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Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre, Belfast

Part 2 Project 2010
Ronan Fitzpatrick
Ulster University | UK
The prevalence of sexual abuse in Irish society remains a significant problem. It is the experience of campaigners that instances of sexual violence in urban areas are becoming more frequent. Presently there is a real issue with the integration of services, structures are quite fragmented leaving access for victims difficult.

The Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre facilitates the provision of a comprehensive and integrated support framework incorporating services such as crisis pregnancy and mental health services. The scheme too provides accommodation for those vulnerable or without the necessary support within the family or community.

Belfast is a city composed of a complex network of communities. Paramilitary involvement within these communities remains strong and acts of violence perpetrated by these paramilitaries, to assert authority, remain frequent. It was thus essential to locate the building in ‘neutral territory’ within the city with no allegiance to any community.

The centre takes the form of a visually conspicuous bastion in the heart of Belfast’s City centre. It aims to create a strong public presence within the city, working to increase awareness of the need to change the conditions in society which make sexual abuse possible.

The proposal takes the form of a vertical house within the city, influenced by the fortified tower house which dominated the Irish countryside in the 16th century. The tower house, intended primarily as a dwelling house, is characterised by its vertically stacked volumes and courtyards.

Within the house are four distinct volumes, the living room, sanctuary, forest and village. These are linked by a series of vertical journeys. The main route through the building is expressed on the external skin. It begins in the living room, a public space at ground floor level, meanders through the forest culminating at the roof top village, punctuated en route by a series of external garden spaces. The village is a protected retreat for victims providing accommodation and well being services. The sanctuary and forest are interlinked to create a continuous flow between inside and out. The interior counselling rooms fold into the forest, an intimate pocket garden elevated within the city.

Ronan Fitzpatrick

Ronan's project engages the difficult social issue of sexual violence undercurrent in society. In particular in recent years issues of addressing abuse both institutional and personal have become a major factor in Irish society.

This project offers a sheltering vertical house in Belfast which is, in itself, a city within a city. It is articulated into distinct sections which lift up through a large volume making a series of protected spaces. Using the notion of the suspended garden, nature is intertwined as a sheltering and reflective background around which to place the spaces of the building.

Each aspect of the programme is embedded into the 'house' to give contrasting privacy and openness that both allows time to heal and spaces to openly debate and discuss to society as a whole.

The building lifts out of its context in a modern and clear way and believes that it is possible to engage the city block with new life and announce its presence without hiding in a peripheral or institutional context. It is a totem of social engagement at the heart of its architectural agenda. It announces that these issues are present in the city and society and does not want to hide them away.

At the very top of the building is a halo of houses providing shelter and community to those women and their children who have had to flee their circumstances. With careful consideration of detail, space and light, these houses within- 'the city house'- are key to Ronan's whole approach and work.

He has used models at every scale to study and understand the difficult and complex programme that he has passionately addressed, and to frame a clear sense of urbanity in the strong context of Belfast City Centre.

Mr Paul Clarke
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