Convention Centre Dublin

The Convention Centre Dublin (CCD) gives the capital city a new landmark building, but the real beauty of this world class facility lies within. The CCD Executive Chairman Dermod Dwyer gives Irish Building a whistle-stop tour of the centre designed by Pritzker Award-winning architect Kevin Roche.

In many ways, the Convention Centre Dublin can be looked at as a real gift to the Irish nation. With 44,000m² of floor space, it is the largest single-use building constructed in Ireland in decades, and the largest state-owned public-access building built since the foundation of the state.

Beautifully wrapped within a 7,000m2 granite facade and a 37m tubular steel glass drum, the elevators extending from ground level to the top floor within the atrium have the appearance of silver ribbons giving access to the delights within.

Like any good present, the convention centre is something that Ireland has long needed – for decades, the tourism industry has been painfully aware that we have been missing out on top-tier business, because Ireland has not had a venue large enough to host the thousand of delegates that attend major international conferences. These delegates are valuable visitors, worth an estimated €1,507 each to the Irish economy. With some 300 conferences already scheduled to take place at the venue, amounting to more than 336,000 delegate visits, that amounts to a boost of some €126m to the Irish economy.  When it is fully into its stride, The CCD will bring in between €25m and €50m of foreign revenue annually. Dwyer was delighted to say: “We are already set to meet our international delegate targets for the next four years.”

Convention centres are normally developed by municipal authorities and are usually loss-making entities, but The CCD is the first conference centre of its type to be procured by a Public Private Partnership (PPP), with  Spencer Dock Convention Centre Dublin Ltd taking the risk as to whether the venue turns a profit or not.  The private company engaged Construction Management Partnership (CMP), a joint venture between Treasury Holdings Limited, founded by Richard Barrett and John Ronan, and John Sisk & Son Limited, to design and build the centre, with The CCD entering into a, operate, maintain and finance the venue for a 25-year-period after which time it will be handed over to the Office of Public Works (OPW). In the meantime, the State will pay SDCCD by way of annual Unitary Payments over 25 years, a total of just under €380m in present day values.

The OPW brief called for a 2,000-seat world-class auditorium, a 2,000-seat banquet/exhibition hall and a 3,000-seat exhibition hall, along with numerous meeting rooms and back-of-house facilities, with the building required to have a 100-year structural-design life with major replaceable features, such as cladding, to be designed for a 40-year life span.

On arriving at The CCD, Dwyer takes us to the top floor of the atrium where the view is stunning – probably the best in Dublin. When events are taking place at The CCD, mobile electronic signage is used to direct delegates around the building – this allows all notice-boards throughout the building to be updated immediately and remotely, while cutting down on clutter. There are bars on each of the lobbies overlooking the entrance foyer, but most of the time these are hidden behind mirrored feature-walls, again giving the entrance areas a clean, uncluttered and business-like appearance – but when refreshments are required, the feature walls can be opened electronically at the touch of the button.

The main auditorium, which occupies the top three levels of the building, is fitted with wood-panelled walls of steamed beech, this wood from sustainable forests is used throughout the building. The auditorium’s acoustics are excellent with every word uttered on stage easily audible in the remotest seats in the hall without amplification. The tiered design ensures everyone present has an unobstructed view of onstage proceedings and the seating spaces are probably the most generous in any public meeting room or theatre in the country. The Figueras chairs used are designed to remain comfortable throughout an eight-hour long seating period, with each seat having its own ventilation control to adjust the temperature, plus a fold-down writing tablet for a laptop, plus power socket and data port.

The auditorium has its own AV production room, allowing for the building to host live TV events such as Britain’s Got Talent, the X Factor and the 8th Irish Film and Television Awards, while also being ideal for the production of corporate videos. There are seven interpretation booths allowing conference proceedings to be translated live to the audience and there is an orchestra pit for 80 musicians. The auditorium can be used for smaller-sized events, such as product launches, with an intimate ambience created through judicious lighting and the blacking-out of the top two levels of the venue. The fly tower is large, with Dwyer saying: “There have been cars hidden up there as part of product launches and I have to say its big enough to hide a bus! Getting equipment onstage is easy because of our two goods elevator – one large enough to accommodate a van, the other large enough to accommodate a 40ft trailer.”

The largest room is The Forum, a 2,721m2 flat-floored hall at ground level; large enough to accommodate 10 tennis courts, it can hold more than 3,000 delegates in theatre mode or up to 2,000 guests for a banquet. The room has a great deal of flexibility that isn’t immediate to the casual eye: canvas sails, hanging from the ceiling, can be raised or lowered depending on the atmosphere that an event manager wishes to create, with lighting used to provide colour or to project logos and/or messages on to the canvas. The lighting rigs descend to 2m above floor level, allowing for lighting adjustments and maintenance without the need for scaffolding or ladders.  For exhibitions the ceiling can be raised to its maximum 8m height. Beneath the carpet tiles, there is a system of under-floor ducting allowing for maximum flexibility when power points and data ports are needed. Furnishing the room with expedition stands and banqueting props is made easy thanks to its ground floor location and its large-vehicle entrance door.

The next largest room is The Liffey, a 1,550m2 space on the second level it is large enough to accommodate 1,606 delegates in theatre mode, 1,220 for banqueting. This room is equipped with a Skyfold system that lowers a sound-proof wall from the ceiling, creating two spaces with conference capacities of 710 and 954 delegates respectively and banqueting capacities of 470 and 610. Elsewhere on the second level there are 11 meeting rooms of various sizes, with a further eight meeting rooms on the third level. Each boardroom is plug-and-play ready for laptops and AV equipment, with push-button blinds to provide shade or total privacy where necessary.

“The building was designed by Kevin Roche from the inside out,” says Dwyer. “When he started working on the project one of the first things we did together was visit other conference centres so that Kevin would have a really good idea of how a convention centre should really work properly and he has realised those ideas efficiently and beautifully. Every detail in the building is Kevin’s: from the door handles and light fittings to the 475 panes of glass, with no two panes identical, in the atrium drum. Everything says quality, right down to the most menial: in the toilets for example, the cubicles are separated by solid plasterboard partitions not by metal partitions.

“What the convention centre means is that Dublin is becoming a first choice venue for international conferences, rather than being perceived as an alternative venue, a place to be considered only after looking first at what were more mainstream choices. Our main market is the international association conferences and conventions, which are often held maybe once every three to 10 years but which attract thousands of delegates from across the globe. We would have about a dozen sales and marketing staff who would spend a lot of time on research as part of winning business from these associations. We’re delighted that we will be hosting an International Bar Association conference in October 2012 – with a membership of lawyers and judges, they are a great reference client! Another important client is the TM Forum, whose members are involved in the telecoms and IT industries – they held their flagship Management World conference here in May andare due to hold the event here again next year.”

A major selling point for The CCD is that it is the world’s first carbon neutral convention centre, a feat achieved through the use of low carbon cement and timber from sustainable sources, the use of a thermal wheel heat-recovery system and an ice storage thermal unit for air conditioning and the sourcing of electricity from sustainable energy providers, with any unavoidable carbon emissions offset through the purchasing of carbon credits. “Our carbon neutral status is helping us win business,” said Dwyer. “Johan Goreki, CEO of Globe Forum, said the only reason he chose Dublin as their venue for their 2010 conference was that we were a carbon neutral venue.”

Security consultants Risk Management International (RMI) worked closely with the design and construction teams from pre-bid through construction to completion, using the principles of ‘Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design’ to avoid the need for an expensive security retrofit later. RMI CEO Cathal O’Neill said that a key challenge was to design a security solution that was proportionate to identified risks, including those from crime and terrorism, and that provided the optimal balance between safety and security. He said: “A key objective was that the security solution would be discrete, relevant and effective, while maintaining the quality of the space. We also needed a scalable solution, with a capability to increase security in response to any heightened threat associated with visiting dignitaries or organisations.”

The CCD has won several awards, including Best Large Event Venue in the Irish Event Industry Awards 2011 and silver in the Best Overseas Convention Centre award at the Meetings and Incentive Travel Industry Awards 2011, but from a construction point of view the sweetest accolade, so far, has been the construction manager of the year gold medal awarded to project manager Donal McCarthy of CMP/Sisk by the Chartered Institute of Building. The judge’s citation said: ‘The construction of The CCD was a technically complex operation, demanding very high international standards of completion, the coordination of a large and diverse design team, a tight and difficult site together with a demanding cost and time schedule. The technical complications were considerable including a five-star M&E specification and state-of-the-art acoustic control throughout. That these high demand outcomes were achieved together with achieving a snag free completion date was outstanding.”

“Logistics was a big issue during the initial construction stage,” said McCarthy. “The site is constricted by the north quays on one side, the Royal Canal on another side and to the rear of us the new LUAS line was being laid by the Railway Procurement Agency and Laing O’Rourke were building the new Spencer Dock Bridge. Keeping the four tower cranes fed with steel during the steel erection phase was a continuous challenge requiring day-to-day planning.”

Ireland’s leading geotechnical firm, PJ Edwards was contracted to provide the secant piling on which The CCD is built. The company carried out work throughout the whole of the Spencer Dock development area, where in places piling outputs were the biggest ever achieved by this company with 350-500 cubic metres of pile concrete placed daily.

The steel fabricators on The CCD site was Fisher Engineering, which was involved in the project on a lump sum, fixed price basis, calculated using a structural steel finite element analysis model, designed by O’Connor Sutton Cronin. Once Fisher had won the contract, it worked with O’Connor Sutton Cronin to develop the model further.

“Logistically, it was a complex job,” said Fisher Engineering’s project manager Adrian McCoy. “The structure uses 7,500 tonnes of primary steelwork. Some of the larger elements involved exceptional loads requiring an escort to bring them to the site and a 350-tonne crane to put them in place. To allow the first-floor stage area to be free of columns, four 22m long x 3.5m deep x 48t Vierendeel trusses were used to support the stage area in the auditorium above. These trusses were brought to site in two sections then bolted together and lifted into place as one piece.  Once we got to the second floor level, using a mobile crane wasn’t practical for the general steelwork because space on the ground was a premium.  The largest single steel element is a 160t 48m-long x 6.5m roof truss, which was lifted into position in 24 individual pieces and it required temporary towers to support it until it was bolted into position. ”

The basement slab involved Ireland’s largest concrete pour, where in a 17-hour operation 360 trucks were used to deliver 2,534m3 of low-carbon GGBS concrete. The ground granulated blast furnace slag concrete was chosen chiefly because of its hard-wearing quality, but its low-carbon credentials was one of the drivers that led The CCD to work towards full carbon-neutral status. McCarthy said: “The tiered terracing used in the auditorium was initially planned to be poured insitu, but after serious consideration we changed this to precast which expedited the auditorium programme works.”

Once the primary roof steelwork was in position, the auditorium’s precast seating was installed, a task undertaken by Creagh Concrete, with Cashel Construction installing the pre-cast concrete sub-structure supporting Creagh’s work. Cashel Construction had previously worked with CMP/Sisk installing pre-cast concrete blocks used in the construction of apartments adjacent to the CCD site.

The CCD uses a structural framing system, installed by Errigal Contracts, to support its external stone cladding.  The external envelope uses a structural steel metal stud and external render system, comprising a 30m-high span section in excess of 1,200m2, which was completed off mast climbers. Inside the building, Errigal installed acoustic walls and ceilings in the main auditorium, specialist ceiling systems in breakout areas, bars and the conference and meeting rooms, and installed fire-rated cladding on the main structural steel supports. In back-of-house areas, Errigal Contracts were also responsible for fitting metal stud fire and acoustic partitions and suspended ceilings.

“We did very well, delivering the project on time and on budget with a very good safety record – 1.3 million accident-free working hours,” said McCarthy. “The formal handover was on August 5th, 2010, but we achieved a virtual handover three months earlier on May 5th. That allowed the operator to run the building in anger for three months, with the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent events taking place ahead of the official opening and helping us to iron out any operational issues prior to contract completion. I am very pleased that we achieved a five-star quality finish, everybody is happy with the building, it really is a great asset.”