Touch Up

A Project Team Reveals A Better Home For An Irish Art Institution


It started with a drip—and ended with a splash. A leaking roof at the National Gallery of Ireland in 2011 turned into an opportunity to tackle a series of long-overdue repairs. The extensive construction required to replace the roof was motivation to launch a six-year, €25.6 million renovation project that would transform the 153-year-old building, home to a collection of art dating to the 14th century.

To determine the most essential needs, the project team from Heneghan Peng Architects held extensive briefings with the National Gallery and the project's two other funders: Ireland's Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and its Office of Public Works. Together, they conducted thorough studies of the gallery's two original wings and their systems to ensure the restoration project would accommodate visitors and attract international artwork for decades to come.

The 1864 Dargan Wing and 1901 Milltown Wing were closed during the entire project so teams could make critical upgrades. Including a construction buffer zone, the combined space makes up 80 percent of the gallery. To ensure no artwork was damaged during renovations, all construction had to take place at least 8 meters (26.2 feet) from any art.

By the time the gallery reopened in June, the project team had reconfigured the layout and entrance so both were more accessible and provided better traffic flow—which was key to meeting a requirement for more effective emergency evacuation routes. The team also installed an air conditioning system to control humidity and better preserve artwork. That environmental improvement was necessary for the gallery to secure loaned art from international museums.

“The gallery couldn't keep its paintings in those wings anymore,” says Roisin Heneghan, architect and project director, Heneghan Peng Architects, Dublin, Ireland. “We had to bring the buildings up to an acceptable level of control.”

The newly covered courtyard at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, Ireland



Art Work

2011: The restoration of the National Gallery of Ireland begins.

2012: The team completes work with lighting experts to devise new skylights.

2013: The construction contractor is selected.

2014: The project uncovers a walled-off window in Dargan Wing.

2015: The underpinning is completed, connecting the new energy center's services to the gallery's historic wings.

January 2017: The team begins moving paintings out of storage and rehanging the collection.

June 2017: The National Gallery reopens.




During the planning phase, the project team realized visitors had a hard time navigating the two galleries and understanding how the spaces connected to each other. “We had to improve the experience of walking through the buildings, so that people did not feel lost all the time,” Ms. Heneghan says.

The key to the gallery's future lay in its past. An open-air courtyard between the two galleries had been sitting unused, its existing windows blocked off. So the design team created a new usable space by constructing a glazed roof over the courtyard and by reopening the gallery windows to let light in, says Colman Stack, project monitor, Rogerson Reddan, Dublin, Ireland. Rogerson Reddan provided project monitoring services for the renovation.

The project team enclosed the courtyard with a glass roof and installed stairs and elevators inside the courtyard—which now serves as a central circulation space for visitors. “So when people move around the gallery, they can look into it and know where they are,” Ms. Heneghan says.


Light Touch

Replacing the skylights in the original wings was a must: They leaked both water and air, and their glass provided no control over sunlight entering the galleries. A costly remote-controlled skylight with movable louvers, or panels to limit sunlight, would have been easy to install but difficult to maintain, Ms. Heneghan says.

The team gleaned that lesson from an earlier project: When the National Gallery of Ireland built its Millennium Wing in 2001, the skylights’ movable louver system frequently broke and required ongoing maintenance. “We could not leave the museum with a system that cost a fortune to maintain,” Ms. Heneghan says.

So the project team consulted an outside expert, Austrian lighting designer Bartenbach, which worked with German manufacturer Siteco to create fixed louvers that filter out direct light. The louvers are specifically designed for the amount of sunlight at the gallery. The louvers are also completely sealed between two layers of glass, so the museum will not need to maintain them.


“We had to improve the experience of walking through the buildings, so that people did not feel lost all the time.”

—Roisin Heneghan, Heneghan Peng Architects, Dublin, Ireland

New Energy

The gallery needed an entirely new mechanical and electrical system. But the team wanted to preserve limited space in the old wings for art rather than building services. So it decided to place the new system underground, in an “energy center” below the museum's forecourt. “By taking the plant outside, we minimized the risk and impact to the old buildings,” Ms. Heneghan says.

The team then had to connect the underground energy center to the two wings. Its survey work revealed the 1901 building entrance was not structurally sound enough to support a tunnel under its basement to house the underground connections, so the team tunneled under the 1864 building, creating underpinnings there.

“The vibrations associated with the underground work had to be closely monitored due to its proximity to these historic buildings with their priceless works of art,” Mr. Stack says.

Uncovering Risk

Over the years, the gallery had walled off some of its windows to create more space to hang art. This resulted in a darker, less appealing environment. While the team already planned to uncover several walled-off windows, it discovered another window in the Dargan mezzanine during construction.

Reopening the window meant additional work—and cost—such as installing extra heating beneath the exposed window. That change had to be reviewed and approved quickly by the National Gallery, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Office of Public Works. “Obviously in construction, time is money,” Ms. Heneghan says.

While her team's efforts to work with the contractor to price the change and secure approval went smoothly, the need for Ms. Heneghan and her team to maintain robust communications with the contractor to more quickly identify unknowns was constant.

Contractually, Ms. Heneghan's team was obligated to answer any query on-site within 10 days. But to help mitigate the risk of construction delays during the project's final year, one of her team members stayed on-site at all times so that whenever a change arose, her team could immediately flag it, price it and get it approved.





Roisin Heneghan

Architect and project director, Heneghan Peng Architects

Location: Dublin, Ireland

Experience: 30 years

Other notable projects:

img The Palestinian Museum, completed in 2017 outside Ramallah. It is the first LEED-certified building in the West Bank. Ms. Heneghan served as project director.

img Giant's Causeway visitor center in Northern Ireland, completed in 2012, is built with basalt from the same lava flow responsible for the volcanically formed attraction. Ms. Heneghan served as project director.

Career lesson learned: “Do as much survey work, investigations and preparations as you can before the project begins—especially with old buildings.”

“The facility is now inviting to everybody.”

—Roisin Heneghan


Ramping Up Access

Upgrading the museum's accessibility to meet modern requirements wasn't easy. The team couldn't provide ramps and elevators at every set of stairs without ruining the aesthetic and physical layout. Instead, it made the museum's spaces accessible to different people in different ways: For instance, there might be stairs in one gallery location, then a ramp or elevator in another.

For this approach to work, however, the project team had to secure the buy-in of those who would ultimately benefit from an accessible museum. So it convened a group of representatives from disability groups, reviewed the plan with them and communicated the alternative routes. In the final six months of construction, the team again brought the disability representatives on-site. At that point, because it had already solicited their input, the team faced only minor changes that had a minimal impact on the budget—such as adding automated openers to two doors.

“The facility is now inviting to everybody,” Ms. Heneghan says. PM



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