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Architect:De Blacam & Meagher
Award Type:Irish Architecture Awards
One of the central tenets of good conservation practice is viable reuse. This has been achieved with aplomb in the transformation of the former Market House in Abbeyleix to provide a new library and art gallery. The building in its earlier forms had few architectural pretensions, but incorporates a sequence of phases reflecting different uses throughout its 173 year history.
In its recent conversion the architects have managed to respect and reveal previous layers of change, while integrating the whole into a coherent new and exciting arrangement that is the best yet. The judges felt that this scheme met all the main challenges encountered in the repair and reuse of historic buildings, which are – sensitive conservation, restrained and judicious restoration, and innovative and effective intervention.
Historically there are four phases of development of the Market House, the original rectangular plan with a small central cupola on the ridge, the 1890’s re-construction in a rural Italian style with new tower on the East elevation and the addition of mullion and transom windows, the Free State Art Deco transformation to use as a fire station with library on the first floor and the present Laois County Council branch library.
During the course of the 2008 works the suspended timber vault was uncovered and exposed to view, the barn form which compliments what was manifest externally. The design of the library is a great room surrounded by books on three floors and a central reading room in the middle of the square of the town.
In 2002 Laois County Council identified the need for a modern library service in Abbeyleix, as part of its plan for developing the library infrastructure in the County.
The brief to the architect was that the whole building should be redesigned internally to incorporate a modern 21st century Public Library facility and Art Gallery. It was decided that the Art Gallery should be positioned at the front of the building in a glass extension which would serve the purpose of opening up the building and its uses to the general public as they approached the structure.
The Council, on the proposal of the architect, decided to landscape the entire Market Square area surrounding the Library. This is now an open public plaza area of Portuguese granite sets, planted with a crescent of cypress trees, which attracts pedestrians and visitors to the Library and Art Gallery.
The overall attention to detail by the architect is evident in every part of the building and landscaping with favourable comments reported to Laois County Council from all parts of the country.
The design of the building as a Library and Art Gallery has proven to be an outstanding success. In a town with an urban population of 1,568 and catchment population of 1,000 approximately, the registered membership of the Library is over 1500 in its first 9 months of operation with over 23,000 visits to the Library and Art Gallery in the same period.