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Embedded Beauty In A Scarred Landscape

Part 2 Dissertation 2009
Conor Mccavitt
Ulster University Belfast UK
The signing of the Good Friday Agreement on 10th April 1998 effectively ended the violence and conflict that has blighted Northern Ireland for the last thirty years. During this period of conflict many atrocities where carried out by both communities resulting in a fractured and disjointed society
In an attempt to regain control over the onset of violence in 1969, the British Army were drafted in to support the local police force. As the level of violence increased and the nature of attacks changed, the Government took the decision to ‘modify’ all of the security forces bases in Northern Ireland. The result of the modifications was the creation of brutal structures which acted to reinforce the notion that the forces of law were in control, and dominant. In reality, the security forces bases became the centre points for violence which in turn led to more architectural features like higher fences, gates and more surveillance cameras creating a greater sense of oppression.
As part of the expansion of the security bases, the Government installed, in 1986 fifteen observational watchtowers around the Newry and South Armagh area. The area has always been predominantly Catholic, with the local population feeling more affinity historically with the Republic of Ireland than with Northern Ireland. These watchtowers soon became the symbol of hatred and oppression to the people who lived in their shadow.
This dissertation process aims to examine the watchtowers in Newry and South Armagh, to identify, map and record the differences in their design, function and materiality by recounting their history and with illustrations and photographs. The use of illustrations and photographs of these structures and the interpretations gathered from memory inform the originality and the importance of this dissertation as a record of the watchtowers existence and affect on the local population.
The conflict in Northern Ireland has created brutal landscapes of control and domination that has embedded differences, creating both physical legacies of inequality and defiance. But in today’s post conflict era can sprawling structures of steel, mesh and reinforced concrete maintain an autonomy, clarity and a certain beauty which until now, would have been inconceivable to associate with these tools of oppression?’

Conor Mccavitt


Embedded Beauty in a Scarred Landscape


While lots of social scientists write about the connections surrounding ‘The Troubles’, not a lot of architects do. This dissertation puts to work the sociological and architectural imagination as a way of touching upon an understanding of how people adapt and cope with change and uncertainty. The title calls up the contradictions of entrenched political and local interests: using architectural research into the watchtowers erected around Newry and the South Armagh area of Northern Ireland in the mid-1980s, the dissertation focuses on what happens when familiar forms of life are disrupted––architecturally––by the British Army watchtowers.

This dissertation provides a voice in architectural discourse for feelings distinct from more traditionally held notions found in theory. By “witnessing” structures that were not meant to be photographed, or gazed-upon, the author provides new, original, information about the conditions of the Army compounds in the rural landscape. By redrawing maps and the sangars with the technique of an engineer, he reconstructs a cultural memory. And by describing the anxieties of change that centre on the struggles to defend or recover any meaningful understanding of violence, the voice of the storyteller emerges. This is not an emotionally-neutral piece of writing.

Embedded Beauty in a Scarred Landscape is an enquiry into the relationship of morality and landscape-urbanism of ‘north’ Ireland. It deals with the preoccupations over the consequences of actions at a social level and architectural affects as aesthetic experience, registering the desires and pleasures of things, images and built form.

As such, the dissertation is a sympathetically written documentation; it is an outstanding and original investigation, a nourishment of consciousness.

Dr TM Rikala


Tutor(s)
Dr Taina Marjatta Rikala
2009
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