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Belfast School of Music

Part 2 Project 2009
Jordan McIlroy
Ulster University, UK
The project aims to deal with a problematic area on the edge of inner city North Belfast. Alexandra Park is a Victorian pleasure park that is divided in two by one of the many ‘peace lines’ that exist in Belfast and is located in an area that has suffered the effects of serious rioting and violence in the years since the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Viewing the area as a piece of a larger dysfunctional puzzle or narrative resulted in a design approach that attempted to counter the disconnection that exists in Belfast not just as a results of political violence, but as much as a consequence of disastrous planning and roads engineering decisions on a city-wide level.

Similar to Scharoun’s theatre in Wolfsburg, the central idea was to create a promenade through the park. Making a route along the west-east axis reinforces the notional connection that exists between the Belfast hills and the Lough - a connection that does indeed exist in the form of the Milewater River that runs through the park on its journey from the Cavehill to the Lough. The site also lies between, and holds the potential to connect, the city centre and the suburbs beyond along a north-south axis. Views of the Hills and the docks, combined with the bright orange Belfast brick from which the area has been built – and which subsequently played such a significant role in its destruction – all add to the sense of place. Along with certain aspects of the park, these became the major driving forces behind the organisation and design of the School.

The separation of the programme into separate structures ‘activates’ a larger area of the park than a single entity might do by creating a push-pull scenario between the three buildings. Both the practice room pavilion and the performance hall occupy the edge of the park while the teaching/administrative block anchors the project in the existing streetscape, seemingly rooting the whole scheme in its context.

Jordan McIlroy

The overarching design objective for this project was to extend the reach of the debate around urban regeneration and architecture in Belfast, and to challenge emerging orthodoxies. Jordan's proposal for a Music School in Alexandra Park in the north of the city is a highly symbolic intervention in an area that is separated by one of a number of Belfast’s ‘interface’ lines. The site, like many areas in the city, can be read as a ‘transition space’. From personal knowledge and wide user consultation the student has managed to take his proposal beyond just another response to the ‘Peace’ line in the city. Importantly, in order to liberate itself from the dead weight of ‘tribalism’ this project looked beyond the history of the Victorian Park and the surrounding neighbourhood(s), and through an intelligent and personal reading of the city the student was able to explore a number of imagined connections from north Belfast to the shore of the lough. This was no mean feat in a city where much civic urban space has been lost through a combination of civil unrest and woeful traffic engineering.

A critical part of the process of design development for this project was the student’s method of drawing as an investigative tool, something that is all too rare these days. By layering site plan, sketch plan, section and developing these into card models the student was always able to retain a real connection with both the edge of the man made landscape that is Alexandra Park, and the slightly decayed city streets.

Importantly the student hasn’t let the dynamic geometry of the site planning inhibit his ambitions for the building form. The three part massing arrangement reflects a logical separation of the programme requirements for the music centre, and his use of materials on elevations and in external public spaces is highly effective in its understated design and assembly.

Lindesay Dawe
School of Architecture and Design
University of Ulster

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