Mullarkey Pedersen Architects are sustainability champions

20 Mar , 2023  

With Erne Campus, Enniskillen, Mullarkey Pedersen Architects struck gold in the prestigious Sustainable Project of the Year category at the 2022 Irish Building and Design Awards. Building Ireland sat down with Karl Pedersen to discuss this landmark, trailblazing project which achieved a number of key firsts in the increasingly critical field of sustainability.

Nestling on the banks of the River Erne, at the heart of Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, the brand-new Erne Campus – part of South West College – is pushing the boundaries of sustainable design and energy efficient buildings.

This benchmark passive house campus boasts the distinction of being the first educational building in the world to achieve Passivehouse Premium certification and is also one of the few buildings to achieve both Passivehouse Premium and BREEAM Outstanding accreditations.

When professionals from the world of architecture, engineering, construction and design gathered to recognise and acknowledge the cream of Ireland’s Building & Design projects at a black-tie awards ceremony in Dublin’s five-star InterContinental Hotel on Friday, October 7th, the Mullarkey Pedersen Architects team scooped the Sustainable Project of the Year award as due recognition of the series of innovative solutions delivered at Erne Campus.

“Buildings are all about people, not about awards, but at the same time we are absolutely delighted to have secured the Sustainable Project of the Year award,” states Karl Pedersen, partner in Mullarkey Pedersen Architects alongside Ciaran Mullarkey. “There were a lot of fantastic projects in the running for this award and they would all have been worthy winners, so we were honoured to get this pat on the back.

“However, as I said, buildings are all about people and the award is just a bonus. It’s a welcome bit of recognition for all the work invested by everybody associated with the building, from the client to the design team that worked on it, the contractor who built it and of course the students who occupy and use the building.”

Constructed by Enniskillen-based Tracey Brothers Ltd. and standing at 8,200 m2, the new, fully-accessible, state-of-the-art campus – one of the world’s most sustainable educational buildings – opened its doors to students for the first time in September, 2021, with the capacity to accommodate 800 full-time students, 2,000 part-time students and 120 staff.

Passivehouse Premium is awarded to buildings that not only meet the Passivehouse standard for fabric efficiency and ventilation but that also generate a significant amount of renewable energy on site. Erne Campus, designed and constructed with meticulous attention to the building fabric, features nearly 1,600 photovoltaic panels on the roof, capable of generating 116 kWh per square metre of floor area, with excess energy stored on site in Tesla batteries.

“This building shows that we have worked out and cracked the nut on how to make buildings self-sufficient,” Karl continues. “It leads the way in sustainability as it is a completely self-sufficient building that creates more energy than it needs. The excess energy stored in the batteries can either be used at another stage or brought off site for other purposes. It’s a very significant building and that’s why the recognition that comes with this award is so important to us.”

From the outset, Mullarkey Pedersen Architects had tremendous aspirations for delivering the Erne Campus building. Creating a building of the highest environmental quality for today’s society, without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. The finished building puts the Irish construction industry on a world stage and at the forefront of responsible and sustainable construction.  As a practice, Mullarkey Pedersen Architects realised they were doing something ground-breaking and exciting, but were also cognisant of the fact that they were navigating unchartered territory. Although they have delivered a wealth of buildings with an emphasis on sustainability, here they were pushing boundaries throughout Ireland and the UK on what the industry can achieve in dealing with the climate crisis. This came with the added pressure of delivering a building that would be the first of its kind in these islands.

The project demonstrates that through the application of knowledge and collaboration it is possible to create a world class environmental building in a rural town in the northwest of Ireland. While the building offers many different learning spaces and experiences for students – including the large atrium, socialisation and breakout spaces as well as teaching and staff rooms – because of the high level of airtightness and insulation which achieve thermal comfort, acoustically you are also in a very quiet and relaxing space.  To this end, Karl praised the site-based control by main contractor Tracey Brothers which ensured that the entire construction team bought into the concept of passive house design – “If you’ve got a couple of hundred men on site, each one of them has to buy in to project, because they could be opening up air tightness issues at any time that no one actually would know about,”

Ensuring buy-in from everyone was crucial to delivery. There was a constant pressure and intensity of work that accompanied the detail design, assessments and calculations, both pre-construction and once on site. Achieving Passivehouse Premium and BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ were the critical sustainability requirements for the building set out by South West College. From the commencement of the tender competition through to completion, it was crucial that all involved were 100% invested in the delivery.

Mullarkey Pedersen Architects take their responsibility for sustainable development very seriously and this is an integral part of the practice’s ethos. As a design studio, they did not hesitate to get involved with such an ambitious project – they have pursued sustainability for a long time and delivered the first BREEAM ‘excellent’ rating for a building on the island of Ireland with their Waterways Ireland Headquarters building (also located in Enniskillen, and also constructed by Tracey Bros). That top industry standard has subsequently been raised to the new ‘outstanding’ standard (as achieved at the Erne Campus) and they aim to apply the lessons of this standard to each project. 

Karl notes that, “It was a brave and inspired decision from South West College to build their new campus in the heart of Enniskillen. To bring their students into the heart of the town was an excellent starting point and there is an element of informed sustainability about that decision from the very outset, as it enables all those students to contribute to the life and sustainability of the town itself.”

The campus building has a large, multi-storey atrium all along one side, varying in height from two to four storeys.  It is built in an elongated crescent shape, with a south-facing, triple-glazed façade designed to capture passive solar gain. The rear of the building has a timber framed structure, which is externally clad in brickwork and panels, all detailed by the practice with an emphasis on minimising thermal bridging throughout the design.  Thermal 3D modelling was also crucial in allowing the Mullarkey Pedersen team to identify exactly where cold passages were happening and they used this to modify their design details to eliminate the cold bridges – “as we did come up against issues, we were able to resolve these through design recalculation,” says Karl.  Incoming fresh air is delivered through an earth pipe system, whereby three ground pipes temper the air from the outside – boosting its temperature in winter, and reducing it in the summer. In addition, a small number of windows can be opened in the building to provide natural ventilation.  The PV panels on the roof provide energy to the mechanical heat recovery units that circulate air around the building.

The ground floor auditorium and atrium spaces are heated via underfloor heating from an air source heat pump.  The only active cooling is in the fitness suite which has a 14 kW fan coil powered by the solar PV.  Hot water is generated via indirect cylinders with a coil served from the CHP buffer vessel and also large 6 kW immersion to avail of electricity also generated by the solar PV array.

The entire building’s lighting system is comprised of high efficiency LED light fittings. Automatic lighting controls are incorporated to switch off lighting in areas that are not in use. In many of the teaching/office spaces, the light fittings can be dimmed to allow for prevailing daylight conditions. 

Mullarkey Pedersen Architects has established a design led partnership which is committed to meeting clients’ needs and objectives to produce quality and sustainable designs that respect our architectural history whilst also creating innovate solutions for our future.  They consider themselves as advocates for design that is firmly rooted in ESG: Environmental, Social & Corporate Governance. Their ESG ethos is focused around a set of high standards that apply across all aspects of the practice. This is achieved by their highly skilled design team considering every aspect of design in detail with the client and creating excellent working relationships with consultants, contractors and investors, all in a collaborative manner.  Technical details aside however, Karl noted “we always come back to those fundamental issues of how to heat and cool a building, how to get fresh air into them, and how to retain heat. These are key environmental issues that humans have been struggling with for thousands and thousands of years”.

The practice traces its roots back to Liam McCormick, who founded his original practice with Frank Corr in 1962. Together they practiced as Corr McCormick until 1968, at which point Liam founded Liam McCormick and Partners. After expansion in the 1970s, the practice name changed to McCormick Tracey Mullarkey Architects, when Tom Mullarkey became partner in the firm.

Throughout the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, the practice added to their reputation for quality design, being honoured with numerous design awards, including the RIAI Gold Medal for St Aengus’ Church in Burt, County Donegal, which was also named ‘Building of The Century’ by a national poll just before the turn of the millennium (a building which the practice still care for, having recently undertaken sensitive, refurbishment works). In 2004, McCormick Tracey Mullarkey was restructured as Mullarkey Pedersen Architects under the partnership of Tom Mullarkey and Karl Pedersen. Ciaran Mullarkey joined as partner in 2006.  After graduating from Edinburgh University in 1992 Ciaran worked in Munich and New York before moving to Dublin in 1997. Karl studied architecture at Dundee University, and after graduating in 1992 he worked for James F.Stephen in Dundee, and later as an Associate ran their Stirling office. In 1998 he joined McCormick Tracey Mullarkey before establishing Mullarkey Pedersen Architects with Tom Mullarkey.  Together, Ciaran, Karl and their team have specialist skills and training in low carbon design, sustainable design, conservation and listed building/protected structure design, and restoration work.  They have a proven track record in generating a team ethos in the projects they lead and in getting the best from consultants and contractors alike towards the goal of realising a value-for-money project.  Karl has extensive experience in the commercial, conservation, ecclesiastical and educational sectors, working as project director on numerous large and complex award-winning projects and has amassed valuable experience in leading design teams on multi-million-euro schemes.  Ciaran and Karl are supported by David Snodgrass, who is an Associate within the practice.  David studied architecture at Queen’s University, Belfast and is an accredited Passive House Designer who brought his expertise in this area to bear on the award-winning Erne Campus project.

Mullarkey Pedersen Architects’ team of architects, technologists, clerk of works and administration staff work together to combine their specialist skills to produce excellence in design, sustainability, conservation, specification, project management and Health & Safety, guiding projects expertly from conception to completion.  They work closely with clients and collaborate with specialist consultants to invariably deliver architecture of the highest quality.

“As sustainability is becoming an increasingly important (dare we say essential) consideration in how buildings are being designed and constructed, what has been achieved with Erne Campus should give great encouragement to the public that our society has the ability to create buildings that can improve the quality of life of the people who use and interact with these buildings, without impacting upon our environment or the environment of future generations” Karl concludes.  “All buildings should be designed around how they are going to be used, how they serve the user, and how they interact with our environment.  Buildings need to bring joy.  This design approach should touch upon and reflect the soul of the building and discover the essence of the building. With sustainable design as the soul of the building, you will uncover a natural joy that is inherent in the building regardless of the aesthetics – much like the inherent beauty of a person, it’s something that goes beneath the skin.

Mullarkey Pedersen Architects,

Rød Dør Studio,

23 Hawkin Street,

Derry city.

Tel: +44 (0) 2871 363773

Email: [email protected]

Web: www.mparchitects.net

This article was published in Building Ireland Magazine, March 2023, Vol 9 No 3