Trinity College Dublin: leading the way for sustainable universities

Ireland’s premier university set itself a challenge in 2013 to develop an ultra-sustainable new building for its Business School. Greg Power, Head of Capital Projects and Planning at Trinity College Dublin, explains how it delivered on the ambition and why their building is good for the environment, the city and the business world.

‘Put in more than you take out’: that is one of the core values at the heart of Trinity College Dublin’s renowned Business School. The saying is intended to focus students’ minds and careers on looking beyond profit and towards the wider impacts and benefits of business for society, economy and the planet. That sustainable and ethical approach can be applied both to the Business School’s method to education and to the new building it has created.

The new business school is the latest addition to a campus that is already well-known for its mix of historic and modern buildings, college squares and fine grounds. The building is a model of sustainable development, being the university’s first project delivered to nearly zero energy building (NZEB) standards. Its energy saving measures could help save 500 tonnes of carbon a year.

This approach to sustainability has been combined with state of the art learning, collaboration spaces and stone and glass clad contemporary architecture. The end result is a building that practises the ethical business it preaches, engaging with a diverse community that includes students, the city’s established and emerging business people and the local neighbourhood.

A collective approach

For Greg Power, Head of Capital Projects and Planning in the university’s estates and facilities directorate, the opening of the building marked the delivery of a project that has been running for all his five years in his post. Throughout its progress, this has been a collaborative project, drawing on both internal and external expertise. “You know the phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’,” says Power. “It has taken a city to deliver this building.”

That collective approach started with the project’s stretching ambitions.

We wanted to better the legislative agenda, which gave the imperative to create a green exemplar.”

“The Dean of the Business School, Professor Andrew Burke, wanted to ground ethics in business in a sustainable building, that would promote both social diversity and environmental sustainability, and the Provost backed these ideas,” says Power.

The building’s location on Trinity College’s central Dublin campus supported its social aspirations. The site flanks the rugby pitch on one side, with the other looking onto Pearse Street, part of a once deprived area of the city. The building, is a link between university and city, contributing to local regeneration and engaging with local people.

Marriage of business and environmental excellence

With no facility of its own, the Business School had relied on disparate teaching spaces prior to this project. Now it has a six-storey building with a 600-seat flexible and reconfigurable lecture theatre, raked lecture theatres, with their sloped seating and a range of other spaces.

The first floor is open plan and designed for collaboration, with an ideas workshop for young entrepreneurs, called Tangent. The top floor is dedicated to executive education, an indication of the school’s significance for the business community. “It has joined the list of top venues in Dublin city,” says Power.

It has a corporate edge and alumni drop in here. It has added a huge amount of excitement for the business community.

In setting a NZEB target, the project team was looking to comply with future regulation, specifically coming from the recast European Performance of Buildings Directive, which made near zero energy a requirement for every new public building from 2020. But there was an added challenge, as Power explains:

We were trying to set targets at a time when the net zero regulations were still being synthesised by the Irish government and so didn’t have the calculations to support design. We had to take a punt and go for it with the maths.

The building was also designed to a national Building Energy Rating of A, and BREEAM Excellent and LEED Gold environmental rating systems. The solution to its environmental challenges lay in a passive design approach, which is based on reducing the energy demand in a building by making it highly efficient and using natural heat, air and light where possible. The building’s natural ventilation and good daylighting levels reduce the need for air conditioning and artificial lighting.

Efficient double skin glazed facades and a full height atrium are coupled with horizontal brise soleil and motorised blinds so that building users’ demands for daylighting and solar shading can be finely balanced. The purpose designed façade also shields teaching spaces from the noise of the DART rail line running just 4.9 metres from the building.

Essential boilers, lighting and other services have been chosen to minimise energy consumption. “We didn’t want tricks; we have got what’s effective,” is how Power sums up the approach. “Newer buildings can require huge preventative and reactive attention,” he continues.

There is always the question of balance between project and operational efficiency and effectiveness. So we have had to make some calls where something was clever over the long-term or the short-term.

One area of debate was the roof, an area that had the potential to be used for generating solar energy, additional office space, plant storage, a garden or as a terrace amenity enhancing student wellbeing. “There’s competition for roof space in buildings now, but we have made quite good use of ours,” Power says.

He reels off the building’s rooftop features by way of confirmation: solar thermal and photovoltaic panels, the main College Boardroom, and a garden providing water attenuation and filtration, as well as a relaxation space for people.

Making a difference

People are ultimately at the heart of this project and that is evident both in the quality of the teaching spaces and the way in which the project reaches out to its community. The project includes the refurbishment of six Georgian houses on Pearse Street, which provide student accommodation and – with a ground level extension – a restaurant that is open to students and the general public.

The project has made a major difference to the campus internally and to the streetscape

“The building has its entrance onto the street, with restaurants and a fine façade. It places itself well physically.” The refurbishment also contributed significantly to limiting the project’s carbon footprint and embodied carbon, factors considered across the project’s materials specification, design, construction and operation.

The project was delivered under budget and met its initial NZEB ambition. The building’s design should deliver a primary energy saving of 60 percent when compared with a standard 2019 new building. Its performance and savings will be confirmed in post occupancy evaluation, which will be carried out after several heating seasons have elapsed. Like other buildings on the campus, the Business School will also serve as a learning tool, with students able to scrutinise its performance.

“We’re still tweaking things at the moment, but the building is performing very well and has very positive feedback so far,” adds Power. Like the Business School and its students, the building looks set to be a top performer!

For further information contact:

Philip Matthews
Director and Head of Project Management, Ireland