Designed by Craftstudio, a new digital hub in Edgeworthstown has breathed new life into a protected structure while enabling growth of the region’s economy
In Edgeworthstown, Co Longford, the former Ulster Bank is a landmark building, located north of the Main Street. A protected structure built in the Queen Anne Revival style, it ceased operating as a bank in 2017, lying derelict until it was acquired by a local voluntary community group, CO:WORX, with a view to creating a digital hub in the town.
The new facility, which opened in March 2022, provides vibrant collaborative and co-working spaces and lettable office accommodation, acting as a launch pad for innovative start-up businesses and new entrepreneurs in the local community. A contemporary, brick clad extension to the structure provides a training, education and development centre to complement the digital hub. The development centre is a gateway to education, employment and wellbeing in the local community, providing training, reskilling and upskilling opportunities.
The accommodation provided in the digital hub includes a community and exhibition space, canteen facilities, meeting rooms, seven offices ranging from 12sq m to 24sq m and a hot desk space. The office accommodation has been configured to be adaptable to allow companies to grow within the facility. The development centre includes a training suite to accommodate 25 people and a podcast and recording studio.
In composing the extension to the structure, the architects endeavoured to ensure it remained subservient to the former bank, that the form and presence of the historic building along Main Street were retained. The extensive render decoration to the front façade, which contributes significantly to the character of the building, was repaired and retained. This detailing contrasts with the restrained detailing of the dark brick extension.
The aim of CO:WORX is to stimulate economic growth in the locality, providing the latest technological advances to allow people to return to work in their community, increase spend in the local economy and strike a better work/life balance. The adaption of the derelict structure was key to this approach, supporting and acting as a catalyst for the regeneration of the town. Edgeworthstown had a commercial vacancy rate of 26.9%, the third highest rate in Ireland; re-energising the built heritage of the town was extremely important to the community group.
Sustainability is an integral part of the CO:WORX ethos – minimising its carbon footprint as well as creating inspiring, flexible working environments was key. The adaptive reuse of the historic bank was hugely important in this regard. In developing design proposals, the architects sought to utilise as much of the historic fabric of the building as possible, reducing the energy associated with demolition and associated waste removal and the subsequent raw materials needed for the construction of new elements.
The majority of the main walls, both internal and external, all floor structures and the roof structure and coverings were all retained intact. Complementary technologies were incorporated to improve the qualities of these elements including a breathable wood fibre insulation to the external wall for both acoustic and thermal values, the addition of acoustic insulation to the floor structures and additional insulation to improve the thermal performance of the roof structure. Energy demand for the building is provided by an air to water heat pump, with a building management system installed to support ongoing monitoring of energy usage.
Michael McDonnell Managing Editor of Irish Construction Industry Magazine & Plan Magazine