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'Donard Lodge' - spa retreat

Part 2 Project 2010
William Mcgonigle
Queen's University Belfast UK
The principal aim of this thesis was to investigate ‘connection with landscape’. This, within the context of the project (the Mourne Mountains in Southern County Down), led to investigations into how contemporary Northern Ireland attempts to understand its unique landscape and interact with it. The thesis is proposing a new retreat lodge and spa, uniquely located within the mountain range itself, near the small seaside town of Newcastle on the County Down coast.

The site proposed is Thomas' mountain quarry, a granite quarry located below the summit of Slieve Donard (Northern Ireland’s highest peak). The quarry is a highly visible man made scar on the landscape which enjoys spectacular panoramic views across Dundrum bay and the County Down coast.

An early intention with the design was to extend the spatial experiences of the quarry into the building. This manifests itself through ideas of scale, enclosure, the control of light and material choices.

Additional design strategies involved further excavation of granite from the site, in order to create carved spaces. These so called 'carved spaces' will form the basis for much of the building accommodation, enabling the design to be nestled within the mountainside. In many internal spaces, the carved stone will be left exposed, creating a strong juxtaposition between natural and man-made. The resultant building aims to challenge preconceptions in regards to building in the countryside.

This unique site enables the proposition of a more dramatic response and the sculptural tower element (conceived as a faceted shard pulling away from the rock face) together with the conceptual idea of the building as being cut from the mountainside, aim to open a specific dialogue with the surrounding landscape. The site itself is based on the elements of water and earth. I have tried to incorporate the idea of subterranean experience, the pure elemental quality of water and stone, into the design.

Nature; while beautiful can still be vast, disturbing and dangerous. The design is intended to pay respect to this harsh beauty, bracing against the elements and offering a unique vantage point and means of connection to it.

William Mcgonigle

The proposal exploits the author’s familiarity of the Mourne mountains in Co Down and combines this with an intelligent and considered proposal for a disused quarry on the side of Slieve Donard (850m - the tallest mountain in Northern Ireland).

The site overlooks the town of Newcastle, a seaside resort that, despite its dramatic setting, has suffered for many years from underinvestment and insensitive development. A new destination for the town is proposed to create a regenerative affect through the attraction of new visitors.

The proposal for a hotel and spa on the hillside makes use of existing historic routes traversing the hill from the town below which date back to the granite quarrying industry. The scheme was considered on the scale of the ‘big’ landscape structure of the mountain and town, as well as how the building would be encountered by walkers on the hillside.

The resulting architectural proposal creates a very distinctive environment; the internal spaces benefit from the granite quarry location, the spa facilities seemingly being excavated from the rock and the dramatic elevated views from the mountainside location of the public rooms across the Irish Sea. The building combines carefully with the landscape to ensure that the environment is disturbed as little as possible; there is a sense of deliberate isolation from the exterior, the tendency to make external ‘hotel’ spaces has been resisted so that there is a direct engagement with the mountainside. From above the project will still seem very much like a disused quarry floor; both formally and conceptually the project is cut out of the mountain.

The visual representation of the scheme is evidence of the maturity of the work; the author was able to relate the development of the project to specific and precise proposals with regard to the internal spaces from the earliest stages. The relationship between the internal and external spaces was continually considered and tested and this is displayed in the carefully considered and skilfully made visual representations of the project which demonstrate the high level of investigation of the project by the author.


Mr Ian McKnight

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