St. Angela’s College,
St. Patrick’s Hill,
Cork

St. Angela’s College is a long-established 500 pupil girls Secondary School, dating from the late 19th Century, situated on a steeply sloping mid-block site on St. Patrick’s Hill in Cork city centre. We were first commissioned to consider the development possibilities of the site in 1999. The transition from initial feasibility studies to eventual completion of construction works on site was a slow process lasting sixteen years. Over the years we worked closely with the school community, making the case for its continued existence on its inner city site, resisting the prevailing pressures to relocate city centre schools to the suburbs.

Area: 6,000 sqm
Completion: 2015

The eventual project was developed out of a careful process of subtraction and addition, a critical evaluation of the liberating possibilities offered by the restrictive constraints of the context. The school is designed like a hill-town, with city lanes and terraced courts connecting the new and old together, like a topographical miniaturisation of Cork’s urban conditions.

The existing school acquired the neighbouring convent site, allowing it to expand on this restricted urban plot. New interventions work their way down the hill, passing between existing historic buildings. A continuous external route from top to bottom negotiates the 18 metre drop in site levels, connecting orchard garden, courtyards, classrooms, and playgrounds.

Four nineteenth-century buildings were refurbished and two new purpose-designed buildings were added, one for sciences and one for arts. The biggest challenge was to incorporate a full-size sports hall on this confined hillside. A clear-span concrete structure is located on the lowest part of the site. Its roof, at the level of the entrance from the street, makes new ground on the site and provides a sunny terrace and ball-court with views out over the city below.  Another challenge was working with a standard Department of Education secondary school brief to a tight budget on a very complicated and non-standard site. Red sand from Cork red sandstone was added to the mix for the concrete paving, in continuation with the typical street landscape of Patrick’s Hill.

Refurbished to conservation standards and with its services designed to high-performance environmental and energy-saving principles, the school belongs in its place. It is integrated within a conservation area of the city centre. Despite the six-storey drop in ground levels across the sloping site, and the crowded conditions of the building context, all new and refurbished spaces are naturally lit and naturally ventilated. The existing green space of the convent orchard has been incorporated as an outdoor extension of the arts teaching space.

St Angela’s College is an example of sustainable urban development and resilient community life. It is an energy efficient and compact design, equipped to survive into the future on its historically established site. It challenges the tendency towards urban sprawl.  The school has been enabled, by the rigorous application of sustainable principles, to continue its educational mission as a local resource in the city of Cork.