Networks services centre

An innovative solution for a contemporary workplace.

A powerhouse of a building

In 2008, Gas Networks Ireland spearheaded a vision for an innovative solution for a contemporary workplace that would centralise its key Dublin area operations. Gas Networks Ireland embarked on a two stage international architectural competition, facilitated by the RIAI. From an initial 56 entries for stage one, a shortlist of eight proposals was drawn up to develop the designs for stage two. Denis Byrne Architects was selected and appointed as the lead architectural consultant for the new Network Services Centre, with Walls as the main contractor.

The result is a ‘powerhouse’ of a building that has received the coveted rating of ‘Excellent’ under the bespoke building BREEAM assessment procedures; the first office building in Ireland to receive an ‘Excellent’ rating under the 2008 standard. BREEAM is the world's leading design and assessment method for sustainable buildings. 

Sustainable design at its heart

The building’s overall design had to reflect Gas Networks Ireland’s commitment to environmental protection, energy conservation and sustainable development,. The building was also designed to illustrate outstanding architectural quality and a landmark development for the area.

The main focus of the new Networks Service Centre Building was to create a campus-style development that would facilitate and promote the inter-departmental, multi-disciplinary approach necessary for the provision of efficient and effective services. Prior to this, staff were based in four separate locations around Dublin. The requirement was one fully-integrated building accommodating all 300 staff.

The Networks Services Centre focuses the Dublin operations of Gas Networks Ireland in one single location on a circa 5 acre site at St. Margaret’s Road, Dubber Cross, Finglas. The new building incorporates a number of primary functions including:

  • Design, construction, maintenance and operation of Ireland’s natural gas distribution network
  • 24/7 emergency response for Dublin and surrounding counties
  • The national Technical Training Centre
  • The Health, Safety, Quality & Environment Unit

The eighteen month construction phase, on what was previously a brownfield site, was completed on time and despite the difficult winter conditions of December 2010 and January 2011, with staff occupying the building in January 2012. The various sustainable components of the building can be viewed below.

Award winning design

In 2013, the Networks Services Centre won a number of prestigious industry awards including:

  • RIAI Architecture awards for Best Commercial Building and Best Sustainable Project
  • The main award in the Building Category, at the Irish Concrete Society Awards and a special Sustainability Award in recognition of the sustainable use of concrete
  • Building of the Year at the Irish Building and Design Awards

NSC was also shortlisted for the 2013 Green Awards in the ‘Green Building’ category.

Sustainable components of the building

The Design Team defined sustainability targets early on in the design process, formulating an integrated sustainable design approach. This approach combines microclimate, biodiversity and landscape, water management and use of renewable energy technologies, within a compact building featuring a low energy design concept, to establish a service facility with a high quality and permeable work environment.

In terms of energy use and environmental control, the building is responsive to user needs, employing a system based on the principles of high thermal mass, natural and displacement ventilation, maximized natural daylight, and space conditioning using radiant cooling and heating supplied by a ground source heat pump and chilling device. Organized over two levels, with gardens and circulation woven to an informal fabric of internal and external spaces, the building promotes an inter-departmental multi-disciplinary approach to staff interaction and organisation.

A solid noise barrier is placed along the adjoining M50 on the northern perimeter of the site and the natural sloping topography and terraced car parking provide landmass for further acoustic buffering. New trees and hedge “pods” create wind screening and natural grass areas between the car parking tiers provide natural filtration and attenuation. Within each hedge pod, columnar beech trees provide additional wind attenuation and some shade within a compact footprint.

A new landscape integrates the required car parking and loading areas with a new articulated landscape and connects the existing brownfield site and the anonymous green along St Margaret’s Road to an extended parkland. The landscaped roof and internal landscaped gardens of the building extend the external landscape into and onto the building providing every workspace with a landscaped environment.

The water management of the landscape strategy seeks to treat as much surface water run-off on-site as possible with a series of natural attenuation and filtration areas for the car parking and a large attenuation pond to the south of the building.

The highly efficient and compact volume of the building with good volume to skin ratio reduces potential heat loss area and allows for strategic distribution of the building’s program in relation to thermal and solar requirements. The super insulated envelope of the building with a target U-Value of 0.15 exceeds current guidelines set out in Part L and achieves an Airtightness of 1.8m³/m².hr.

The Open Plan layout of the office accommodation requires a controlled fresh air supply to avoid draft and insufficient supply. A Displacement Ventilation system is therefore proposed for the office areas with natural ventilation for the canteen, workshops and Stores. The Displacement Ventilation relies on natural air movement between the assisted fresh air supply at floor level and a controlled extraction via a central chimney at the apex of the folding roof. The chimney is contained within a Plant Tower and uses a natural stack effect for extraction and contains coils for heat recovery.

Artificial lighting can be a significant proportion of a building’s running costs, and maximizing the use of natural daylight is one of the main drivers of the design. The internal gardens provide natural daylight to all areas of the compact volume. All artificial lighting is controlled by detectors and dimmers responding to the external conditions and keeping electrical energy for lighting to an absolute minimum.

The heating and cooling of the building are supplied by a closed loop ground source heat pump feeding into the radiant slab system of the building. The heating and cooling pipes set in the exposed concrete ceilings of the building dampens temperature swings through the working day and reduce the overall ventilation requirements. Heat absorbed by the concrete ceilings is released at night reducing the heating requirement at the start of the working day. The radiant slab, similar to a tiled stove, enables lower ambient temperatures compared to conventionally heated office spaces.

The Plant Tower integrates and displays the various components of the building’s low energy system. With 124msq Photovoltaic panels and Solar Water System, its south elevation provides up to 10% of the building’s electricity demand.

The team defined sustainability targets early on, and this helped to guide the design to achieve a BREEAM rating of ‘Excellent’.