The building comprises a café, exhibition area and craft-shop including ticket office and car park
The architects’ brief was to provide a bespoke visitors’ reception building for Doolin Cave that would be sympathetic to the existing underground complex and over-ground landscape, to create an indoor-outdoor space, with maybe one or more sides open to the weather, with special emphasis in sustainable design, eco-friendly materials and would be low/neutral carbon emission. Finally, to produce a design that would be 'reclaimed' by the natural surroundings over time.
With the majestic Ivy Cliff as its guardian, the design approach aimed at generating a contemporary building that would blend in and disappear within the existing hills below.
Internally, as the cave itself, the space would be ‘shaped by the water’ and all materials introduced would be kept in the natural state where possible to appreciate their 'honesty', their sculptural qualities.
Externally, the use of local stone for the walls was proposed to emulate the ivy cliffs’, complemented by a green roof as a continuation of the existing hills.
The transparency of the glazed café seating area would also integrate with the existing landscape, allowing the visitor to enjoy the surrounding views to the cliff, Ballinalacken Castle and the hills.
The selection of materials specified reflects and integrates with the characteristics of the site and its surroundings.
The green roof, at the same time as providing shelter and insulation for the premises, also absorbs the rainwater reducing the storm water run-off and creates a natural habitat for local wildlife. This roof contributes to the reduction of heat loss and energy consumption in winter conditions, reduces cooling loads and provides sound insulation.
Internally, the materials were kept in their most natural way possible.
A concrete wall with exposed limestone aggregate reminiscent of the natural walls of the cave, forms the main exhibition area and directs the eye and the flow of the public towards the external entrance of the cave at the back of the building, while walking you through the history of the discovery of the stalactite through explanatory graphic panels.
The design process has resulted in a contemporary building blending harmoniously into the landscape and offering the public a very welcoming and enjoyable experience as a preamble to the ‘Great Stalactite’.