Athlone Riverside

Competition for the design of a Management Training Centre, Restaurant and Library, Athlone, Ireland, 1992

A design competition, organised by the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, called for the design of a new branch library and catering management training centre, the latter would be converted to a quality restaurant and bar facility for tourist use during the summer tourist season. The historically significant site in the middle of the town of Athlone, with river frontage to the River Shannon, had been previously occupied by a cinema building, built in 1938/39, and designed by Ireland's most significant early modern architect Michael Scott. In 1993 the building had been allowed to fall into disrepair with significant structural defects that suggested that it might not be capable of conversion to the new proposed use.

The central feature of the new design is a circular tower, the diameter of which is 9 metres to accommodate the restaurant. The wish, described in the brief, was to open up the main street of the town, Custume Place, to the River Shannon, and to open views across the river to the Athlone Castle. This was achieved by keeping the street level to the north of an axis  to the castle generally free from building and elevating the building to first floor level at this point and extending it to the haunch of the river bridge, in the form of a curved sentinel tower and redefining an enclosure at the west end of this busy shopping street. The river edge is defined also at this upper level with a 'wall' drawn through the centre of the drum, parallel to the river, while at quay level the non-orthogonal plan form is described by a serpentine curve which facilitates a pedestrian ramp and steps linking the stone rampart of the bridge to the quayside where a covered open area is created for public gathering (when the weather permits). The curved tower at the north-west corner encloses a flight of wide steps as a main public vertical circulation route from the quayside to street level, and to the upper levels of the building.