A custom-built experience

An award-winning, multi-million pound new car retail showroom and service centre south of Dublin offers customers a different kind of environment. Phillip Mac Dermott of EMD Architects explains to Jack Wooler how the practice focused on user experience, as well as sustainability, to produce Ireland’s biggest, greenest dealership

Audi’s largest retail and after-sales service centre in Ireland has been constructed, in Sandyford, south of Dublin. Winning the 2018 Irish Construction Industry ‘Retail Project of the Year,’ the project’s designers have utilised glass and a chromatic colour scheme to create a striking building with dynamic geometry. The new state-of-the-art facility has been custom built as a multi-storey terminal, replacing the former facility on the 20,000 m2 site on Bracken Road. A €20m project for Audi Centre, Ireland’s leading Audi dealer, the project was designed by EMD Architects, a long established, Dublin practice. A close knit group of six, all the practice’s projects so far have been in Ireland. Appointed as Master Architects for Audi Ireland, they have designed recent Terminal projects (Terminal is the car maker’s international facility design concept) for Audi Athlone, Cork, Galway, Naas and Wexford. The client for the Sandyford site was Charles Hurst Dublin, a subsidiary of Lookers PLC, a group which sells vehicles through the UK and Ireland. EMD worked closely with Audi Centre Staff and the Lookers Property Team on all aspects of site selection, concept, building design and local authority consent, as well as the delivery of the project. Collen Construction, established in 1810, undertook the build as the main contractor. According to Mac Dermott of EMD architects, “they are one of Ireland’s leading building contractors,” with offices in Dublin, Cork, Germany and Sweden. The company has worked closely with the team at Lookers to deliver the project in 11 months.

The brief

EMD is no stranger to this kind of project, specialising in the delivery of automotive solutions, and having previously worked with Audi, Fiat, Ford, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Peugeot, Renault, SEAT, Skoda, Toyota and Volkswagen. In 2009, Charles Hurst Dublin was appointed by Audi Ireland as its long-term franchise dealership partner in south Dublin, following a review of the retailer network nationally. As a result, operations commenced from temporary premises in Ballsbridge, Dublin. The new scheme proposed the demolition of an existing commercial building and the construction of the new facility. The building itself comprises both a two-storey motor showroom, as well as a three-storey building to facilitate other elements such as parking, service and storage. Phillip Mac Dermott explains further: “To continue to operate in the longer term, a new facility was required to meet the brand requirements of Audi Ireland and Audi AG in Germany. “The long-term requirements were developed as a result of a study by Audi AG, setting standards for brand exclusive facilities, as well as sales and services.” The intention of Audi Ireland was for a single operator to represent the brand in both north and south Dublin, with the latter being located on the site in Sandyford. The south Dublin location had to be of sufficient capacity to display 22 new passenger cars internally, along with 18 service work-bays, and ancillary areas for customer parking, used car display, car storage and valet areas. Audi is a premium brand, and so the building needed to reflect this. The facility had to be relevant to its audience, and a luxury brand required a luxury home. EMD have achieved this through meticulous attention to detail in the design, including a porous, detailed facade. In order to encourage customers to completely engage with the Audi experience however, EMD have designed a facility that impresses not just aesthetically, but in its function and sense of being.

Designed to belong

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council issued a Notification of Grant of Permission for the scheme on 16 November 2016. Now finished, after opening its doors in November last year, the building takes form as a ‘vertical structure’, with a dynamic, curved geometry, incorporating a significant portion of glazed elements which allow for strong daylighting. The site comprises 0.52 hectares, located off Junction 14 of the M50. The surrounding buildings are of varying uses, including hotel, medical, commercial and office, with established heights from two to six stories, allowing the new building to blend seamlessly into the area. Within the Sandyford Business District, the area is equipped with ‘leading edge’ infrastructure and facilities, being 10 km south of Dublin, which in part inspired the choice of site. Philip Mac Dermott explains how the site affects the project: “The building’s location and orientation is very much dictated by the proposed Dublin Eastern Bypass and Bracken Road extension, however the building was designed to maximise the relationship to the Drummartin Link Road and the proposed Bracken Road extension, while addressing the existing Bracken Road.” A concept used worldwide, the showroom element is based on the Audi Terminal design. It is a three storey element 16.5 metres high, clad in semi-transparent anodised aluminium cladding in front of pre-finished wall cladding. The glazed elements are formed in curtain walling, full height to showroom spaces, either 4.5 metres or 6 metres in height. “The secondary glazing elements and doors are overclad in the anodised aluminium cladding, thereby maximising the visual impact of the curtain walling to display spaces,” adds the architect.

A building of three functions

There are many important factors that separate car dealerships from other retail projects. Beyond simply focusing on aesthetics, an effective motor sales facility must help dealers to put infrequent visitors at ease. The customer, whether existing or prospective, must feel comfortable and made to feel they are part of the brand. The new building’s cafe, shop and lounge allow for such comfort, and help customers to relax, which, in theory, generates sales. The project consists of three functional elements: new car display, used car display, and a workshop. These functions are set out in two blocks, their different natures signalled visually through the use of varying building heights and the materials used. Overall the building covers 7,000 m2, along with roof top parking space of 1,400 m2. Internally, at ground floor level, the showroom block consists of a reception, as well as the cafe, shop, lounge, and a service reception, all of which combine to create the comforting experience which sums up the client’s customer service goals. There is a direct link to the customer elements of after-sales and service at this level with the back of house service functions. The first floor level of the showroom block is accessible to customers via escalators, and contains the main body of new car display, Audi Sport, sales areas, and the customer lounge areas. There is a direct link on this floor to the used car presentation areas. The third floor of this block is set back to form a mezzanine overlooking the double height showroom, which, according to Mac Dermott, “offers views to the Dublin Mountains and across Dublin Bay.” The workshop/used car block is housed in a rectangular block, interlinked with the showroom block. Mac Dermott explains further how this works in practice: “Along the west elevation, the service workshop element is conceived as the base to the oversailing element of used car floors.” These are clad in flat architectural wall panels, with horizontal aluminium louvers to the vehicle display area. The east side of this block is dominated by vehicular ramps, overclad in vertically jointed cladding panels. This cladding conceals the ramps, which are set at varying gradients, and hides their structure. On the ground level of this section is an 18-bay service workshop, with ancillary parts storage and offices. There is direct access at this level to the ground floor showroom building. Above this level are two floors for Audi Approved Plus used car presentation, and above that, rooftop parking.

Sustainability

The new Audi Centre showroom is reportedly Ireland’s greenest, with several low-energy solutions included its envelope, as well as a wide range of enhanced service systems aimed at reducing energy consumption. The showroom also hosts a fast-charging vehicle facility for both duel fuel and electric models. “The site is future proofed for the roll out of fully electric E-Tron cars,” says Mac Dermott, “with a dedicated electrical sub-station plus AC and DC charging stations in place.” A sustainable urban drainage system for managing storm-water has been implemented across the project, with elements such as a green roof, rainwater harvesting, permeable paving and bio-retention pond implements. As for the project’s exterior, Mac Dermott tells ADF: “The building envelope was designed to take maximum account of solar aspects to achieve low energy requirements for summer cooling.” He continues: “The enhanced glazing solution actively reduces solar gain, while maximising light transmission and reducing solar glare.” This system further benefits the internal environment and the building energy consumption by reducing heat loss with enhanced u-value.

Award winning

According to project architect Mac Dermott, the building was “very well received” by the client and customers, with the project winning the 2018 Irish Construction Industry ‘Retail Project of the Year.’ The judges were reportedly impressed with the approach taken towards the initial planning stages, as well as the building’s environmental credentials, and the fact that the facility produces a retail experience closer to that of a high street shop, as opposed to the ‘out of town business park’ ambience common among car dealerships. Donal Duggan, general manager at the Audi Centre, has commented on the award, including on the reasons why he believes it was made: “When we started the planning phase of this magnificent building, our aim was to make it a modern retail space that customers could feel comfortable in, so to have won this award in a category that included names that you would traditionally find on the high street is a real achievement for us. “With features such as our own electricity supply providing power to our EV charging stations, we have future proofed the site for years to come. We are really proud to receive this award, which is a real testament to the hard work of everyone involved.” For the large majority of its customers, a visit to the car dealership is a once-in-a-few-years event, whether to purchase their car, or to possibly have a costly repair. Because of this, it inherently constitutes an unfamiliar, somewhat daunting place. While some similar projects perhaps don’t do a lot to alleviate this, EMD architects have succeeded instead in making the building comfortable and welcoming, so that on each visit, the customer can feel much more at home.

PROJECT SUPPLIERS

  • Cladding: Kingspan
  • Aluminium honeycomb facade: AWF Vertriebs GMBH
  • Curtain walling: Schueco UK, Mealey Architectural Facades
  • Specialised doors: Butzbach
  • Metal ceilings: Durlum
  • Floor tiles: Mazzari
  • Specialist lighting: Siteco
  • Furniture: Isaria
  • Workshop equipment: Maha
  • Escalator & lift: Kone