Thursday, 29 December 2011

2011 Highlights on the PLACE Blog

2011 has been a busy year for us on the PLACE Blog. Here are a few of our highlights:

A tour of Belfast's new MAC Theatre during September's Culture Night. Photo by Gary Potter.

Planning for the environment
"Land use planning is about more than simply promoting the orderly development of land. This should not be the end objective, but just one means of achieving something much more wholesome and holistic. Our planning should guide us towards a more balanced society where natural resources are protected and climate change is a key consideration in all decisions."
- Back in February, environmental planning expert Clive Mellon explained how to plan for the environment and sustainable development

Visiting the new Titanic Signature Building
"Once inside the building the sheer scale of the structure hits you. The internal atrium of the £73m structure will host the longest escalator in Ireland when opened next year."
- Gary Potter on the PLACE site visit to the Titanic Signature Building in April

The story of Broadcasting House
"The Corporation looked seriously at a vacant site in Donegall Square, to the east of the City Hall, but eventually decided it needed a location in ‘a less pretentious quarter’ with ample room for expansion."
- Andrew Colman, former Head of News and Current Affairs at BBC NI, gave us a history of BBC Broadcasting House in Belfast to mark its 70th anniversary in May

How to improve Belfast's River Banks
"Soft green landscaping, on-street parking, and a reduction in the number of traffic lanes were also suggested by participants as ways to encourage more use of the area. One team suggested a floating pontoon connecting the Obel to the Odyssey - the space could be adapted for events throughout the year."
- The PLACE CQ Charrette in May considered ways to improve the area next to the River Lagan in the City Centre

How to create positive change in rural design
"The PPS21 guidance aims to bring a sense of ownership to design and suggests that there are better ways to execute projects to avoid the flood of large, out of proportion houses with no connection to the landscape that have appeared in recent years. However the guidance must refrain from being over prescriptive or becoming too presumptuous. The purpose, as Paul McTernan explained, is not to create pastiche, but rather, 'to educate, inform and inspire' and 'positively nourish a change in aspirations and ambitions'."
- The new PPS21 Guidance on new building in the countryside was discussed at our Building on Tradition roadshow event in Ballymoney in June

Reducing street clutter
"Streets and roads make up around three-quarters of all public space - their design, appearance, and the way they function have a huge impact on the quality of people’s lives."
- From Manual for Streets 2, cited by Gary Potter in his investigation of street clutter in July

Rebuilding - again
"We actively unbuilt the city, and rebuilt it, at great public expense."
- Mark Hackett speaking at the Forum for Alternative Belfast's annual summer school in August

Visiting the new MAC Arts Centre
"The new MAC at 5,500 sq m is around eight times the size of the OMAC and will include two theatres, three major visual art galleries, a dance studio, education, workshop and rehearsal spaces, offices for resident arts groups as well as a resident artist and café and bar. It is anticipated that around 200,000 people will use these facilities every year which is sure to boost the local area which is already eagerly anticipating the development of the University of Ulster's City Campus around the York Street area."
- Gary Potter joined a hard hat tour of the MAC on Culture Night in September. The MAC is due to open in June 2012.

Craft and architecture
"It was interesting to understand how the very precise 3D modelling of the architecture practice worked alongside the cruder practice of boat building. Bending oak in a steam chamber is much more rough and ready than the millimetre perfect geometric design."
- Alan in Belfast reported on our Craftitecture event at PLACE, in which Merritt Bucholz of Bucholz McEvoy Architects discussed their collaboration with the Galway School of Boat Building

Charting a building's voyage
"The new Municipal Technical Institute was a grand, purpose-built, state of the art educational building. When it opened the building was one of the first in Belfast with electricity, and phones were fitted throughout. The building even had its own radio station for communications with ships and every room had a centrally controlled clock."
- Gary Potter gave an in-depth history of the past and present of the Belfast Met, from the City Centre to its new location in the Titanic Quarter

Thinking about public space
"It is clear that while Belfast has the capacity for major outdoor events in spaces like Writer's Square and Custom House Square, it is severely lacking in well-designed, responsive public space. Not enough attention is given to the spaces between buildings, activating them not only through one-off events mainly aimed at tourism, or pieces of commissioned public art that few appreciate, but with an urban experience centred around informal day-to-day activities. If we want people to move back to the heart of Belfast, generating this type of public realm is a vital component."
- Aaron Coulter in his new series on the blog Connecting Places, which aims to generate critical debate on the spaces, places and sustainable transport systems of Northern Ireland

New uses for old buildings
"I think the former Carlisle Memorial Church should become the Great Hall of the new university campus that is forecast for Belfast by the University of Ulster. I would like to see the campus embracing and defining the cultural corridor that we have spoken about for over 12 years in Belfast. "
Arthur Acheson commenting on a post in our new blog series The Past in the Present, which explores how the historic urban character of a city can be part of a dynamic and continually evolving contemporary society


We hope you've enjoyed following the blog this year as much as we've enjoyed producing it. We'll be back in early January with more - in the meantime, Happy New Year from all at PLACE!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Connecting Places: Bus Rapid Transit - panacea or placebo?

In this series, Connecting Places, we explore the spaces, places and sustainable transport systems in Belfast and beyond, with an aim to generate critical debate on the design of our towns and cities.

Series curated by Aaron Coulter
Article by Aaron Coulter and Gary Potter

The deadline to be involved in the public consultation on Belfast's proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes is coming to a close on 6th January 2012. The routes and accompanying documentation can be viewed until 6th January in the city centre at Department for Regional Development, and in East and West Belfast at the East Belfast Partnership and West Belfast Partnership respectively.

Transport Minister Danny Kennedy, in outlining the reasoning for the introduction of a BRT system,  states:
"We need a transportation system that can accommodate the future demands of Belfast, both its people and businesses. We need to reprioritise how we travel and change our travel behaviour to encourage a shift away from the private car and towards public transport. By working together we can make public transport, into, within and across Belfast, safer, cleaner and more attractive for everyone."

It would be hard to find fault with the statement above, but as the deadline for public consultation on the proposed routes draws near, one key question comes to the fore: will the BRT be the cure to Belfast's transportation woes?

Bus Rapid Transit - the solution?
Google Images

Thursday, 22 December 2011

New Routemaster hits the streets of London: NI Creative Industries at work

The new routemaster. Image via Magnus D on Flickr.

The new Routemaster is on the streets of London, designed by Heatherwick Studio and built in Northern Ireland by Wrightbus.

"This demonstrates in a very visible way the value of the Creative Industries as supported by the current Programme for Government," says PLACE Director Michael Hegarty. "Architecture and public spaces are also currently being designed here for cities such as Copenhagen."

Read More
Fast Code Design: "London's Futuristic New Double-Decker Bus Hits The Streets" (Dec 21st 2011)
Northern Builder Magazine: Profile of Hackett Hall McKnight Architects (Issue 2, 2011)

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Save Dublin's Cycle Officer

It was announced last week that Dublin is set to lose its Cycling Officer, Ciaran Fallon. He is currently the only Cycling Officer in any of the City Councils in Ireland. This position played a key role in promoting cycling in the city, just recently voted 9th most bike friendly city in the world by Copenhagenize (Irish Times, September 2011). If the post is lost it will be a devastating blow for cycling in Dublin. But it could also set a trend for decision makers in Northern Ireland.

There's an online petition which can let you show your support for improving cycling in Dublin and beyond.

Full details via The Irish Times:

Online petition:
Campaign Informaton:
Twitter: #dublincycling

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Call for Participation for the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale

Venice Takeaway: Ideas to Change British Architecture

The British Pavillion in Venice. Image courtesy British Council.
The British Pavilion at the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale will be the culmination of an ambitious global research project designed to make an original and far-reaching contribution to the debate about architecture in the UK.

The Pavilion will provide an injection of new ideas based on the collective research of architects, students, writers, critics and academics. The research will focus on what - and who - makes great architecture; considering issues such as construction, housing, planning, culture, education, procurement, architectural competitions and the role of the client.

On Thursday 19th January 2012 at 5.30pm an open call for participation and proposals will be launched at PLACE, 40 Fountain Street, Belfast - followed by a discussion about the brief aimed at involving a wide-range of contributors.

All those who wish to find out more are welcome to attend the event. Booking is essential: click here to register.

In March the best proposals will be selected and around ten individuals or teams will travel to unearth case studies in locations around the world.

Each ‘Explorer’ will conduct interviews and uncover how, and why something works. Explorers will be tasked with bringing back material including film, photography, writing and drawing. The exhibition will tell their stories and make a series of proposals for changing British architecture.

Venice Takeaway will build on the UK’s history of looking to the rest of the world for inspiration and ideas. Trade voyages shaped the modern world; not only filling museums, botanical gardens and markets but also changing the way we think and introducing ideas that have become part of our culture. Today the flow of ideas is made possible by the travels of architects and by overseas students who come to the UK to study, and often stay to establish their own design studios or to work for British practices.

By discovering the best ideas from around the world it is hoped that the British Pavilion will make an original contribution to the debate about architecture in the UK and influence the future direction of policy and practice at a moment of flux.

Venice Takeaway is curated by Vicky Richardson, Director of Architecture, Design, Fashion at the British Council and Vanessa Norwood, Head of Exhibitions at the Architectural Association.

Vicky Richardson says: ‘We have many good designers in the UK, but the systems and structures surrounding architecture need change. Everyone who has travelled will recognise the feeling of envy when you see a good idea. The British Pavilion aims to gather the best of these and bring them back to the UK.’

Tuesday 10 January, 6-7.30pm
Architectural Association, The New Soft Room, 36 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3ES

Thursday 12 January
Playfair Library Hall, Old College, University of Edinburgh, South Bridge, Edinburgh EH8 9YL

Wednesday 18 January, 6-7.30pm
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Castle Grounds, Cathays Park, Cardiff CF10 3ER

Thursday 19 January, 5.30-7pm
PLACE, 40 Fountain Street, Belfast BT1 5EE
Register for this event here


Advisory Panel
The British Council works with an advisory panel of leading architecture professionals across the UK which assists with the selection for the Venice Biennale every two years. For further information please visit

Chair: Vicky Richardson, Director of Architecture, Design, Fashion at the British Council
David Anderson, Director General of the National Museum Wales
Ian Gilzean, Chief Architect, Scottish Executive
Penny Lewis, Course leader, Masters in Architecture, Robert Gordon University School of Architecture
Ciaran Mackel, Architect, Ard Mackel Architects
Fred Scott, Author, On Altering Architecture
Brett Steele, Director of the Architectural Association School of Architecture and AA Publications
Finn Williams, Founder of Common Office and Deputy Leader of Placemaking Team at Croydon Council

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Connecting Places: What is the cost of free parking?

In this series, Connecting Places, we explore the spaces, places and sustainable transport systems in Belfast and beyond, with an aim to generate critical debate on the design of our towns and cities.

Series curated by Aaron Coulter

Last week Transport Minister Danny Kennedy announced free on-street parking in Belfast, Lisburn and Newry city centres, coming into effect from Monday 5th December until 24th December, with fees being suspended from 4.30pm Monday to Friday and all day on Saturdays.

The decision has been largely met with approval by consumers and retailers alike, with retailers anticipating an increase in sales in the run up to Christmas due to the perceived ease of access to the city centre for those arriving by car.

However, is there a cost associated with free parking, and if so, what is it?

'No Coins? No Problem!'

Friday, 2 December 2011

'Plan It!' Friends of the Earth event - 14th December

Click the flyer to enlarge
This is your first chance to hear the results of the 2011 planning survey commissioned by Friends of the Earth. This will be followed by an afternoon of lively debate on the purpose of planning; networking between professionals, individuals and groups; a chance to hear examples of good and poor planning - interspersed with the odd sermon and confession.

Friends of the Earth will also outline the next steps in their planning campaign.

Date: Wednesday 14th December 2011
Time: 1pm- 4pm
Venue: First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast BT1 1QB

Speakers include: Frank McDonald, Environment Editor, The Irish Times, and Dr. Geraint Ellis of Queens University, Belfast, author of the planning survey and report.

Light lunch served at 1pm. Event Followed by mulled wine and mince pies.

Booking essential: contact Fiona Joyce at Friends of the Earth ([email protected])