Thursday, 9 August 2012

Young people ask: What is Belfast Missing?

Our young Urban Designers. Photo by Robin Cordiner.

This week, a group of young people aged 14 to 19 have been gathering in a vacant Belfast shop unit to discuss “what Belfast is missing”. They have been brought together for a week-long Urban Design Summer School held at ‘out of PLACE’, a temporary intervention in Belfast’s Obel Tower.

Some of the participants thought that trams were essential for Belfast, while others said that more parks and green spaces were a priority for the city centre. One participant had the idea of forming a public planning council to give people more say in important decisions about the built environment.

"The most interesting aspects were actually all those things that seemed mundane at first," said Finn MacMillan (19) from Belfast, who studies Art History in Edinburgh. "Like transport: how do you balance cycling, public transport and the car?"

The group visits the boardroom of the Lyric Theatre. Photo by Robin Cordiner.
The Summer School hosted a number of themed days based on public art, architecture, sketching, model making and urban design, with presentations by leading local architects, planners, artists and activists. These themes aimed to provoke thoughts and discussions, while giving the group an insight into the roles of those who currently work to develop our built environment.

Local Architect and Director of PLACE, Aidan McGrath said: "It’s not our objective to encourage these 30 young people into a career in architecture or town planning. We're just hoping to make them and their friends and families more discerning, more critical of the built environment, and more demanding of those professionals and politicians who deliver it.

"Of course we've had fun - memories of three teenagers acting out The Sydney Opera House in architectural charades will never leave me - but we've done some hard work too. We've looked at public art and real planning issues as well as architecture, and we've done a lot of drawing and writing."

The group gets a talk from Paul Clarke, curator of the Secret Laboratory exhibition, on show at out of PLACE until 6th September.
The Summer School is part of the wider ‘out of PLACE’ project run by PLACE with support from Arts & Business, which seeks to show the potential of town and city centres to become attractive, vibrant places by programming events and activities in empty shop units.

The Obel tower was chosen because it is bordered by some of Belfast’s key urban and cultural infrastructure: the M2 motorway, the Lagan weir, the Big Fish public art sculpture and views to Titanic Belfast, The Obel, The Boat and Custom House Square.

So far, the Summer School group has toured the Titanic Quarter, the Cathedral Quarter, the MAC and the Lyric and other recent architecture projects in the city.

“I would highly recommend this to others,” says MacMillan, “Not just for architects, but for anyone who wants a better understanding of their city."

The ‘out of PLACE’ project continues until 6th September, opening every Thursday (11am-7pm), Friday (11am-5pm), Saturday (11am-5pm) with free exhibitions and events open to the public. Full details at

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