2019 marks our 15th year, and to celebrate, we’re selecting 15 of our favourite projects from the organisation's history to share throughout the year across print and online platforms.
First up, we’re reflecting on the programme Your Place or Mine?from 2008. This published review focused on the historic context for PLACE and the organisation’s earliest exhibitions and events in its first three years. Conceived as an organisation with a unique remit in Northern Ireland, PLACE was one of a number of Architecture and Built Environment Centres to emerge across the UK and internationally.
In the Introduction to Your Place or Mine?, Barrie Todd, the Chair of PLACE at the time, expressed optimism around the recently formed NI Assembly, excitement towards 'the biggest public sector building programme ever experienced in Northern Ireland' and reflects upon a nation with 'a real sense of identity, stable economies, strong leadership and a broad sense of civic pride'. These developments seemed to be underpinned by a significant regeneration programme in Belfast, including Victoria Square and the Titanic Quarter.
Richard Lutton (former Architecture & Built Environment Policy Coordinator, Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure) and Paul Harron (former Architecture and Public Art Specialist of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland) also mention PLACE as a key delivery method of both the Arts Council of Northern Ireland's Architecture Policy, and central government's policy on Architecture and the Built Environment. Alongside the establishment of PLACE, to ‘raise awareness among architects, local politicians, public sector bodies and the general public... to make information on architecture and urban design fully accessible to the public across Northern Ireland’, Paul Harron outlines that the Arts Council also sought to 'promote critical debate and community participation through funding seminars, exhibitions and publications aimed at a wide audience'.
Marie-Thérese McGivern, former Director of Development, Belfast City Council, outlined the Council’s support for PLACE. She spoke about the significance of community participation and education in relation to people’s physical environment as an essential element of PLACE’s work: 'it was seen as a way of empowering citizens’ sense of self and promoting civil society, giving people the ability to better understand and control their environment'.
The architectural educator Ruth Morrow, who was also closely involved with PLACE in its first 10 years, reflected on the social benefits of engaging people on the formation and function of their environments, in the early part of the 21st Century more than any other: 'We have seen how urban and rural space can become highly territorialized and divisive, provoking insecure and at times primal reactions. It is precisely because it can go so wrong that we do have to bring more people to the table. It is worth remembering of course that as space can have negative implications on people’s lives, so too can it have positive influences'.
Beyond Belfast, essays on Derry (Elegance in a Wild Landscape by Michael Hegarty, later Director of PLACE) and building in a living rural landscape (Rural Design Matters by Richard Griffin) explored the ebb and flow of natural and man-made resources, the retention of long established tradition and sense of regional distinctiveness that contribute to Northern Ireland’s signature character. Both pieces situate subsistence farming and initial scattered communities, tracing the emergence of defensive fortifications (historic and contemporary), and the flow of wealth from the country to the city and back again.
Pertinent issues of the time have not reached workable conclusions 15 years hence, such as climate change and precarity around stability and sustainability (Our Place in the World by Andy Frew); as well as the rise of Urban Design as a means to 'protest against the inhumane environments created by modernist architect planners… antisocial buildings that turn their backs on streets… and sprawling low-density housing developments reliant on car travel' (PLACE and Urban Design, James Hennessey).
Whilst we await decisions on future funding for the financial year ahead, it’s an important time for us to reflect on what and who has gone before us – what worked, what didn’t and the exciting places we’ll go from here. We’re ruminating on all of the things that have changed and those that haven’t, and speculating as to what a further 15 years will look like for our organisation, landscape and people.
The publication also features commissioned writings by Trevor Leaker, former President of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects; Michael Craven, The Chief Executive of the UK Architecture Centre Network, and Morven McFadden, former PLACE Curator.