Collen Construction – IADT National Film School – A Star is Built

Built by Collen Construction, the new National Film School located on the Institute of Art Design and Technology campus in Dun Laoghaire, is home to some of the most technologically advanced specialist equipment in the country.

The new building is part of an on-going project to reorganise, refurbish and upgrade some 10,000m2 of existing campus accommodation for IADT. It’s an impressive, intricate project which should have been completed two years ago but was delayed due to McNamara, the builder on the project at the time, going into liquidation. The new school consists of some 1500m² of specialist film and blue-screen studios, radio studios, lecture rooms and support facilities in a new, state-of-the-art school that connects with existing studios in the adjacent 19th century building.

IADT-Film-SchoolFor the past 30 years, programmes in film, TV, radio, animation and model making have been developed and taught at IADT. Over 500 students study on these programmes at undergraduate and Master’s level every year and now they will benefit from the state-of-the-art technologies now on offer at the new film school. The €7.5 million government funded and film industry sponsored project has been built to provide both education and training facilities in film and television production. It has two professional TV/film studios with fully HD equipment, one of which has green-screen capabilities (there’s only one other HD studio in the country, at the TV3 studios in Ballymount); two radio studios, one of which is for making radio programmes with full technical and creative teams, while the other is for individual self-operation. The larger studio is 200sq.m with a clear shooting height of 6m and motorised lighting grid. The smaller digital effects/green screen/newspack TV studio is 45 sq.m with a clear shooting height of 4m. The project also features control rooms, lecture rooms, a broadcast newsroom and offices and ancillary spaces to support television, film and radio production. The building has been designed to also allow two outside broadcast units to operate and link into the production facilities or the studios. Related disciplines like costume and set design, make-up, lighting, special effects, film production, screenwriting and editing will also be catered for. Facilities at the building are also available for hire, whether that’s broadcasters, independent production companies, training agencies or other commercial organisations.

Projects like these don’t come around very often and certainly not ones as precise or intricate as this. John Sweeney from Collen Construction was the lead on the 12 month build. “Years ago I worked on a project at Leopardstown Racecourse where we hung a floor out of a structure. That was an extremely detailed and intricate job. With the Film School, people don’t realise the huge amount of work that went on behind the scenes, they just see a big concrete box and just think we put up a few shutters.” It may look like a big ‘concrete box’ but the M&E details of the project required an intricacy and preparation not usually associated with similar projects. “Services had to be cast in to the concrete pours and had to be 100% accurate. To achieve the accuracy we had a lot of coordination of the following drawings involving the Formwork, Engineer, and Architect and M&E teams. When the formwork panels were been constructed, they were all faced with new plywood to achieve the high standard that was required by the Architect.  M&E services were provided by Homan O’Brien, the Architect on the project was John Parker of ABK Architects. Other members of the project team included Punch Consulting Engineers and Healy Kelly Turner Townsend.

The main materials used in the construction process were concrete with a lightly sandblasted finish, playing nicely against printed and clear glass surfaces both externally and internally. “The architect wanted a slight shotblasting effect on the walls so we had a mock up panel done out in the site set up. We poured a panel and tried different grades of shot blasting; the architect then approved what he wanted and we applied that to all the walls.” The new film school is a reinforced concrete structure with a cantilever section at the front entrance. The architect specified all finished to the concrete which meant again, the construction teams had to be very accurate. “We had some very big large wall pours. Extra engineering was required, as the large formwork panels had to be design structurally to hold the concrete, especially the cantilever section. The rebar also had to be designed in such a way that allowed us to pour these large concrete walls.”

65% GGBS concrete from Ecocem was also specified, which caused challenges of its own as the shutters couldn’t be stripped until 2 to 3 days. “That particular concrete mix does not go off for about two days. So on the big pours, some of the shutters had to stay up for two or three days. All this had to be coordinated into the programme as well. GGBS concrete doesn’t strengthen until nearly 56 days, with standard concrete it’s at full strength at 28 so that was another consideration.”

Kingspan insulation and acoustic layers mean students won’t feel the cold when the weather turns. AWG were the acoustic consultants on the school. “Acoustics were very important, we had an acoustic specification for each room. Before the subcontractors started, we held workshops for each room and see how we were going to achieve the level of detail, what method of construction we would employ and which products we would use. This was coordinated and drawn up and signed off. When all that was completed, each room was tested. Every door in the school is acoustic, with some of them coming from Belgium and France.” Specialists were brought in from the UK to ensure zero tolerance on the TV studio’s floor; it’s super flat.

The school features a huge amount of glass, with a specially commissioned glass feature welcoming students as they enter the building. “The image is from a film from the 1920s by an old Russian director called Vertov. A British artist called Kirsty Brooks developed that image, the image was then digitised onto the glass in Spain and now it’s the main feature of the building. It’s my favourite part of the project; if you’re too close to it you can’t see it, you have to go back a good distance 20 or 30m.” All joinery in the building comes from managed forests while all the carpet tiles are 100% recyclable.

Collen Construction has been on the go since 1810 and has built up a huge portfolio of clients over the years including large multi-national corporations, private companies, local authorities and state authorities. In the 2012 Bruce Shaw handbook, the firm was listed at number 10 in the table of top Irish contractors. Managing Director Leo Crehan attributed the company’s success to its ability to satisfy client requirements. “Completing projects within a tight programme, meeting strict budget constraints and at the same time providing a quality service, ensures the company is succeeding in forging strong relationships with its clients.  Clients, existing and new, are reassured by the high level of service provided by Collen staff both onsite and behind the scenes.  Our attention to detail together with our dedication to meeting targets is leading to direct negotiation on future projects with many of our Clients.  We continue to tender competitively for private and public sector projects and we have secured a number of new projects due to commence onsite in the coming months. We look forward to seeing these projects progress onsite and to our engagement with new Clients and Design Teams.” Currently, Collen Construction are back at the Film School working on another job; resurfacing the road around the building. Other projects the firm are working on at the moment include a large residential development for Dublin City Council and the Catholic Housing Association, consisting of apartments for elderly people on Gardiner Street. Refurbishment of the Irish Life office block has also begun as has another big job in Tallaght Cross.  According to John, the much reported upswing in the industry isn’t just over optimistic talk. “I think there’s a definite pick-up in terms of work, certainly in the Dublin area and in cities around the country. Talking to some consultants and architects now, they’re looking for staff. There’s also a definite demand for upgraded offices. Data centres are also being built at the moment, the Irish climate suits the construction of these types of projects.”

The newly opened film school has been a hit with students, staff and indeed President Michael D Higgins, who attended the official opening back in November. With the technology and expertise available to students at the school, we’ll be seeing great things coming out of it over the next few years. 

This article first appeared in Irish Building Magazine and can be viewed with this link.