2013 – Coláiste Ailigh, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal

Architect: McGarry Ní Éanaigh Architects



Coláiste Ailigh is a secondary school of 350 students located on the northeast fringe of Ireland on an elevated and east-sloping site on the outskirts of the town of Letterkenny. The building is organised on this sloping site as a north-south form on two levels with the lower level backed into the hill, leaving the main elevation as east-facing to the view and the playing field; the view to the east is majestic, a silhouette of patchwork creases under a big sky. The main entrance is at the upper level into a foyer and social area that overlooks the volume of the physical education hall below; this hall being at the lower level coplanar with the playing pitch. Horizontal circulation between floors is offset to creating a two story hall with south-facing serial lanterns bringing south light deep into the building; the hall runs the length of the building establishing scale and orientation.


The building form resonates with the landscape, its serial pattern moderated by the contingencies of site and organisation. Cloaked south-facing roof lights bring the sun deep into the length of the building, hooded eyes gazing southwards to Drumkeen. The site had been pasture, a thin layer of damp soil barely covering a bedrock, an amalgam of metamorphic schists randomly protruding and showing blue, grey, and occasionally yellow. The scale and grandeur of the landscape with its particular composition of increment and gesture, and its materiality, all affected the formal and tectonic response. The building form’s materiality is of both colour and texture, rubble local stone and blue painted roughcast dash establish presence and some authenticity of place and location.

Internally, the hue of large precast concrete panels resonates with the external stone, the blue grey relieved by timber elements paralleling the buff highlights in the underlying schist. The main floor through is a moss yellow green, a new ground level manipulated and treated as landscape.

Coláiste Ailigh has an A3 energy rating incorporating rainwater harvesting, roof-mounted pv cells, enhanced insulation and airtightness levels, as well as a sophisticated building management system controlling light, ventilation and heating. The building is orientated on a north south axis with its two story elevation facing east maximising passive early morning solar to coincide with the particular heating load characteristic of a school.

Photographs: Richard Hatch