Last edited 25 Dec 2020

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Castle Hill Event Space

In 2016, the winner of the Award for Excellence in Architectural Technology was Castle Hill Event Space.

Keith Stewart, of GM Design Associates Ltd., explains how the project achieved such a successful outcome.


Few projects can match the new events space for regenerating places and reinvigorating communities. This centre-piece, located just north of Dungannon town centre, illustrates the transformative power of architectural technology on one of the most archaeological important sites associated with the ancient seat of the O’Neill’s, the Flight of the Earls and the Plantation of Ulster.


Mid Ulster District Council’s primary objective was to re-integrate the northern extent of the Castle Hill site which was previously occupied by the Ministry of Defence as a Territorial Army base. One of the constraints imposed by the council was that the design proposals were to incorporate the retention and integration of an existing garage structure that remained on the site.

The completed building comprises of four distinct elements: the old garage which now forms an internal exhibition space, a three-storey viewing tower, the covered external events space and a single storey utility building.


The entrance foyer is formed by a double height reception space and vertical circulation arranged around a continuous art installation that clads three sides of the lift shaft around which a stair winds providing access to the mezzanine gallery and observation deck. The simple language of the existing garage has been applied to the tower where the steel frame has been left exposed expressing its function of carrying the secondary wall, floor and glazing elements.

Leading on from the entrance foyer is the internal events space which has been created within the constraints of the former garage, the result being in a simple rectilinear top-lit space with a single storey wooden box at each end. The original steel roof trusses have been retained, as have the vehicular door opens which have been in-filled with glazed screen and doors to provide physical and visual connections with the adjacent canopy space.

Attached to the gable end of this space is the utility building which houses a commercial kitchen, staff welfare accommodation and separate storage, plant and servicing areas.


The most eye-catching architectural feature of this project is the 22 m diameter tensile fabric structure over granite paving providing 550 sq. m covered events space. This prominent structure incorporates a curved steel frame, tensile fabric to the roof and demountable sidewalls, glazed roof light and oak timber cladding.

Simplicity has been applied to the selection of materials and finishes used reflect the utilitarian aesthetic of the building. Physical and visual lightness also influenced the specification of untreated European oak for the batten and board external cladding.

Floor finishes are ceramic tile or an industrial resin coating, whilst walls are either painted or a repeat of the oak panelling.

Bespoke linear LED display and functional lighting systems were inserted in the vertical timber cladding to dramatically display and highlight building elements.

The viewing deck features uplighting to the steelwork to act as a visual key, with low level lighting for use when the space is open to the public.

The complex project was delivered to an extremely tight timescale to meet European funding conditions. From the outset, it was essential to work rapidly to develop and cost design options and appraise the most cost-effective way of delivering the brief in the available time. During design development, NIEA advised that the amount, depth and type of excavation were restricted given the sensitive nature of the site.

To overcome these restrictions we developed a construction strategy utilising driven mini piles and shallow ground beams that would provide support for a three-storey structural steel frame that in turn supported 150 mm Structural Insulated Panels that formed the external envelope of the building.


This modular construction method resulted in the need for only shallow and limited excavations. This also enabled the building’s main structural elements, steel frame and SIP panels, to be fabricated off-site allowing construction in compliance with the conditions imposed through the Planning Approval, and also completion in significantly less time than traditional methods would have taken.

Vibration monitoring during mini-piling works and protection measures were implemented to ensure no damage was incurred by the Knox-Hannington towers during on-site construction operations. To further reduce construction times, the existing solid block garage structure was retained and insulated internally using premium performance insulated plasterboard to achieve a high degree of thermal comfort.

The building has been extremely well received by the Council and wider public, with the observation deck proving a particularly popular attraction.

This article was originally published in AT Journal Spring 2017.

Written by Keith Stewart, GM Design Associates Ltd.


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