Center of the action


center of the action

by Libby Ellis Lowe // photos by James Horan

the once-fierce roar of the Celtic Tiger is fading fast. For roughly 15 years, Ireland was heralded as an economic force. Then the recession hit, transforming the mighty tiger into more of a scraggly kitten. Ireland's unemployment rate, already at a record high, will likely soar to 13.8 percent this year, and the country's deficit is second only to Greece in the 16-nation euro zone.

Construction, the largest sector in Ireland, has taken the hardest hit. The industry has already lost 200,000 jobs over the past two years, and another 100,000 could vanish by mid-year, according to the Construction Industry Federation.

Looking to spark a much-needed resurgence in the capital city of Dublin, the national government launched the Spencer Dock regeneration project.

A decade ago, the approximately 50-acre (20-hectare) area wasn't much more than an isolated rail yard. With an eye toward creating a new centralized business district, Ireland's Treasury Holdings property development group launched several high-profile projects, including the Dublin Port Tunnel, the Spencer Dock Bridge and the 60-meter (197-foot) U2 Tower, named after the city's most famous rock group.


〉〉Big-name corporations have already scooped up office space in the new district, but the U2 Tower project is on hold.

Although the tower project has been tabled because of economic issues, big-name corporations such as PricewaterhouseCoopers have already scooped up office space in the new district.

Amidst the flurry of activity in the area lies the heart of the revitalization megaproject: the €380 million Convention Centre Dublin (CCD).

A modern building with rounded-glass windows looking over the River Liffey, the CCD is sure to make its mark on the city skyline, as well as change the face of the neighborhood. It may also help those construction job numbers: More than 1,000 team members will be employed on the project.

The center stands out not only for its forward-thinking façade but also for its eco-friendly functionality. It reigns as the world's first carbon-neutral convention center and Ireland's first state building with the designation.

Of course, the hope is that it will also become a destination for international meetings. Upon completion, it will accommodate up to 8,000 people in 22 meeting rooms, 4,500 square meters (48,438 square feet) of exhibition space, a 2,000-seat auditorium, and banquet facilities.


Accessibility was at the forefront of the overall development plan. First, the project team had to figure out how best to handle the site, which was close to occupied office buildings and in the middle of other construction projects.

One of those projects, the awe-inspiring Spencer Dock Bridge, adds another dose of modernity to the Old World flavor of Dublin. It's also central to connecting the newly minted business district with the rest of the city. The bridge's completion last December was a major milestone in the urban renewal, as it carries Luas light-rail trains across the Royal Canal, with a stop right next door to the convention center.

All of that activity left the CCD project team in a tight squeeze, however. “The restricted site presented project management and design challenges,” says Andrew Durkin, project manager at BSPM Ltd., the local project management arm of Bruce Shaw Group, the consultancy managing the project.

The solution: stack the exposition, banquet and auditorium spaces on three levels, all accessible to the public, with two underground floors for parking.

“The construction management plan developed by the contractor took into consideration the site constraints and resulted in a very detailed strategy for managing deliveries, construction works and the operation of the four tower cranes erected on the site,” Mr. Durkin says.

Coordinating the work with the construction of the light-rail tracks required close consultation with multiple stakeholders, including the Railway Procurement Agency, Dublin City Council and Dublin Docklands Development Agency.

With site issues locked down, the team shifted its focus to the structure's complicated—and time-consuming—design process, which Mr. Durkin says “required considerable interaction between the team members.”

The key factor for the success of public-private partnerships is the development of high levels of trust and confidence between the partners.

—Andrew Durkin

The structural steel analysis model “took nine months to develop,” he explains, “during which time several key design evolutions were taken on board. Following this, detailed design to full fabrication status took a further period of six months.”

The impressive glass drum forming the façade of the CCD allows for transparency, which Mr. Durkin sees as a metaphor for the open nature of his project management style.

That management style was put to the test as Mr. Durkin tried to please multiple stakeholders. The project is being developed, constructed and managed by a private development group, Spencer Dock Convention Centre Dublin Ltd., which will control operations for 25 years before handing the convention center back over to the state.

“The traditional industry recipe changed as the funding and delivery risk of public projects moved into the private sector,” Mr. Durkin says. The private-public partnership (PPP) model “altered the traditional power and influence of project participants.”

One of the main issues centered on confusion over who the client actually was. The contracting authority, developer, funder and contractor could all be viewed as filling that role.

“This created the need to partner skillfully with the various client groups and key stakeholders in order to move forward,” Mr. Durkin says. “The key factor for the success of public-private partnerships is the development of high levels of trust and confidence between the partners.”

Maintaining near-constant communication ensured that stakeholders never felt merely placated, but believed they were offered genuine opportunities to participate in the process.

The PPP group moved up the due date for design completion, ensuring that the management team got early proof that necessary consents and permissions were obtained. That meant the certification and review of the detailed design by the contracting authority was directly linked with payment to the design and build contractor.

Mr. Durkin estimates the deadlines were “six to eight months ahead of a traditional contract. Specialist design elements, such as acoustic, catering, theater sound and production lighting, were completed well in advance of what might be considered typical.”


Everyone was keen to associate with green building and create a carbon-neutral structure.

—Andrew Durkin

Because of the scheduling push, the project design was nearly 80 percent complete at cost finalization.


Stakeholders required much discussion on a plethora of topics. One thing all parties agreed upon, though, was that although the CCD would certainly be visually stunning, the building's biggest statement would be its environmental focus.

“Everyone was keen to associate with green building and create a carbon-neutral structure,” Mr. Durkin says. “The decision didn't impact the design because we based it on green materials. To ensure construction would be carbon-neutral, we selected timbers from sustainable forests and used reduced-carbon concrete for the foundation.”

Cement itself was the foundation for the project team's sustainability achievements. Ireland is a lead proponent of using ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBS) in concrete, which saved 10,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being released into the air, according to The Engineers Journal. In the long term, GGBS is so durable that it can double the lifespan of a building.

All told, the net impact of the building's construction on the environment was zero—meeting the government's long-term green goals. The facility will operate in accordance with the International Organization for Standardization's 14001 environmental management standard, with ongoing efforts such as recycling and sustainable energy systems.

The CCD may also be good for the economy. Ireland's plans to grow its number of business visitors should benefit significantly from the CCD project, says Alex Connolly, head of communications for Fáilte Ireland, a Dublin-based government agency promoting tourism in the country.

All signs point to a smooth wrap-up and opening later this year. So far, 53 events have been confirmed at the center, with 750 delegates from the European Union Geriatric Medicine Society getting the first look. These bookings will pump more than €73 million into the country's economy, Mr. Connolly predicts.

If the luck of the Irish holds out, the CCD project will cement Dublin's role as an international convention destination. PM




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