The Ark was designed by Michael Kelly and Shane O'Toole of Group 91 Architects and has received awards and praise for its innovative and contemporary design.
Housed on the site of a former Presbyterian Meeting House (1728), it incorporates the carefully restored front facade of the church. It extends to 1,500 square meters (16,000 square feet) and house a theatre, a gallery and a workshop.
The Ark’s original façade is the only remaining feature of the Presbyterian Meeting House. The wood used in the reception area is made from American White Oak and floors are Portuguese Sandstone. Many of the walls in The Ark are made from exposed concrete – a controversial choice for a building designed for children. However, the choice of material shows how the space has been created to take children seriously.
The Ark’s core space, the Theatre, has been built to intimate proportions so as not to intimidate children. The amphitheatre-shaped space also adds to the feeling of warmth, and ensures that the audience feel closely connected to the performances. Award-winning architect Santiago Callatravas designed the outer doors that open up the Theatre’s stage onto Temple Bar Square.
The ceiling in the Basement was designed by James Scahnlon, one of Ireland's leading stained glass artists, and is intended to represent the underbelly of the ark. The long wooden tabless in this space open up to benches to mimic Church pews, a homage to the building’s Presbyterian roots. The tubes visible in the wall are the air conditioning ducts, and the space also incorporates a "back cabin", which is an intimate space with a skylight meant to mimic a port hole in the ark. The bathroom cubile doors replicate the shape of the Workshop windows.
Long Room (1st floor)
Light streams through from the large windows in this space. The glass sections in the window frames are not uniform because they are handmade. The Presbyterians did not have the technology to role out large glass sheets so they hand-blew smaller panes of glass before pressing these between wooden boards. The decorative surface under the balcony was created in 1998 by Martina Galvin and as part of the “Of Land and Sky” programme, where the artist and 1,500 children used natural materials (woods, dyes, etc) to create patterns. The Eagle Bench was originally commissioned from Owen Crawford for Temple Street Children’s Hospital. It was placed in the waiting room but people kept tripping over it (!) so it found a happy and safe home in The Ark.
Gallery (2nd floor)
The lower height of gallery’s ceiling is to accommodate the size of the theatre space. This is a multi-functional, practical space, with movable walls to change the shape of the room.
Workshop (3rd floor)
The Workshop is situated on the only floor of the building that would not have existed in the original Presbyterian Meeting House. The best light for working artists is from the north, so the four bays in the roof with northern light panels are a very important part of the design. The curved glass wall to the roof garden also helps optimize the light in the building. The mosaics in the roof garden were created as part of the Plant an Idea programme, during wich the artist Laurie O’Hagan worked with children to create mosaics inspired by a trip to the Botanical Gardens.
Fire and Safety in the building
The stairs are built from perforated metal so that the staircase can be ventilated in an emergency. The perforated metal also allows natural sunlight to illuminate the stairwell. The skylight in the roof pops open when the alarm sounds, and in the case of a fire would act as a chimney, allowing smoke to rise through the stairs and out of the roof. Throughout the building, metal and non flammable materials have been used with the intention of isolating any potential accidents. Battery packs in the light fixtures provide emergency lighting in case of a power failure, and windows have been place in the doors as best practice