Monday, 19 September 2011

RISE: Belfast's largest public art installation

On Friday 16 September 2011 Belfast’s largest public art project was officially launched. RISE was commissioned following an international competition in November 2008. Sculptor Wolfgang Buttress designed two concentric spheres measuring 37.5m high and 30m wide to represent “a new sun rising and to celebrate a new chapter in the history of Belfast”.

RISE at night. Image from Belfast City Council on

This is the story of RISE....

Since 2005 a partnership between the Department for Regional Development (Roads Service), Belfast City Centre Regeneration Directorate (Department for Social Development), the Arts Council for Northern Ireland (ACNI) and Belfast City Council (BCC) had been working on creating a “gateway public art installation” at Broadway. In 2008 when the new Broadway underpass opened Roads Service had ensured that the structure was designed to carry the weight of a “gateway” art installation. An international competition was held in which seven artists were selected and subsequently these shortlisted artists submitted their design concepts. In autumn 2005 a winning design was selected by a judging panel which included community representatives. The winning design was named Trillian by an American artist named Ed Carpenter

Trillian by Ed Carpenter was to be 45m high and 42m wide.
Ed explained in 2005 that Trillian represents "germination
for the future". It represents "growth, transformation and
evolution". "Perched and leaning, Trillian suggests life in
the balance". Click here for more information.

So why was RISE built and Trillian forgotten? Steel. The price of steel had risen sharply during the process and the project cost was estimated to have increased by 30%. The project leadership suggested a number of solutions which involved seeking sponsorship from business and asking Ed Carpenter to scale back the size of the sculpture. The sculpture was scaled back by one third but this only served to save 10 - 20% of the estimated cost of the project. With the Arts Council funding being time limited and business sponsorship unlikely to meet the project cost shortfall Trillian was abandoned.

Following Trillian a new competition was advertised during 2008 with a fixed budget of £400,000. Thirty-four expressions of interest were received and in September 2008 the Broadway Project Board shortlisted seven of these artists. The shortlisted artists were Ed Carpenter, Wolfgang Buttress, Mick Thacker, Stephen Broadbent, Martin Donlin, Eilis O’Connell and Malcolm Robertson. The seven artists had one month to respond with a design concept. Five artists submitted a proposal and in October an interview panel of councillors and representatives from the Department for Social Development, Roads Service, Belfast City Council and the Arts Council interviewed the five shortlisted artists including both Ed Carpenter and Wolfgang Buttress. RISE, by Wolfgang Buttress, was selected as the winning design of the competition. 

Artists impression of RISE. Image from Belfast City Council on

Planning permission was sought for the sculpture soon after but approval would only be provided on a condition “that the application hereby permitted shall not be commenced until an application for Technical Approval/Certification has been submitted to and approved by Roads Service”. In order to satisfy this condition an unexpected increase in the project cost of £86,000 was required. The Project Board agreed in September 2009 to seek additional funding to cover the increase. Between the Arts Council, DSD and Belfast City Council the additional funds were found. However the initial completion date of November 2009 was not achievable.

Construction work in May 2011. Image from Belfast City Council on

Following a series of delays work eventually got underway at the Broadway roundabout site in March 2011. The process involved the constructing of the smaller of the two spheres followed by the larger sphere. Pre-fabricated segments were lifted into position and temporary scaffold held the sculpture in place. During June 2011 the smaller of the two spheres was lifted into the air and lowered into the larger sphere. Following this work began on completing the larger sphere, removing the temporary scaffold and constructing the surrounding “reeds” (poles) and lighting. Construction was completed by the team of Graham Construction and steel company M Hasson and Sons Ltd.

The smaller sphere about to be hoisted up and into the larger of the two.
© Copyright Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The smaller sphere is now inside the larger of the two.
© Copyright Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

To mark the completion of RISE, and officially launch the sculpture, an event was held at the Olympia Leisure Centre on Friday 16 September 2011. Local residents and school children attended the event which was hosted by Belfast City Council’s Chief Executive Peter McNaney and attended by the Chief Executive of the Arts Council and Belfast’s Lord Mayor.

Lord Mayor of Belfast Niall Ó Donnghaile began proceedings by welcoming the local school children. The Lord Mayor noted that RISE, like many public art projects, was not without controversy as it is often “difficult to put your finger on what it gives or gives back” but he believes that RISE is hugely significant for the local communities and the city of Belfast. It provides inspiration “even if just in the name” and has enabled “workshops which focused on local people’s hopes and visions” for the future. The Lord Mayor buried these “hopes and visions” in a time capsule beneath RISE which will be uncovered in 25 years time. The Lord Mayor also buried his own thoughts but we will have to wait 25 years to find out what those visions are. The Lord Mayor summed up RISE as “representing a vibrant, diverse and colourful city”.

RISE nearing completion.
© Copyright Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland Roisín McDonough described RISE as a “gateway” sculpture that the people of Belfast will grow to appreciate. She acknowledged the controversy that RISE and other public art projects create, particularly in times of government spending cuts, but is strongly convinced that investment in the arts is money will spent. Roisín believes that RISE is a powerful statement for the 65,000 people who drive past every day and the 2.5m people who fly over on their way to the City Airport every year. It tells them “that Belfast values its public art” and is a “ truly cosmopolitan city”.

Wolfgang Buttress with a model of RISE. Image from Belfast City Council on

Wolfgang Buttress, the sculptor for RISE, took to the stage next and described his thought process behind the sculpture. Wolfgang has just been shortlisted and had to submit a design proposal to reach the next stage. He had visited the site many times but on one occasion the sun and moon were in the sky at the same time as the sun was rising over the reed bushes nearby. It is from this that he drew his inspiration for RISE. Wolfgang wanted a sculpture that "didn’t turn its back to any side" and was "universal". He was also keen to promote connections through the site and not define a barrier. His solution was a sculpture that has a strong presence yet sits quietly, "almost floating", over the roundabout. It can be seen from afar yet when the person is up close they can move around and through it with ease and it does not prevent movement. Wolfgang believes that it works because “it is simple”. The design is the same as was modeled four years ago - testament to Wolfgang’s determination to see the project through to the end. Wolfgang believes that one of the most satisfying elements of working on RISE is "the changing attitudes of local communities from hostility, to acceptance, to appreciation". Wolfgang concluded by thanking everyone involved in the delivery of RISE.

Timelapse video of the construction of RISE. From Belfast City Council.

RISE now sits above the Broadway Roundabout marking the gateway to Belfast from the M1 Motorway...

By Gary Potter

RISE funding:
£20,000 - Arts Council of Northern Ireland
£80,000 - Arts Council of Northern Ireland (National Lottery)
£330,000 - Department for Social Development
£20,000 - Belfast City Council (Agreed October 2007)
£36,000 - Belfast City Council (Agreed November 2009)
DRD Roads Service provided in-kind support in the preparation of the site and foundations.
Belfast City Council will assume future responsibility for the financial and physical maintenance of RISE (Agreed November 2007).

RISE Steering Group Membership:
Local Councillors, Belfast City Council’s Tourism, Culture and Arts and Project Management Units, Department of the Environment, Department for Social Development, Department for Regional Development, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Police Service of Northern Ireland, Greater Village Regeneration Trustand Arts and Business. 

RISE Sculptor:
Wolfgang Buttress is an award winning artist working with public space. He creates simple, elegant and contextual public artworks which seek to define and celebrate a sense of place. Over the last 15 years he has produced artworks for the public realm in the UK, Europe, Australia, USA, and Japan.

What does RISE represent?
The rising sun over the Bog Meadows reeds - celebrating a new chapter in the history of Belfast.

The RISE structure:
- 37.5m high and 30m wide.
- 3m taller than the Albert Memorial Clock.
- The main structure is made of polycarbonate, backed with steel trusses.
- The inner sphere is supported by reinforced steel cables.
- Around 7,500 struts of different lengths and 2,000 pressed discs that the struts insert into.

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