Dublin has never seen anything like the national children’s hospital planned for the Mater site. Not only would it be taller than Liberty Hall, but the crowning eight-storey element would also be twice as long horizontally as Siptu’s headquarters is high. The 16-storey hospital, designed by Dublin-based architects O’Connell Mahon in collaboration with global architects NBBJ, with earlier input from architects Murray O’Laoire, would rise to an overall height of nearly 68m (223ft), starting with a four-storey frontage on Eccles Street, with a wide entrance topped by a glazed canopy.
Behind this relatively modest stone-clad block, which is intended to repair the long gash in the streetscape caused by the demolition nearly 30 years ago of Scoil Caitríona and the Dominican College, a much larger eight-storey block would extend across the six-acre site. The architects stack the children’s wards, with outdoor spaces for recreation, in a curvilinear form that would be visible all over the city. Its shape is unusual and highly distinctive – think the insole of a shoe, except more symmetrical – and clad in glass with profiled metal “fins”.
With a helicopter pad on the roof and the top floor given over to education, lead architect Seán Mahon says the wards “will be almost a piece of magic sitting on top” of the new hospital. The design, he says, is emblematic of “the whole idea of making special places for children”.
The architects thought long and hard about what form the wards should take and “gradually moved to a more fluid building rather than something static” and rectilinear. Indeed, what they have produced is almost playful, as befits its primary purpose and youthful clientele.