Completed in 1966, the boiler house in Ballymun was the largest civic heating scheme in Ireland and the UK, which supplied heat and water to 3,000 flats in the town. When the regeneration of Ballymun necessitated the demolition of the flat complex, the boiler house was also scheduled for demolition. This changed, however, in 2014 when the Rediscovery Centre, Dublin City Council and the European Commission (under its Life+ funding programme) joined forces to save and repurpose the iconic building.

The aim was to repurpose the building as a prototype ‘3D textbook’ a novel concept in experiential learning which capitalises upon the educational value within the built, natural and cultural environment.

Ground was broken on the site in early 2016 and the building completed in early December 2016. The reimagined building resulted in an exemplar eco-centre which won the National ‘Green Construction Award’ in 2017 and SEAI’s Green Building award in 2018.

It is also in the running for a European Commission Life Award 2020, with the winners being announced in the autumn. It is now the Rediscovery Centre’s headquarters and an international eco-destination.

Repurposing of old boiler house

The reuse of the old Ballymun Boiler House showcases the environmental and economic benefits that come from seeing waste as an opportunity. The building is a novel interactive experience and learning environment designed to stimulate curiosity in the natural, physical and cultural environment and promote sustainable living for the circular economy.

Throughout the project, opportunities for reuse were given preference. The original concrete and steel flooring was maintained, and a staircase and upstairs floor built using Irish fir and plywood respectively.

The outside of the building was finished using recycled brick, and cladded with old louvres from the original boiler house. Interior glass and the west-wall insulation were sourced as leftover materials from the wider local area regeneration. Where new materials were needed to complete the building, they were sourced as locally as possible.

Thermal and PV solar panels

Thermal and PV solar panels were fitted to the roof with the aim of ensuring 80% energy self-sufficiency. The building fabric for the east and south facing walls were constructed using hempcrete (a mixture of hemp and lime) which creates a breathable membrane that also efficiently retains heat. The west elevation was developed using timber frame and insulated with salvaged sheep’s wool.

Recycled paint from the Rediscovery Centre’s Rediscover paint project was used throughout the building having been previously salvaged from nearby recycling centres.

Furniture and fittings also destined for landfill were upcylced and reused for the building completion. Overall wherever possible materials were specifically selected based upon their ability to demonstrate best practice reuse, recycling or recovery.

Wiser LIFE project

The Wiser LIFE project in Ballymun is one of 15 projects shortlisted for a Life Award 2020 under the 'Environment' category (the winning projects will be announced in the autumn).

Ireland's waste management performance suffers as a result of insufficient planning of future treatment capacity, an absence of waste prevention on the political agenda, insufficient use of economic and legal instruments, and inadequate municipal waste recycling.

The generation of municipal waste peaked in Ireland in 2007 at 3,397,683 tonnes and has since decreased slightly year on year. However, forecasts predict that the total amount of municipal waste generated in Ireland will increase by about 830,000 tonnes within the next 15 years.

Landfill is still the main method of dealing with such waste, even though only about 11 years of capacity are estimated to remain. In 2009, 69% of recovered waste went abroad for reprocessing.


The main objectives of the WISER LIFE project were to reduce and reuse waste, divert it from landfill, create green jobs, reduce resource consumption, and improve access to innovative ecological education systems.

It built upon the activities of coordinating beneficiary the Rediscovery Centre, in demonstrating best practice in waste reuse and preparation for reuse, and associated beneficiary DCC, which was set up by Dublin City Council to develop and implement a plan for the physical, economic and social regeneration of Ballymun.

The project aimed to create an innovative education centre to demonstrate excellence in reuse, supported by a cluster of resource-efficient enterprises, and complemented by environmental education, training and research programmes.


WISER LIFE delivered a new methodology for education in sustainable development. During an 18-month design period and 12 months of construction, the project team transformed the disused boiler house in Ballymun, Dublin, into a novel 3D textbook and learning space for the reuse of waste, called the Rediscovery Centre (RDC).

The building brings together small enterprises and acts as a focus for life-long learning programmes for schools, universities, corporate organisations and community groups. The project offers an exemplary best practice example for waste reuse in building construction and renovation.

The RDC opened to the public in early 2017. Its demonstration and innovation aspects are attracting many visitors and practitioners. The centre is helping to build capacity for the green sector in Ireland, and provides a living laboratory for the circular economy and collaborative research projects.

As a result, opportunities are continually emerging with local and overseas universities and municipalities. An eco-cluster of resource-efficient social enterprises has been created and the social, economic and environmental benefits of this co-location have been realised. The eco-cluster includes small enterprises that share their expertise in courses, in areas such as fashion, furniture and bike maintenance skills.

More than 30 exhibitions at the Rediscovery Centre were developed and installed during the project to encourage interaction and active learning, a trail was established to take visitors on a tour of the building to highlight key points of interest, and the cafe is very popular with the local community.

More than 60 targeted lifelong learning programmes were developed to further strategic goals of national waste policy. During the lifetime of the project, more than 30,000 people participated in RDC programmes.

Design buildings for deconstruction

The demonstration value of this project is very high, and the RDC is supporting others who aspire to replicate the concept and methodology. Some recommendations from the reuse case study are the need to design buildings for deconstruction, to regard durable elements of the building structure as valuable local infrastructure, and to keep records of building materials to improve their reuse ability.

The project delivers transitional change and inspires new thinking with respect to circular economy solutions and the support of the UN global Sustainable Development Goals.

It supports a range of EU policy, including the 7th Environmental Action Programme, the Waste Framework Directive and its amendment incorporating the Circular Economy package, the Resource Efficiency Roadmap, the Communication on Sustainable Consumption and Production, and the Europe 2020 Strategy.

The project team reported impressive environmental benefits due to the repurposing of the boiler house. The buildings reconstruction reused approximately 17.5t of main steel structure, 3.5t of ancillary steel structure, 260t of concrete slab structure, and reused 281t of construction and demolition waste.

The reuse of the existing structures resulted in an avoidance of approximately 55t of embodied carbon, based purely on production impact. The energy consumption of the building was reduced by 40% compared to a 'do-nothing' scenario, and on-site electricity generation of 19% was achieved.

The eco-cluster enterprises actively diverted valuable resources from landfill by repairing and reusing products and reintroducing them to the value cycle. The expected target of 22t diversion rate per annum has not yet been met, but is likely to be achieved in the coming years (diversion rate of 15.7t in 2017).

Showed that building structures are adaptable and reusable

The reconstruction of the boiler house therefore demonstrated that building structures are adaptable and reusable, and that their environmental performance can be improved to a very high standard. This achievement was recognised through a National Green Construction Award in February 2017.

The project has created employment and promoted social inclusion in the Ballymun area. By housing all of RDC's operations in one energy-efficient building operating costs have been reduced, helping to secure the long-term viability of the non-profit social enterprises.

The 3D textbook acts as both a hub for the community and as a destination to attract visitors to the area from across greater Dublin, Ireland and the EU.

This is a central part of the regeneration of Ballymun, helping to create a stronger sense of community around the theme of environmental sustainability and helping to reconnect one of the most deprived and isolated areas of Dublin to the wider world.

Sustainable features

The building has a number of sustainable features that include but are not limited to: 

  • Passive design: optimising orientation for solar gain;
  • Heating and electricity from alternative, renewable and sustainable sources;
  • Rain water harvesting and grey water recycling;
  • Composting toilets;
  • The incorporation of green roofs and a green living wall;
  • Onsite reed bed system;
  • Building construction and landscaping to encourage biodiversity;
  • Materials selection having regard to their reuse, recycled, natural and sustainable properties;
  • Urinal waste water collection and use for plant nutrition within the internal comfrey wall.