The WISER LIFE project transformed an old 1960s civic heating building into a new educational and cultural centre, making it Ireland’s first ‘3D textbook’ for social, sustainable building renovation.
The Boiler House in Ballymun, Dublin, was scheduled for demolition until it was offered a new life through the project WISER LIFE. This iconic city building is now home to The Rediscovery Centre, a highly adapted, energy-low experimental cultural and learning centre.
Following 18 months of design planning and a year of construction, the renovated building opened in June 2017. It is a standing monument to the circular economy and EU policy on waste, exhibiting best practices from the construction phase, to building materials, to daily use and development.
‘Designing out waste’
The retrofit process seized on every chance to prioritise reuse and to present waste as an opportunity. During reconstruction works, around 280 tonnes of construction and demolition waste was reused, paint was salvaged from local recycling centres and landfill-bound furniture and fittings repurposed.
A waste management plan was put in place for the construction. This identified important savings such as which parts of the original building to retain, and kept a firm check on waste shipments.
New materials were selected on the basis of sustainable sourcing, insulating performance and environmental impact. For example, a mixture of hemp and lime known as hempcrete was used for several walls. Hempcrete has a negative CO2 footprint and offers high quality permeable insulation. This was the first time it had been used in a public building in Ireland.
Long-term focus on reuse is at the heart of the building. The centre hosts 4 social enterprises which divert waste from landfill and generate profits for training the long-term unemployed.
Rediscover Fashion, Rediscover Furniture and Rediscover Cycling all offer products from upcycled materials which are sold at an on-site Eco Store. as well as hands-on workshops for the public on repairs and restoration techniques.
Rediscover Paint collects paint from recycling centres and reprocesses it to be sold to the local community. By doing this, less paint is thrown away or incinerated, and the public has access to affordable decorating materials. Rediscover Paint also provided the paint to renovate the building.
Passive design, self-sufficiency model
Every part of the centre is geared towards educating people about sustainability and encouraging positive change towards the environment. Parts of the construction work are exposed to show how the process was conducted, viewing panels and portals are found everywhere giving access to the building’s innards, and info boards are placed in the surrounding grounds explaining ecological impacts, gardens and flora planted.
A recent visit from Dublin city’s education and training board, who came with delegates from Germany, Estonia, Hungary, Malta and Spain, was one of the hundreds of groups of people who have visited the centre to see how large buildings can work towards self-sufficiency. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also visited in January 2019, showing the extent of interest the centre has generated.
More locally, one centre member described the “great buy-in from the local community”, as well as the many NGOs that use the centre for projects and community building.
Another chapter in this ‘3D textbook’ demonstrates exemplary resource efficiency and energy management. Using what is known as passive design, the centre has many energy and resource-saving features throughout, including
- passive ventilation to allow air to circulate naturally
- a combined solar thermal and biomass stove heating system that heats only the spaces being used and can be scheduled in line with network demand
- rain water collection, an onsite reed bed system, urine waste water collection to feed plants, and grey water recycling
The centre’s combined solar and thermal power system works as a mini grid, and is helping demonstrate how buildings can integrate their own supply of power into a wider smart grid network.
Demonstration goes hand in hand with education. To support ambitions to make the 3D textbook a teaching tool, WISER LIFE developed a suite of education programmes offering life-long learning for primary, secondary and tertiary students, as well as community and corporate organisations.
Thanks to effective outreach, the project team secured a 3-year strategic partnership with Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency in 2018. This will support efforts to make the Boiler House into a national centre in Ireland for the circular economy.
WISER LIFE ran from 2014-2018