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Infrastructural Tango : The Benjamin Guggenheim

Part 2 Project 2009
Lesley Kelly
Ulster University, UK
Benjamin Guggenheim (1865–1912) died aboard RMS Titanic when the ship sank near Cape Race, Newfoundland. He is the brother of Solomon R. Guggenheim (New-York) who established the Guggenheim Foundation to foster the appreciation of modern art and the father of Peggy Guggenheim (Venice). As a tribute to Benjamin’s life and the 100 year anniversary of the titanic disaster, the thesis project proposed The Benjamin Guggenheim Museum of Contemporary Art located along the edge of the River Lagan.

Approaching Belfast on many of its arterial routes we are enticed by panoramic views of the River Lagan and Belfast Lough beyond. Yet drawn into a network of road chaos and retail lead redevelopment in the city centre, we are left questioning: Is that, all there is? Seduced at various vantage points by glimpses of the iconic Harland and Wolff cranes we are reminded of a powerful industrial past. However one feels frustrated with the difficulty of finding ones way to the river, as it meanders at the edge of the city.

The urban strategy, proposed stretching the Belfast cross and civic spine across the river using key developments on the east bank to pull people across and develop a coherent path to link them. The museum proposal had the added advantage that it was located between two current developments, titanic quarter to the north and sirocco to the south.

The site provided a critical forum for the discovery, and investigation of an urban and architectural scenario along the River Lagan. The concrete materiality and tectonics of the infrastructure impinging on the site were considered as an integral part of the architectural concept.

Priorities with the design approach where: to activate the river edge with the aim of making art available to all; to mitigate the signature aspect of the Guggenheim brand into a more porous organism; integrate with the fabric of Belfast through connecting to the disconnected community beyond; use the external public space in an engaging way to capture the interests of people from all social backgrounds, and rationalise the wasted space infront of the isolated odyssey arena.

Lesley Kelly

Benjamin Guggenheim Museum of Contemporary Art

Belfast is a city of strong contrasts: social, political and cultural. Its industrial heritage is now something of a mythic memory as the empty river winds its way through the city. Mention the Titanic and everyone knows from which city that vessel of incredible engineering was built. But how many know that in 1912 aboard the Titanic -when it sunk of Newfoundland- was Benjamin Guggenheim. Think of the name Guggenheim, and immediately images come to mind of Venice, Bilbao and of extraordinary works of art.
Lesley’s project takes these associations and memories and uses them to transform the city and the river. The context is that of the Odyssey Complex, a motorway bridge and the river edge. Almost biting into the urban blandness with architectural ideas, it gives new shape to an uncertain territory. The programme proposes to house the remarkable output of contemporary Irish Art in the context of international work in a major public building. Urbanistically the building pulls people across the river from the city core to experience the river again crossing and connecting cultural programmes across the city.
Using study models to test a diversity of spaces, light and the different urban conditions, the project developed like the shifting lines of the riverbed itself: edges became walls, river lines became plans and like a big wave that hits the dock, leaving an unexpected structure behind to discover.
With fragments of the city’s industrial past as backcloth a tower rises to both see and be seen while amidst the long ‘hull’ is a powerful excavated space under the concrete bridge- a tough space to exhibit art in.
Lesley’s weaves stories, materials and spaces in a way that brings the river back to the city and reconnects it with its past: both urban and narrative. Her project is a search both personal and architectural for how Belfast and its river are intertwined in shaping a shared future for all.

Mr Paul Clarke
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