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Project Review: Success for Curragh Racecourse’s new grandstand

The Curragh Racecourse in County Kildare, Ireland, reached its 2019 finale in October, celebrating the culmination of a landmark season of high-calibre horse racing.

The renowned racecourse reopened its doors in May with a new grandstand, parade rings, and museum wing, as well as completely refurbished stable blocks. Designed by Grimshaw, Dublin-based architects Newenham Mulligan & Associates and engineers Aecom, the dramatic scheme celebrates the history and tradition of the Curragh – Ireland’s spiritual home of horse racing.

The redevelopment creates a sense of arrival, atmosphere and excitement, with world-class facilities and amenities linked to a major new grandstand, which itself forms a heroic centrepiece. Within the grandstand are hosting facilities, restaurants, bars and superb viewing platforms, creating a fantastic experience for all racing fans.

Celebrating the unique landscape of the Curragh, the main grandstand is comprised of three simple elements that are respectful to the local plain, with the roof cutting a dramatic and elegant silhouette across the sky. Marked out by the soaring roof, the redeveloped site creates anticipation on race day by bringing spectators together across one exemplary viewing terrace that directs attention to the spectacle of Irish flat racing.

Designed as a powerful floating horizontal form, the grandstand’s dramatic cantilever roof celebrates the Curragh’s expansive, open landscape and the new racecourse structures set within it. Viewed from near and afar, the roof gives the area a unique and distinctive character and identity.

Inspired by the surrounding Curragh plains and grasslands, materials for the new grandstand reflect the local flora, geology and the rural context. The roof’s copper colour references the rural Irish vernacular and the agricultural heritage of Kildare, while the contemporary continuous roof soffit structure is comprised of aluminium sinusoidal panels, which provide a homogenous and breath-taking appearance contrasting with the rolling countryside.

Connectivity and circulation are important aspects of the design and, surrounding the central building, all public spaces, refreshment areas and the proposed Racing Museum are interconnected. Well-organised, open circulation creates continuity between events, the parkland setting and social gatherings.

The racing cycle, the movement and flow between the parade rings, the betting areas, the hospitality areas and the racetrack are all intrinsic parts of the race day experience. A series of public spaces provide and promote different activities, and each area has a distinctive atmosphere and identity, set within the overall vision for the site.

Grimshaw designed the interior of all the public areas, bars and the majority of the private suites. The interior design responds to the surrounding landscape and embraces the architectural palette to provide a contemporary aesthetic, while also drawing on the rich heritage of the venue, and the materials, textiles and craft of the local area. Common elements unify the communal areas within the hospitality facilities, and each restaurant and bar offer their own unique atmosphere and palette, ensuring a variety of spaces to be enjoyed by every racegoer.

Blending concrete and brass together with the warmth of other materials, such as natural stone, leather and timber, creates rich, calm and welcoming spaces. The materiality is intended to mellow with age, providing a timeless back drop to the thrill and anticipation that encapsulates race day.

Sustainability is at the heart of the redevelopment, with a focus on lean design and intelligent use of materials, including cement replacements, recycled steel, and the adoption of rainwater attenuation and harvesting as part of a sustainable drainage system. Natural ventilation in the champions hall, museum and bistro restaurant utilises the exposed thermal mass of the concrete frame and is supplemented by smart sensors and efficient systems designed to maximise daylight in all public spaces.

Kirsten Lees, managing partner of Grimshaw’s London studio, said: “It’s with great excitement that we’re able to celebrate the finale of the new Curragh Racecourse’s 2019 season. The Grandstand roof soars across the sky, cutting a shape that we hope is becoming as familiar and loved to fans of the sport as the history of the ground itself. We look forward to the continuing success of the new era of Irish horse racing and are pleased to add a fantastic project to our growing sports portfolio.”

Grimshaw’s Kirsten Lees is one of 40+ speakers at our TDS 2019 event in London this month