On a warm sunny afternoon, there’s no more vibrant or exciting place to spend a couple of hours in Dublin at the moment than Grand Canal Square.
The city’s first new public square since the Georgian squares were laid out in the 18th century, the area has been completely rejuvenated over the past 10 years. Bars and restaurants, a theatre designed by Daniel Liebskind and creative landscaping by American landscape architect Martha Schwartz all contribute to the bustling, thriving atmosphere in the Square. Now, the recently opened Marker Hotel has added another dynamic to the Dock and has solidified the area’s status as Dublin’s most exciting and successful hub.
The 187-room hotel featuring rainforest showers and sunken baths, a 23m infinity pool and an open-air rooftop bar with 360-degree views already has weddings and conference bookings and employs about 180 people. It took a while to get here though and everyone will be familiar with the hotel’s journey to completion.
Designed in 2004 by Portuguese architect Manuel Aries Mateus with McCauley Daye O’Connell as Executive Architects and Interior Designers, the onset of the recession meant that the hotel didn’t open its doors to the public until 2013 after being bought over in 2012 by Brehon Capital partners and Mid-west Holdings. However the wait has obviously been worth it, with the hotel receiving an outstanding reception from guests and critics alike. McCauley Daye O’Connell, who also acted as Executive Architects on the adjoining Bord Gais Energy Theatre and HQ office development, were responsible for taking the design and translating it into a hotel design suitable for the Irish context and climate.
That architectural concept for the hotel building envisaged a single coastal form eroded over time. This erosion formed a series of public spaces on the ground floor of the hotel. This concept encompassed the hotel bedrooms located overhead, which were envisaged as a honeycomb of openings formed through the form giving the bedrooms their unique shape and design. The walls of the bedrooms wrap out to a single frameless picture window. The chequerboard façade form is constructed from lightweight glass reinforced concrete (GRC) panels with full height glazing, which reduced the enormous stresses on the cantilever structure below and facilitates the manipulation of the architectural form. The mass of the bedroom block is balanced onto just three columns at ground floor level. The eroded voids between these column supports create the public spaces of the hotel lobby, bar and restaurant.
To express the geometry of this design concept, the ground floor public areas are wrapped in a fully glazed 6 metre high façade enabling views into and through the building, facilitating visual and physical connection with the Square. To achieve the openness of the entire ground floor Arup, the structural engineers, designed the most complex cantilevered bridge structure ever built in Ireland, which is a 67 metres in length and has no intermediate supports. The bridge allows the hotel to have the largest open lobby in Dublin with uninterrupted sightlines from the bar to the restaurant and a flexibility to allow one to intermingle with the other when desired.
The geometry of the external façade is wrapped down and inwards to form the ceiling of the public areas. The regular panels of the outside are transformed internally with twists and folds to create a dramatic fluid space where the ceiling and walls are one, folding down to rest on the seamless floor of polished terrazzo. The palette of materials was carefully chosen to create a vibrant contemporary aesthetic with warm-tone polished plaster for the walls and ceiling with a highly polished grey terrazzo floor which glitters with glass and mirror flecks catching the light from the full height south facing glass façade.
The hotel boasts the city’s largest open lobby, allowing for uninterrupted views from the bar to the restaurant. Structural engineers Arup achieved this by designing the most complex cantilevered bridge structure ever built in the country. The Architect Dan Daye attributes the success of the project to collaboration between the design team and contractor. ‘A creative dynamic was developed and maintained throughout the project, with everyone seeking to deliver something truly unique in a demanding timeframe.’
The bar has been clad in polished bronze with dark leather panels and bronzed mirrors above. Carpets are in plums, ochres and moss colours inspired by native flora; sofas and armchairs are covered in Italian leathers and fabrics. The sculptural fireplace is lined with black-patinated steel, bronze and has an Irish limestone hearth.
Everyone says the hotel’s crowning glory is the city’s first rooftop terrace and bar which can hold up to 200 people and comprises a glazed pavilion and a large decked seating area with a mix of covered and open air spaces. Guests can enjoy panoramic views of the whole city centre as well as views down as far as the Sugarloaf to the south and as far as Howth Head to the north. The rest of the roof has been covered with the country’s first sustainable city sedum roof on an existing building. This which was closely monitored by Dublin City Council as a pilot project for the application of a green roof to an existing building.
Billings Design Associates acted as facade consultants on the project. ‘The façade of the new rooftop bar is quite unique and quite similar to the Gansevoort Hotel in the Meatpacking district in New York’, according to Colman Billings. ‘It’s an exposed site yet the design team wanted to make it feel as open as possible. That’s why there are features like the tall glass balustrades with specialist sliding doors which open fully to connection the inside and outside spaces. They have a very good air seal so guests will be able to sit behind the barriers during the summer months’. Every aspect of the design is extremely precise. If maintenance personnel need to walk on the glass roof to clean it, they can. Highly controlled, barrier-resistant solar glass utilising a toggle glazed system is a key feature of the project; all the glass is retained by toggles and joints removing the need for any caps on the outside achieving a very clean line aesthetic. Colman says the biggest challenge from a facade standpoint was actually getting the white chequerboard GRC back to how it looked six years ago. ‘Once the procedures for cleaning were put in place, it was relatively straightforward. Now it’s a matter of maintaining the facade.’
The rooftop bar was constructed by John Sisk & Son, the firm responsible for the completion and fit-out works for the partially complete hotel. Sisk’s responsibilities included snagging to first, second, third and fourth floor bedrooms; demolition of existing suite partitions on fifth and sixth floors, rebuilding bedroom partitions and completing all finishes including all M&E works. Demolition and alterations to ground floor foyer area and completion of finishes to ballroom, reception, meeting rooms, restaurants, bars and all other areas was also carried out by Sisk, as was the completion of finishes to the spa and swimming pool level including testing and commissioning of the swimming pool, steam room and sauna. Sisk’s brief on the €13.2 million completion phase of the project is comprehensive (they also installed all the furniture and fittings and installed the green roof on the rooftop bar). So what was the biggest challenge from their point of view? According to Paraic Keogh, project director, ‘the biggest challenge was always going to be meeting the very ambitious completion date’. Paraic attributes the achievement of this deadline to the excellent collaborative approach of the entire construction team. Sisk and the design team have been working together in the docklands area for nearly 10 years completing over 1 million square feet of space in the Grand Canal Dock area alone and this established relationship fostered a ‘can-do’ spirit which is scarce in the current adversarial contracting environment. ‘For us, it was different from a lot of projects we’ve worked on previously. Obviously it’s a very significant project architecturally so it’s always a pleasure to work on a building like this; the attention to detail and to quality was second to none.’
Paraic’s favourite part of the hotel is the spa featuring a 23m infinity-edge pool envisaged by the designers as a ‘sanctuary within the city’. Finishes are rich walnut floors with the wet area lined in deep green slate with dark polished plaster ceilings. The SPA also features a gym, full set of treatment and relaxation rooms with hair and beauty facilities. Artwork for the project was chosen by McCauley Daye O’Connell and the Client to compliment the contemporary edgy design and was chosen from a range of artists and photographers who are either Irish born or artists working in Ireland including Michael Warren, Jordi Fornies, Dorothy Cross, Brian O’Doherty, Enda Cavanagh, Peter Monaghan, Daniel De Chenu and Amelia Stein.
A Sleeping Beauty
The bedrooms in the Marker are larger than usual, with a lay-out that alternates on each floor changing in orientation to suit the chequerboard facade. Guests can charge up their smart phone on the table lamps and all the bespoke furniture is made in Ireland. Based in Skibbereen, O’Donnell Design are specialists in manufacturing bespoke hotel bedroom furniture in Ireland, the UK and mainland Europe. The firm supplied all wardrobes, desks, mirrors, headboards, bed lockers, occasional tables and beds for the bedrooms in the Marker, which are 25 to 30% bigger than comparable hotel rooms. Involved in the project from the start, a significant portion of the furniture was manufactured and ready to go when the recession bit and work on the hotel stalled.
“When the hotel eventually got the green light, we were ready to start manufacturing again,” says Director Jim O’Donnell. With all that furniture created specifically for the Marker, was it possible to ‘divert’ it to another hotel? “Furniture is made for specific hotels and specific rooms, you can’t suddenly divert furniture to an alternative premises. The lay-out of the hotel rooms alternate on each floor so we had to ensure the right furniture got to the right room on the right floor at the right time of day. There was a strong element of project management with this job.”
O’Donnell Design are the only furniture manufacturer that actually carries out its manufacturing in Ireland. Says Jim, “We were very happy to be selected by the Marker; it’s a smashing hotel and we’re very pleased to be associated with it.”
The hotel’s managers are aiming for a 5* rating and the luxurious bathrooms reflect the quality expected, with floor to ceiling white marble and designer taps.
Both the construction and completion of the Marker Hotel has provided a much appreciated boost to the Irish economy. Hundreds of jobs were created during its construction and it’s expected that the hotel itself will provide over 300 permanent jobs. The hotel will also undoubtedly stimulate business and revenue in the surrounding area.
There were many designers along the way who contributed to the finished building including those representing hotel operators, hotel chains, potential owners and an entire team of technical experts. All design and build teams involved in the project stress the positive working relationships and collaboration that shaped the construction period and ensured the project completed on time. What was once regarded as something of a black spot in Grand Canal Square is now a triumph of engineering and design excellence and an encouraging example of Irish contracting and design working together to produce an outstanding building.