Sunday, 31 May 2009


Image from naughton321 on Flickr

BLDBLOG has an interview with Irish photographer Richard Mosse, who has taken photographs of the Imperial palaces of Iraq (now converted into army bases) for his new project, Breach.

He makes an interesting comparison between these palaces, American McMansions and the effect of the Window Tax on the development of Irish Architecture:

"McMansion is a term borrowed by us in Ireland, where I'm from. Ireland was hard-hit by English penal laws, from the 17th century onward. One of those laws was the Window Tax. This cruel levy was imposed as a kind of luxury tax, to take money from anyone who had it; the result was that Irish vernacular architecture became windowless. The Irish made good mileage on the half-door, for instance, a kind of door that can be closed halfway down to keep the cattle out but still let the light in.

"Aside from this innovation, and from subtleties in the method of thatching, Irish architecture never fully recovered—to the point that, even today, almost everyone in my country chooses their house from a book called Plan-a-Home, which you can buy for 15 euros. And if you have extra cash to throw in, you can flick to the back of the book and choose one of the more spectacular McMansions. Those are truly Saddam-esque."


Thursday, 28 May 2009

Review: Rem Koolhaas - A Kind of Architect

By Eva McDermott

Escalator in Koolhaas' Seattle Central Library - from WatNielsen on Flickr

The past decade has seen Rem Koolhaas’s steady rise to ‘superstar’ architect status. Winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize among others, he was recently named in Times top 100 World’s Most Influential People. So it wasn’t surprising Belfast’s architectural community took interest when Rem Koolhaas: A Kind of Architect screened in the Black Box as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. Introduced by Todd Architects, the screening was moved from the intimate Black Box cafe to the main performance space to cope with demand.

The film makers seem to understand the visual appetite of their audience and A Kind of Architect dashes through Koolhaas’ early life with speedy cuts and surreal animated montages that wouldn’t look out of place in a Monty Python show. The son of an influential writer, Koolhaas initially studied scriptwriting and was involved in making the most expensive film ever produced in the Netherlands, the White Slave. Unfortunately it bombed and Koolhaas turned to journalism, writing social commentary for the Haagse Post before heading to London to begin his architectural studies in 1968.

During his time in London he wrote extensively on the city as an entity and published some controversial papers including explorations of the notion of enclosure, using the Berlin Wall as a starting point. If part of a city is enclosed, ghetto-esque, and all the inhabitants outside are told how wonderful it is inside the walls, will they cease to be satisfied until they too are enclosed within? Narrated by two German voices, soundbite phrases like ‘modulate reality’ are frequently used in the subtitles sitting beneath images of Koolhaas’s theoretical studies and early villa work. Unfortunately, after a while the constant jargon begins to grate and it becomes an effort to keep up with the subtitles.

Thankfully the later two thirds of the film is made up of interviews with members of the happy OMA (The Office for Metropolitan Architecture) family and Koolhaas himself, interspersed with videos and images of Koolhaas’s back catalogue and future projects. OMA was set up in 1975 by Koolhaas and three colleagues and put a firm emphasis on the abstract and theoretical aspects of architecture. So much so that a splinter company, AMO, was formed purely as a think tank to further Koolhaas ideas and investigations that could feed back into the OMA design process.

At just over an hour and a half, A Kind of Architect feels overlong. After the magic of a wandering shot through Porto’s Casa da Musica, the remaining film follows a repeating pattern of OMA interview, achingly cool photomontage, OMA interview, tracking shot of project, OMA interview, photomontage, OMA interview and repeat. The interviews with OMA staff, while giving an interesting insight into the inner workings of Koolhaas’s practice, descend almost into sycophantic meanderings towards the end, giving the air of a Koolhaas propaganda film more than an entertaining and informative look at one of today’s more influential architects.

The last project looked at is the flagship Beijing headquarters for Central China Television which is being run by the newest office, OMA Beijing. Koolhaas himself bemoans the restrictions and loss of faith in architecture he encountered in America and has instead begun to look towards the Far East for progress. When the question of working with a totalitarian regime with a dubious human rights record is raised, the film’s response is to draw a subtle comparison between the CCTV’s new control room and the Panopticon Prison Koolhaas worked on in Arnhem. Both designed to keep an eye on everyone, it can only be hoped that this was a deliberate touch by Koolhaas and a sign he hasn’t lost his critical zealous.

Eva McDermott is an architect working in Dublin and Belfast.


Related: "Rem Koolhaas: A Kind of Architect" from the Alan in Belfast blog

If you are interested in contributing to the PLACE Blog, get in touch!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Forum for Alternative Belfast launch night

PLACE is proud to sponsor the launch of the new Forum for Alternative Belfast (FAB).
Belfast is our city; it’s our environment. It is essential that we create and develop a city that is accessible, connected, and safe; a good place to live in and a good place to invest in.

The Forum seeks to affect change to Belfast’s built environment. We want to do this by raising awareness and by demonstrating alternative ways that our city can be developed. We are a ‘think’ tank and a ‘do’ tank. We offer an independent forum for the discussion and development of ideas about buildings, spaces and the street infrastructure we use every day.

The launch night takes place next Thursday 4th June from 5.30 - 8pm at The Black Box, Hill Street, Belfast.

View the launch night flyer here.

Homepage: Forum for Alternative Belfast

Monday, 25 May 2009

NIEA Archaeology Days 2009

Dunluce Castle - image source

Exploring the history beneath our feet, the NI Environment Agency's Archaeology Days for 2009 have just gotten underway, with (mostly free) events scheduled across Northern Ireland throughout the summer.

"June sees the start of a summer long series of archaeological and historical events and festivities to celebrate National Archaeology Days. There are a wide variety of interesting and exciting events taking place at historical sites and monuments across Northern Ireland."

A particularly interesting event is taking place in Belfast on Wednesday evenings throughout June:

Hidden History - the Past under Belfast’s Streets
Wednesday 3rd, 10th, 17th and 24th June, 6.30pm

Organised by Belfast City Council, tours will be led by Jim O’Neill and Ruairi O’Baoill. Starting at the City Hall, the tours will include insights into the archaeology and development of the city, historic buildings, exciting episodes and characters and anything else they think will be of interest. Wear sensible footwear.
Tours are free, but must be pre-booked
Contact the BCC Culture and Arts Section.
Tel: (028) 9091 8734

Elsewhere, there are tours of Carrickfergus and Dunluce Castle; a walk around the Armagh Observatory; Bangor and Holywood through the ages; visits to Fermanagh's castles; a public excavation at Bellaghy Bawn and in Strabane, minibus and walking tours of prehistoric sites.

Download a PDF of the full programme from the NIEA website

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Non-Iconic Mackintosh on BBC News

Image source

The BBC News site has a bit more on the current exhibition at PLACE, Non-Iconic Mackintosh.

BBC News: In pictures: Lesser spotted Mackintosh

Saturday, 23 May 2009

eBoy Belfast

Belfast by eBoy (click to enlarge) - image source

If you've gone for a stroll or taken a bus in Belfast in the past week or two, you'll probably have noticed a bright, colourful cityscape of Belfast acting as an advertisement for Coca-Cola.

The posters feature mini pixel people, animals, monsters and robots wandering the streets, busking, selling what looks like the Telegraph, juggling, and sunbathing (!), all in the shadows of some of the city's most iconic buildings and structures. There's City Hall (of course), but also the Gasworks, Bittles Bar, and the hills and the docks (complete with a string section onboard a ship that looks remarkably like the Titanic) off to the edges.

They're designed by eBoy, who have been making posters for cities all over the world for a number of years. They recently gave Dublin a similar treatment for Coke. Check out more of their renderings of buildings and cities around the world.

Friday, 22 May 2009

INTBAU Ireland Summer Conference

The Irish branch of the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU) presents its inaugural Summer Conference:

INTBAU Ireland is pleased to announce its inaugural Summer Conference, "Design Quality in Architecture and Urban Design", to be held at the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin 2, Rebublic of Ireland, on 29 June 2009.

The event is sponsored by the Irish Architectural Archive to whom we are very grateful.


09:00 Registration and Coffee

10:00 Welcome to the Irish Architectural Archive
David Griffin, Archive Director, IAA

10:15 Introduction to Speakers and INTBAU
Joe Drew, Chair, INTBAU Ireland

10:25 IAA Background and Resources
Simon Lincoln, Exhibitions Officer, IAA

10:45 Traditional Urban Design
Professor Robert Adam, Architect

11:45 Preservation of Character in adapting and extending traditional buildings
Marcus Patton OBE RIBA

12:30 Lunch

13:30 Thomas Drew - a Traditional Architect
Brian Hamilton, Senior Architect, OPW

14:15 The Power of Traditional Architecture
John Smylie, Architect, MICTP

14:45 Tea

15:00 Using Traditional and Natural Materials in Low Energy New Buildings and Renovation
Professor Tom Wooley

15:45 Questions and Answers in General Discussion
Panel of Speakers

16:30 Close

Conference Fee €80 (£75) per person, including lunch and refreshments.

More info on the INTBAU website.

Launch night: Non-Iconic Mackintosh

David Stark, Managing Director at Keppie, introduces Non-Iconic Mackintosh

PLACE welcomed members of the international Keppie Design team and guests to launch the new exhibition Non-Iconic Mackintosh last night.

Press release:

Leading Belfast based architecture practice Keppie Design today launches a brand new exhibition of the works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh entitled Non-Iconic Mackintosh: the Real Charles Rennie Mackintosh? Housed at Belfast’s PLACE, the Architecture and Built Environment Centre for Northern Ireland, the exhibition opens to the public on Friday 22nd May and runs to Saturday 27th June.

Non-Iconic Mackintosh will showcase some of the less well known work by Charles Rennie Mackintosh when he was part of the Keppie architectural practice for 24 years, as well as some of his famed projects that earned him the title of 'pioneer of modern design'.

As well as a collection of original drawings, the exhibition will feature the first public viewing of a specially designed Mackintosh bust by one of Scotland’s most acclaimed sculptors, Andy Scott. Andy also designed Belfast’s iconic Thanksgiving Square Beacon.

Neil Whatley, associate at Keppie’s Belfast office said: “We’re delighted to host the Mackintosh exhibition here in Belfast and pleased to partner with PLACE. We’re seeing a number of exciting projects in Belfast and Northern Ireland at the moment - it’s an important time in the resurgence of the province, with the promise that continued public spending will take the bite out of the recession.”

David Stark, director at Keppie and Mackintosh expert added: “Charles Rennie Mackintosh was undoubtedly one of the world’s most influential architectural designers and we are proud that he is part of the Keppie legacy. This exhibition will shed light on some of the works not immediately recognised as Mackintosh designs. We hope Belfast enjoys the exhibition as we at Keppie have enjoyed supporting it.”

Amberlea Trainor, manager at PLACE said: 

“We are delighted to present this exhibiton at PLACE and are excited about sharing the lesser known Mackintosh works with the public of Northern Ireland.”

Keppie Belfast advised on the design of the Cancer Centre for Northern Ireland on Lisburn Road, was the architect for the Springvale Centre for the University of Ulster and is currently involved in the delivery of health and care centres in Ballymena, Larne and Carrickfergus as part of the PCCI Framework.

PLACE is located at 40 Fountain Street, Belfast. For more information visit

The exhibition runs from Friday 22nd May - Saturday 27th June 2009. PLACE opens late on Thursdays until 7:30pm, and a special Late Night Art public launch event will take place on Thursday 4th June from 6 - 9pm.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh & Co., a book by David Stark, Managing Director of Keppie is available to buy now from the PLACE Bookshop.

Photos by Amberlea Trainor.

The Sustainable City 2010

University of La Coruña - image source

Organised by the Wessex Institute of Technology and the University of La Coruña, The Sustainable City 2010 Conference takes place in La Coruña, Spain, from April 14th - 16th next year.

The conference is seeking papers on the following topics:
* The community and the city
* Planning, development and management
* Urban strategies
* Sustainable transportation and transport integration
* Urban-rural relationships
* Public safety
* Cultural heritage issues
* Environmental management
* Architectural issues
* Landscape planning and design
* Socio-economic issues, poverty and segregation
* Intelligent environments
* Natural resources
* Waste management
* Case studies

For more info visit the conference website.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Perspective May/June issue out now

The newly reopened Ulster Hall - image source

The latest edition of Perspective, the journal of the RSUA, is out now.

The main feature is a profile of the recently reopened Ulster Hall (pictured), refurbished by Consarc Design Group.

There are also case studies of the Fitzwilliam Hotel on Great Victoria Street and the Grove Wellbeing Centre on the York Road.

There are also reports on Tactility Factory (who exhibited at PLACE back in February), the recent Guerrilla Lighting event in Belfast, DSD's Streets Ahead plans (currently on display in weePLACE), and the activities of the architecture students at UU and QUB.

Perspective is available now from the PLACE Bookshop at the price of £4. Back issues are also available, priced £2 each.

Launching this week at PLACE...

PLACE Upcoming Exhibitions: Non-Iconic Mackintosh

Monday, 18 May 2009

"Constructive Conservation"

Park Hill Estate, Sheffield - image source

English Heritage is an excellent 4-part BBC series following the work of English Heritage in preserving four major heritage sites in England: the Jacobean mansion Apethorpe Hall; the Park Hill Estate housing scheme, Sheffield, dating from 1961; the 16th Century garden at Kenilworth Castle; and King's Cross railway station in London.

The show captures fairly well the pressures faced on all sides: English Heritage have to balance improvement of the sites in their charge with the retention of the original features and character, architects and conservation engineers have to work within fairly strict conservation boundaries while allowing their own creativity and conceptions of each project to flourish, and of course all the projects now face the daunting challenge of the global recession.

And of course, any plans to modernise existing buildings will run into controversy - writing in the Guardian, Owen Hatherly is not sure English Heritage have gotten it right with their work on Park Hill:

"This astonishing structure is a battered remnant of a very different country, one that briefly turned housing for working people into futuristic monuments rather than shamefaced hutches. The ideologies of regeneration and heritage, when applied to the very different ethics of new brutalism, can only destroy the thing they claim to love."

The four episodes of English Heritage are available on the BBC's iPlayer until Friday 22nd May. Well worth a look: click here.

There is also a profile of each project on the English Heritage site: click here.)

BBC iPlayer: English Heritage (4 episodes)
English Heritage: English Heritage at Work
English Heritage: Park Hill - Constructive Conservation in Practice
The Guardian: Park Hill "in danger of losing what makes it special" (Owen Hatherly, 2nd May 2009)

Friday, 15 May 2009

"Nothing about us without us is for us"

After a trip to the UN in Geneva last week, the Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) project continues its work in North Belfast with the publication of The Girdwood Gamble, a report by the Girdwood Residents' Jury on the regeneration of Girdwood Barracks and Crumlin Road Gaol.

You can download the report from the PPR website.

PSSquared City Supplements

Image source

PS² presents city supplements - an alternative urban survey.

For city supplements, PS² invited seven artists (Gemma Anderson, Miriam de Búrca, Keith Winter, Lisa Malone, Kevin Flanagan, Sinéad Bhreathnach-Cashell, Phil Hession) to be home-tourists in Belfast and go on a walk around the Cathedral Quarter, where PS² is based.

Walks without a map and without the usual ‘sites of interest’ in mind, equipped instead with curiosity and a compass of imagination.

The visual responses of this alternative urban survey are as diverse as the work practice of the artists; from video film and photogramm to futuristic animation and playful collage.

These subjective supplements recover local information and interpretations of hidden natures, darkened outlooks and green alternatives.

They are socially and ecologically oriented proposals to a master plan of the inner city.

Images and signs of these alternative maps are placed at different locations around Cathedral Quarter and should invite for a personal walk and discovery.

PS² will show films and findings of the survey.

As part of the project, PS² will launch the publication 'city supplements'. A6 format, 48 pages + 7 A3 pullout supplements by the artists + city walks with Robert Scott, Marcus Patton and Declan Hill + an essay by Bryonie Reid.

Walking tours - starting at PS²
-future city- Keith Winter: Friday 5 June, 6pm
-playground city, (for children 4-10yrs): Lisa Malone/ Sinéad Bhreathnach-Cashell: 25 May, 12am

Opening: Thursday 21 May, 6- 9 pm

Location: PS² and different locations at Cathedral Quarter

More info on the PS² website.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

"It's hard to even look at the picture without it damaging you"

Blog: Bad British Architecture*

*Contains strong language, and needless to say, the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of PLACE

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

CABE urban design summer school

Host Street, Bristol (image source)

CABE and Urban Design Skills present the urban design summer school for 2009, taking place in Bristol from 21st - 24th June.
"Great placemaking needs great design. Seize the opportunity during the slowdown to develop your urban design skills and position yourself and your organisation at the forefront of the design agenda.

Learn how to create successful places and get the latest in new thinking and practice at CABE's sixth urban design summer school, in Bristol.

With its revived waterfronts and city centre, and wealth of historic fabric from the ages of sea trade and industry, Bristol offers participants challenging study sites. These will allow you to tackle design-led regeneration first-hand and get the skills you need."

More info: CABE urban design summer school 2009

Monday, 11 May 2009

Channel 4's Big Art in Belfast

Waterworks, Belfast (image source)

Channel 4's Big Art project aims to get the public involved in commissioning, creation and decision-making in public art. The series started on Sunday last (May 10th), and continues on the next three Sundays through May.

One of the sites chosen for a major new artwork was the Waterworks park in North Belfast. The site was nominated by Katrina Newell of New Lodge Arts, who has been working on the project with local community worker Claire Kelly.

"North Belfast has seen the worst effects of sectarian attacks and violence. You can either sit back and let that happen or you can try to take a step towards getting children to work together." - Katrina Newell

Channel 4: Big Art Project
Channel 4: Big Art Project - Latest news for the North Belfast site
Belfast Telegraph: Waterworks art gets C4 showing

Building for Life

Image source

Led by CABE and the Home Builders Federation, Building for Life is the the "national standard for well-designed homes and neighbourhoods".

"Good quality housing design can improve social wellbeing and quality of life by reducing crime, improving public health, easing transport problems and increasing property values. Building for Life promotes design excellence and celebrates best practice in the house building industry."

Have a look at the Accordia housing scheme in Cambridge, which has been the highest scoring scheme yet: video here and transcript here; images and explanations here.

Building for Life

6 Counties, 5 Peaks, 24 hours - Walking for ABS

RSUA President Dawson Stelfox and some colleagues will attempt to climb 5 mountains in the six counties of Northern Ireland in aid of the Architect's Benevolent Society on June 18th/19th this year.

More info in the letter below (click to enlarge).

Architects Benevolent Society

Fondation Le Corbusier: Grant for Young Researcher

"For the coming academic year 2009-10, the Fondation Le Corbusier will attribute one grant to a young researcher wishing to devote his/her studies to Le Corbusier's work. The research proposals should concern primarily the aspects of his work that have not been the subject of sufficient in-depth research, or, in the case of areas already studied, propose an original approach (multi-disciplinary, comparative, transverse, etc.). All of the aspects of Le Corbusier's work are acceptable as research subjects: building works, unrealized architectural or urban projects, furniture, the plastic arts - painting, drawing, tapestry, exhibitions, etc. - writings (published or not); biographical research contributing to an understanding of the man and his work may also be proposed. Applicants must be young (maximum age 35), working toward a master's or postgraduate degree (fine arts,
architecture, history, urbanism, art history, law, etc.), and preferably working in a research laboratory or similar scientific facility.

Applications should be received by June 30, 2009."

Info: Fondation Le Corbusier

Friday, 8 May 2009

North Belfast takes on the world

It's unusual to hear about local people, rather than developers, taking an active role in urban regeneration, but this is one of the key areas which the PPR (Participation and the Practice of Rights) project is aiming to highlight by travelling to the UN this month with a group of North Belfast residents.

Follow the group's efforts on their blog: North Belfast Goes To The UN...

Ulster Museum progress

The press were given a sneak preview of the new Ulster Museum earlier in the week.

Culture Northern Ireland have an article and a video showing you round the interior, and interviews with Tim Cooke, chief executive of National Museums Northern Ireland, and Dr Jim McGreevy, director of collections and interpretations.

Update: The Ulster Museum is the 20th Century Society's current Building of the Month.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Rem Koolhaas - A Kind of Architect

More architecture on film this Thursday at the Black Box, with Rem Koolhaas - A Kind of Architect as part of the Tenth Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.

Why not come and check out our new exhibition opening at 5pm before nipping round to the Black Box for 5.30?


"Horizonless projection"

Click to enlarge

"...the ability to be in a city and to see through it is a superpower, and it's how maps should work."

Here & There, two maps of Manhattan (Uptown and Downtown) by London design studio Schulze and Webb.