Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Two exhibitions launching this Thursday 2nd June

Exhibition 1
Launching 6-8pm at PLACE, 40 Fountain Street
Runs until 11th June

Concept Design for the New Place
The project for University of Ulster 1st Year students this year has been to design an imaginary public venue in the city of Belfast. After doing site analysis and gathering their initial thoughts, PLACE was revealed as the client. Find out how they responded to this challenge at A New PLACE, an exhibition running until 11th June at PLACE.

Find out more: click here.


Exhibition 2
Sterile Environment
Launching 7-10pm at Catalyst Arts, College Court
Runs until 23rd June

Click the flyer to enlarge
Catalyst Arts and PLACE present a joint exhibition showcasing artistic repsonses to the theme of "Sterile Environment".

Find out more: click here.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Green Veins - Momentary Garden - 28th May 2011

Celia installed a Momentary Garden outside PLACE this afternoon, consisting of some green water soluble paint, numerous potted plants and some seating and lasting for an hour. Green Veins continues until Tuesday.

Green Veins update

Throughout the 3 years of undertaking the MA Art in Public at the University of Ulster Celia Spouncer has undertaken a series of projects ("or in art speak - interventions" as she puts it) in Buoy Park to explore the role of visual and socially engaged art in complementing and developing her practice as an ecologist and landscape architect with over 30 years work experience.

Sunflowers at Buoy Park, Belfast. Photo by Celia Spouncer.
The urban allotment proved a huge success with everyone. It was planted with wood strawberries, courgettes, runner beans and sunflowers which stood bold against the more formal amenity planting.

When I stopped to take a photograph of the sunflowers, a man with a bottle in a plastic bag with his dog sitting beside him, remarked how the sunflowers made him smile - like a living framed canvas.

Doina Petrescu lecture - 2nd June

‘Stealth’ Research: Feminism, Participation, Alternative Practice and the everyday - a lecture by Doina Petrescu - Thursday 2 June 2011, 2:15pm - 3:30pm

Click the flyer to enlarge
Doina Petrescu is an architect, co-founder of atelier d’architecture autogeree (aaa) and Professor of Architecture and Design Activism at the university of Sheffield. She will question the “use value” of research through examples of practice based research from the work of aaa. The talk will also address issues of ‘situatedness’ and ‘ethics of care’ in (architectural) practice, research and education. This is part of a series of lectures and events organized by the Research Graduate School, Faculty of Art, Design and the Built Environment. All are welcome, the events are free.

University of Ulster, Research Graduate School, York Street, Belfast, Room 82C10
T: +44 2870366222

Friday, 27 May 2011

Permaculture Design Course - 10th-24th July 2011

Lagan Valley Permaculture are running "Ulster's First Permaculture Design Course" this July. More information from the organisers below...

Click to enlarge the flyer

We at Lagan Valley Permaculture would like to invite you on an information packed, 72 hour Permaculture Design Course, taking place 10-24th July, in the Glencraig Camphill Community, County Down.

 The course will make a fantastic summer stay-cation, on the beautiful North Down coast, where you will learn the principles of Permaculture Design for sustainable living, and link with individuals and professionals.

This will be Northern Ireland's first such course, following a permaculture curriculum that has been used throughout the world for over 25 years. Tuition will be led by environmental author Graham Bell.

Green Veins on Flickr

Celia Spouncer has been travelling far and wide in her investigation of the health of green space in Belfast.

Cooking up a soup (c) green veins belfast on Flickr

You can see some of her adventures on Flickr: click here.

Green Veins continues at PLACE until 31st May.

A Crack in the Pavement: Growing Dreams

From the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), a short film from 2000 on young peoples' efforts to make their environments greener and more inviting.

From the NFB website:
This short documentary shows initiatives kids take to transform bare pavement into dream schoolyards. Some grow trees for shade, and vegetables for a food bank. Others build a greenhouse or a rooftop garden, while others yet construct a courtyard pond as an outdoor classroom and refuge for wildlife.

A Crack in the Pavement is a two-part video set that shows children, teachers and parents how they can work together to 'green' their school grounds and make positive changes in their communities.

Watch it online: NFB - A Crack in the Pavement (2000, 19 mins)


Green Veins exhibition continues until Tuesday at PLACE: From 17th - 31st May, you can explore a multi-layer, creative mapping installation; an analysis of green space types across Belfast following a "green vein". A unique installation by landscape architect Celia Spouncer is accompanied by an open invite to workshops investigating the "health" of green space in Belfast.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

My PLACE: Andrew Colman, BBC NI

To mark its 70th Anniversary, Andrew Colman, former Head of News and Current Affairs at BBC NI, gives a history of BBC Broadcasting House in Belfast. The BBC is celebrating the 70th anniversary of Broadcasting House in Belfast with a special week of activities from 23-27 May 2011. Find out more via the BBC website.

Images and drawings courtesy of the BBCNI Community Archive.

The BBC station in Belfast began life in a converted linen warehouse in Linenhall Street. The premises were described as ‘extremely ugly and ill-shaped and most undignified in appearance.’ But more to the point they were soon too small for the growing staff and output, and the search began for a new home.

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. It purchased a site adjoining its existing premises, but with a frontage on Ormeau Avenue, facing Dublin Road.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Green Veins - Day 1

In this series, landscape architect Celia Spouncer reflects on Green Veins, her installation, research and intervention project which is based at PLACE and ongoing until 31st May.

Part of the Green Veins laboratory - ongoing at PLACE until 31st May.

Greens Veins intends to reflect on the importance of green space and peoples' connection to it in critical changing times in terms of economics, politics, culture and environment changes. There seem to be 2 diverging directions in terms of green planning for Belfast. A strong urbanisation with seemingly little priority for green space or features; and an undercurrent of community interest connecting to role of green space in health, food production, buffering impacts of climate change and emotional and spiritual well being. Cities are urban, so should every corner be manicured and landscaped in a formal manner or is there scope for creativity and innovative ecological planning and design? What is the relevance of green space to young people increasingly disconnected with their surrounds?

Tuesday 17th May: Day 1 at PLACE involved the setting up of a ‘pocket park’ and allotment as part of the ‘green laboratory’ - somewhere for the hard working PLACE staff to relax. Pocket Parks are popular in many urban cities often using derelict corners or sites - sometimes initiated by local communities or local councils. We will include key examples through the Blog site.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Government Action for our Urban Environment

Today, we've published a paper we'll be sending to all the new MLAs. It argues that we need to:

- Protect our urban and rural assets
- Enhance the quality of our cities, towns and villages
- Improve the knowledge of our places
- Encourage ambition and raise expectations

If you'd like to read more, you can download it from the PLACE website:

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

QUB ARCSOC Lecture: Richard Brown (Keith Williams) 12th May

Click the flyer to enlarge.
Richard Brown, Director of Keith Williams Architects, speaks at the David Keir Building tomorrow night, Thurs 12th May, at 6pm. Click the flyer above for more info.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

New concepts to improve Belfast's river banks

Press release - 10.05.2011

Participants at the Design Charrette held last Wednesday at the Lagan Lookout in Belfast. Photo by Robin Cordiner.
New boardwalks along the river banks, a multigenerational hub and pocket parks are some of the suggested future improvements to Belfast's Laganside. The concepts came from the Cathedral Quarter Charrette, a design event held at the Lagan Lookout last week by PLACE, Northern Ireland's Architecture Centre.

Teams were made up of architects, artists, writers, community and cultural groups and planners. Each team was asked to come up with ideas for how the Laganside area might be made into a viable, inhabited promenade. Even after the improvements of the Laganside development, the area still has a low level of footfall, minimal activity in its public spaces and it remains disconnected from the city centre.

Monday, 9 May 2011


By Michael Hegarty
Director, PLACE

Wordscape is a joint initiative by PLACE with the Verbal Arts Centre. The buildings, landscapes, townscapes and byways of Ulster have helped define and inform literature, poetry and spoken language. This collaboration will examine the context for the creation of written work and the design of towns, landscape and architecture. The project will develop towards the compilation of a high quality exhibition and high quality publication on the language and architecture of Ulster. At present we have completed the first stage of a web-based element. You can view it online at:

Landscape, townscape, architecture and places have always informed poetry, prose and drama. This is particularly true with the rich literary output created from Northern Ireland. The landscape inspiration for Seamus Heaney has been well explored, Louis MacNeice often referenced the buildings of Belfast and other writers have been similarly inspired. "The bare bones of a fanlight over a hungry door" uses the architecture of Belfast to exude the social circumstances of a time. The influence of literature and critical analysis on the built environment can similarly be shown. The stone laid to mark the construction of St. Columb’s Cathedral, Derry dates from 1633, and is inscribed: If stones could speak, then London's praise should sound, Who built this church and city from the ground.
This new initiative Wordscape celebrates how stones can speak.
PLACE would like to involve others with this initiative. You can identifying architecture that inspired or is inspired by texts of prose and poetry - we'd like some of you to draw, photograph, video and otherwise document the cross-referenced texts and places. These will be located around Northern Ireland. The project and your work will be published on the web.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Better Public Spaces?

By Michael Hegarty
Director, PLACE

In Northern Ireland there are a wide variety of Government Departments, public agencies, private companies and NGOʼs that have roles in creating our environment. We have a fragmented government. Until recently agencies acted in isolation to deliver only their own component of cities: housing (NI Housing Executive); roads (Department for Regional Development); urban regeneration (Department for Social Development); and planning (Department of Environment).  Over the last few decades of conflict a very direct relationship between local communities and their elected representatives has developed. Communities drive issues such as places for play, neighbourhood regeneration and so on. Northern Ireland politicians have now taken back control of decision-making from London and by and large these politicians recognise the problems of disconnection.

Portaloos block the access to Custom House Square. Photo by Michael Hegarty.
Northern Ireland has some very good buildings for education, leisure, art and drama, but many aspects of our cities do not perform well under scrutiny and they impact on our general health and well-being as citizens.  Post conflict Northern Ireland society has changed; complexity has replaced simplicity.   It is time once again to repair and renew our cities.  The lesson of the past is that this should not be a grand gesture. What is needed is a series of small acts of intuitive appropriate design. Every act of building should be an act of repair, a part of the much larger process, in which several acts together regenerate the whole city.

Temporary steel panels at Custom House Square. Photo by Michael Hegarty,
Since 2001 DSD and Belfast City Council have developed a number of cultural quarters. The Cathedral Quarter has taken on the mantle of the city's key cultural locality.  It is somewhat disconnected from the recently resurfaced Custom House Square and the river Lagan by 4-lane roads.   Custom House Square should be the main event space for Cathedral Quarter however the basic infrastructure for events such as toilets and event management barriers were not designed into the scheme.

Today on the square public access is blocked by rows of temporary chemical toilets (portaloos) and galvanised steel panel hoardings inserted on rubber feet.  This is evidence of a lack of understanding of the nature of a public space by those who commissioned the recent work.  Public spaces host public events, these are events are for people, people need toilets, safe access and other services. Many of the events require power or on-site catering.  The infrastructure for these should have been designed-in.  If architects designed schools or offices without toilets and supplied portaloos as an afterthought they would rightly be ridiculed.  The lessons of this should inform the briefing of other public spaces currently being conceived such as Queens Parade, Bangor and Ebrington, Derry.

We have compact, legible and easily-walked city centres in Belfast and Derry. Belfast is surrounded by mountains that create a special micro-climate conducive to horticulture. From the Botanic Gardens to Cave Hill Country Park, Belfast has over forty public parks, all in close proximity to the city centre that provide places for a picnic, a stroll or a jog. New foot bridges are being constructed throughout Northern Ireland along a series of cycle and footpaths designed to encourage more people to exercise. These are positive starting points for making things work better.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A journey through time in urban ideas

By Michael Hegarty
Director, PLACE
The concept of an ideal and healthy city is first explored by Plato. In ‘Republic’, he depicts two cities, one healthy and one with 'a fever' (the so-called luxurious city). The citizens of the luxurious city 'have surrendered themselves to the endless acquisition of money and have overstepped the limit of their necessities.' The luxury of this city requires the seizure of neighboring lands and consequently a standing army to defend those lands and the city's wealth. The main character Socrates says that war originates in communities living beyond the natural limits of necessity.
In short, the healthy or true city is sustainable, limiting its consumption to actual needs, while the luxurious city is not and is in a perpetual quest for more. Plato spends the rest of the Republic attempting to reveal the political organization and virtues such as moderation that become necessary for the luxurious city to be more just, more healthy, and thereby sustainable.
While Leonardo da Vinci was living in Milan, much of Italy and the rest of Europe was struck by plague. Leonardo felt the high number of deaths was partially due to the condition of the dirty, densely populated cities where germs spread rapidly.  Leonardo designed an ideal city where the streets were wide, underground waterways carried garbage away and a paddlewheel system could clean the streets. His city was based on 2 levels, the top level was for the foot traffic and the bottom for carts and animals.  In this city Leonardo hoped that improved living conditions would help to avoid the spread of contagious diseases. 
A century after Leonardo’s model, work began on the first planned city in Ireland, Derry was conceived as a new town for London (hence Londonderry) in 1613 much in the way that ancient Rome built the city of Carthage.   The central square (the diamond) within a walled city with four gates was considered primarily to be a good design for defence.  The main streets were wide and the buildings make visual reference to the renaissance.   
Photo of Derry's Walls by Gary Potter.

However the pre-existing landscape topography defines the city as much as the imposed plan.  Any city is inseparable from the landscape in which it is set and can only be understood in terms of its geographical situation, its climatic and meteorological facts, its economic bases and its historic heritage. 

‘Town plans are therefore no mere diagrams; they are a system of hieroglyphics in which man has written the history of civilisation, and the more tangled their apparent confusion, the more we may be rewarded in deciphering it.’ 
Patrick Geddes, Cities in Evolution, Oxford University Press, (1950)
Over the years the city grew, built on whatever land could be purchased, on a field-by-field basis.  In this way the streets retain the field pattern.  The twists in the landscape which had become land divisions became translated into the urban form as a memory.   This kind of growing, organic, self-repairing city fits into a view of architecture and urban design where intuitive decisions are valued as much as grand visions, where the specific place is more important than the general location.  This view has been given intellectual rigour and structure by theorists like Christopher Alexander. 
The Derry-Londonderry built heritage has remarkably been substantially preserved despite bombing campaigns, slum clearance and roads projects.  New high quality buildings, public spaces and foot bridges are being constructed.   I think this journey of ideas through time should make the case for shortlisting Derry as a Great Town in the Urbanism Awards. 

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Practical steps to revitalise our towns and city centres

Minister Sammy Wilson joins PLACE, Arts and Business and Deramore Properties for the launch of out of PLACE in June 2010. L-R: Bill Morrison, PLACE Chair; Heather Carr, Arts & Business; Mark Cunningham, Deramore Properties. Photo (c) Chris Neely.

PLACE Director Michael Hegarty highlights the success of last summer's out of PLACE initiative in Belfast City Centre, and calls for renewed energy in battling against urban blight and decay caused by vacant shop units.

Practical steps to revitalise our towns and city centres
Michael Hegarty
Director, PLACE Architecture and Built Environment Centre

3rd May 2011

Our city centres are where we interact as a society. In the past we needed our city centres for trade and everything from pigs to pennyfarthings were exchanged and bartered on the streets and in the shops.  Victorian Belfast had Doctors, Solicitors, Haberdashers, Butchers, Bakers and Candlestick Makers occupying individual buildings making the city diverse and vibrant. The centre of Derry from the 1940's to 1960's had the multinational crews of warships mingling with livestock markets, grain deliveries, opera-house goers, shoppers and traders.

We now trade, socialise, relax, shop and meander through the streets of central Belfast or Derry mostly because we choose to. We can shop out-of-town or on-line, we can bank from home, work by phone and internet, and conduct our business with teleconferencing. The result of the changes in society is that there is less demand for city centre retail space than there was twenty years ago. This is right at the time when people realise that they enjoy city centres. People enjoy interacting with each other in vibrant city centres and it is important that Belfast, Derry and our market towns retain the best of what they have while taking advantage of new opportunities.