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Belfast Societech

Part 2 Project 1999
Colin Harris
Mackintosh School of Architecture Glasgow UK
The site is centrally located within Belfast, a city chosen to study due to the intense social dissension caused by religious conflict. The aim is to consider this situation.

The city has been starved of creative cultural activity throughout the troubles and there is a particular need for specific cultural development. In this case, culture will principally be transformed through the necessity for an alternative political arrangement. The very extreme range of attitudes requires an incredibly diverse and robust democracy. There will have to be clear and precise interface between the general populace and points of decision making so as not to alienate certain factions. Such an interface must allow clear expression of the requirements of society in regard to cultural development and unity.

As architecture is fundamentlaly the physical manifestation of the exigency of a particular society, it has to react to the specific situation. In this case confronting the obstacle with the generation of a social forum for cultural development concerning life within urban Belfast. It is to enable and inspire, through public interaction conceptual development, debate and progression, an enhanced society.

The programme includes a collection of diverse social functions covering learning, research and debate. The configuration has been split into two organisational circuits of related function; public exhibition and social research. The circuit of exhibition involves public access to an array of material concerning urban life, including the visual arts, recreation, social and urban development and cultural integrity. Related to this diverse span of urban life is the second circuit, which threads together by alternative circulation, a series of research facilities to provide the means for human and urban improvement. This includes political, social, environmental and recreational research laboratories, mixed media studios and workshops. Both differing ciruits inhabit the site in relation to contextual function, access and form. Yet it is their relationship to each other which is designed to create a social interface.

The composition of each circuit in plan and section, creates strong links with the site by artificially manipulating the ground plate, to pull the public from Belfast's adjacent cultural spine. Different parts of each circuit can then be directly accessed from the folded ground plate, which seamlessly becomes the roof plate and has the function of high level public park. This is intended to produce a democratic character to the building where the functions are held strongly within the public domain, both internally and externally. The continuity between built form and the ground surface is also a reaction to the fragmented urban fabric, where the fluidity of the forms reduce the extremeties between the varying scales of neighbouring buildings.

The form of the site inspires a rotational effect to the movement within the building. This is also strongly influenced by the programme with its configuration of a central forum and associated functions. The building therefore becomes an urban icon, different to the nature of the surrounding fabric yet in harmony due to its scale, and specific relationship to the street.

Colin Harris


Colin has produced a poetic solution to a potentially 'political' dry project.

If architecture is about buildings where the whole is more than the sum of the parts, then I believe Colin has produced a design which is right on target.

He brings to his work a hard-working seriousness which is, in itself, commendable but can sometimes lead to predictable shop worn solutions.

In Colin's case his energy and talent has grappled with a contentious ambitious project in a way that positively exploits the very problematic nature of the subject matter. His chosen path of investigating complex intertwined, flowing plan forms with similar structural systems can only be done by someone with a very firm grasp of 3D issues. The work rate has to be comensurate with this complex way of working. He has also demonstrated, elegantly and beautifully, his ability to solve these issues at a technical/design in detail level.

1999
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