legacy behind him in many spheres of life and we offer our sincere sympathy to Colm’s family, friends and colleagues.

McGurk Architects Ltd

33 King Street,


BT45 6AR.

Telephone: 028 793 01126

Email: [email protected]

Web: www.mcgurk-architects.com

This article was published in Building Ireland Magazine, September 2022, Vol 8 No 9