Tuesday, 26 October 2010

RTPI and RSPB Northern Ireland Sustainable Planning Awards 2010/11

The RTPI/RSPB NI Sustainable Planning Awards are open for entries. Find out more and download an entry form via the RSPB website: click here.

Event report: Restore, Reuse, Recycle (20th Oct)

Colin Shaw chairing the panel discussion

On Wednesday 20th October we were delighted to welcome three leading lights of architectural conservation to Belfast . Nicholas V Thompson, Niall McCullough and Dawson Stelfox - working in London, Dublin and Belfast respectively - were at the Ulster Museum for the PLACE Restore, Reuse, Recycle panel discussion.

Nicholas V Thompson of Donald Insall Associates described his “ten degrees of intervention” which encapsulated the basic concepts of conservation and restoration. From “regular daily care” to “radical interventions to secure a building’s future” to “major urban change involving multiple interventions”, each successive degree increased in complexity and involved a greater level of intrusion and transformation.

Thompson’s talk explored the degrees of intervention with examples from the work of his firm, Donald Insall Associates, whose portfolio includes numerous well-known buildings across the UK. These included the restoration of Windsor Castle after a catastrophic fire in 1992, the modern refurbishment of the courtyard of Somerset House, and the sensitive conservation of the Houses of Parliament.

Niall McCullough of McCullough Mulvin Architects was the second speaker of the evening and he highlighted his firm’s work in producing modern interventions in old buildings. Their Rush Library in County Dublin, for instance, involved a startling modern intervention in a Victorian church. The new structures were sensitively implanted into the heart of the original building; they were independent and non-invasive and thus allowed new and old to co-exist.

Niall McCullough

Intervening in an already existing building demands learning and appreciation of the existing built fabric - McCullough sees it as “a form of geography, working within a building rather than with fields or hedges”. This learning experience also has the capacity to surprise: “When you make an assumption about a building, it comes back to bite you”. You have to “work with, rather than against” the building. The process of intervention “engenders humility”, says McCullough. “You are just one person working on this building over several years”. Taking this concept to its logical end, the firm ensured that their intervention was reversible: “What goes in could come out.” Finally, McCullough pointed out that his work was merely a means to an end: “The people and [in the case of Rush Library] the books complete the architecture”, he says.

The final speaker of the evening was Dawson Stelfox. Stelfox is Chairman of Consarc Design Group, a practice working across the UK and Ireland, with a strong track record of rehabilitating derelict and dilapidated buildings in Belfast. Stelfox raised some interesting questions and touched on the paradoxes and problems inherent in architectural conservation. Speaking of the refurbishment of the House of Commons Chamber at Stormont following the fire of 1995, he described how the decision was taken to replicate the original chamber…but change it. Stelfox tackled some potentially contentious issues, discussing the possible futures of the North Street Arcade in Belfast and questioning the audience as to what should be done with this dilapidated building.

The panel

The evening ended with a Question and Answer session with the three speakers which instigated an interesting and lengthy discussion ranging from reuse of vacant buildings to increasing public appreciation for built heritage.

Rosaleen Hickey and Conor McCafferty
Photography: Amberlea Neely

LINI Charles Jencks lecture postponed

News from the Landscape Institute NI on their SCALE lecture series:

With regret, we write to advise you that the up coming lecture by Dr Charles Jencks "SCALE: Landscape Direction & Cosmic Speculation" scheduled for the 18th of November has been postponed. 
As the final event in the series, we are aware that there are many who are keen to attend this lecture, so we are glad to announce an alternative date for this lecture in Spring 2011.  This date has yet to be confirmed, and we will provide details as soon as possible.

Contact LINI if you require further information:

[email protected]

Thursday, 21 October 2010

FAB Event: An Epoch Translated into Space

Paddy Lawson's role in the design of the Ulster Museum extension is explored in An Epoch Translated into Space at the Meter House tomorrow evening, Friday 22nd October

Our colleagues at the Forum for Alternative Belfast invite you to a special event for the Belfast Festival tomorrow night...

Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s
An Epoch translated into Space
A short first cut film, talk and discussion
The Meter House @ The Gasworks
Friday 22nd October, 6.00pm
Tickets £6 available from Festival Box Office (75 University Road), by phone 028 9097 1197 or online at

In 1963 a young architecture student from Portaferry saw an announcement for a competition to design the extension to the Ulster Museum in Belfast. Ten Years later Paddy Lawson handed over the keys of the new building.

As the critic Shane O'Toole asserts, the “cubist sculptural tour de force is internationally renowned for its daring and prescient splicing together of old and new”.

While working in the Greater London Council Lawson met a number Eastern European architects who exposed him to more central European modernism including the early work of Mies van der Rohe and his monument to socialist Rosa Luxemburg who was murdered in 1919. This monument with its Constructivist brick masses built in 1926 was torn down by the Nazis in 1935.

The suspended masses of concrete floating over the Botanic Garden in Belfast resonate through time with Mies's iconic image.

“Architecture is the will of the people translated into space” Mies van der Rohe

The role of Paddy Lawson in this building has never been fully acknowledged. Through documentary, original drawings, photographs and discussion the Forum for Alternative Belfast tell this unknown story.
Paddy Lawson will attend the event.

In conjunction with Factotum and Batik.

Not to be missed!

Monday, 18 October 2010

My PLACE: Paddy Cahill

A still from Paddy Cahill's film about Liberty Hall in Dublin
In this series, we ask practitioners, experts and enthusiasts for their take on the built environment - where are we now, how did we get here, and where are going?

This week we spoke to Paddy Cahill, Committee Member of AAI and film maker

Q. Paddy, we've recently discovered you make films. What buildings or places inspire you and your work and why?

Lots of different buildings inspire me but recently the one I got most involved in was Liberty Hall in Dublin, during and after I made a documentary about it.

My interest as a filmmaker is in the communication between architecture and the public. Many of the concepts, ideas and details that go into buildings often get lost or don’t get communicated to the public when the building is finished. All too often the people have a gut reaction to new buildings, to distrust and dislike them. Very often though their opinions can be swayed with a little background to the ideas or thoughts behind the design and purpose of the building.

Television and video are great ways to communicate these ideas in a direct and simple way. More often than not the construction of, or the history and background to buildings have great back-stories full of challenges, which is a great for storytelling in tv or video.

In the past there have not been as many opportunities for the public to engage with architecture in the way they would with other arts. This is changing with thanks to organisations like PLACE and the IAF and I think film and television can play a role in this new public appreciation for architecture too.


Related: To see Paddy’s documentary on Liberty Hall, visit his website

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Some favourites from our Flickr group

Our Flickr Group, Northern Ireland's Best Places and Buildings, showcases work by photographers from across NI. Here's a few of our favourite recent additions!

Castlerock, tilt-shifted into miniature! (jonypatterson)

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

My PLACE: Stephen Pollock

In this series, we ask practitioners, experts and enthusiasts for their take on Northern Ireland's built environment - where are we now, how did we get here, and where are going?

Stephen Pollock, Roads Service, Department for Regional Development

Q. The DRD minister last week announced some major changes to traffic in central Belfast - is the car no longer the preferred mode of transport?

Last week Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy launched the consultation process for an ambitious Traffic Masterplan for Belfast city centre entitled ‘Belfast on the Move.’ This plan aims to substantially reduce traffic levels in the city centre and provide more road space for public transport, pedestrians and cyclists.

Around 30,000 vehicles per day travel through the city centre on the streets either side of City Hall. About 60% of this is through traffic, with no final destination in the city centre, causing needless congestion.

By providing the alternatives and promoting their use, we can encourage people to change how they travel. As they switch in significant enough numbers, congestion can be reduced and business, the economy and the environment will all benefit, and whilst we need to continue to provide real alternatives to the car, we also need people to choose to use them. We need behavioural change.

That said, we have to be pragmatic. There is a balance to be struck. Transport needs to be a catalyst for growth, not a constraint. We need to have the right infrastructure to allow people and goods to move, supporting our economies as we move out of recession.

The vision for Belfast is to achieve a city centre where access by public transport is given a much higher priority than at present and a street environment tailored to the needs of pedestrians rather than the private car.


Related: Further details on the proposals can be found on the Belfast On The Move website