The Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre in County Clare, Ireland, was developed on the concept of a subterranean building, taking its design and influences from the natural materials and forms of the area in order to minimise its impact and footprint on its visually prominent rural landscape setting.
Given the unique and sensitive nature of the site, the main priority for the design was the use of the existing landscape and organic forms, taking precedence over any building to be located there. The development would not compete with, nor distract from, the natural attraction of the ‘Cliffs’.
The resultant building has no façades as such, with the exception of the south facing ‘elevation’, where only the entrance doorway and the organic forms of the upper restaurant windows are expressed. The main entrance has been discreetly set into the remodelled landscape so that it is only visible immediately upon approach.
Since opening in 2007, the visitor centre has won numerous awards, including Best Public/Cultural Building at the 2007 Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI) Awards, the Commercial Interiors Award at the 2007 International Federation of Interior Architects (IFI) Awards and the Exhibition Design Award at the 2007 and 2008 Institute of Designers in Ireland (IDI) Awards.
A structural challenge
The nature and uniqueness of the building posed a significant structural challenge. The centrepiece of this exceptional building is a circular exhibition space that has a dome roof structure with a diameter of 25 metres. It was constructed in a quarry carved out of the hillside rock. Upon completion, the building was buried and the hillside reinstated, leaving only the entrance doors and the two feature windows visible. The building needed to withstand extreme loading from the reinstated hillside.
The feature ‘dome’ is not a true dome but is more of a curved shell which is supported by a cylinder formed by the concrete retaining walls. To create the open spaces within the other parts of the building, the structure is supported at roof level by large beams spanning between the outer walls which are, in turn, hidden within the hillside. The roof over the restaurant at the front of the building incorporates a large plenum for ductwork, sprinklers and electrical services.