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Belfast ‘Polis’ House

Part 2 Project 2011
Catherine Blaney
Queen's University Belfast | UK
In ‘Belfast’ the history is concealed in its name; between two rivers a ‘sandy ford’ was born. As the past courses of these two rivers are walked ancient forests of larch lie just underfoot, preserved in soft mud locally referred to as ‘blue sleech’. In modern-day Belfast the sandbank and the rivers are now illegible but the subterranean rivers formed a framework to study things hidden in the city and the path walked, lead back to the city’s origin. Now along the line of the sandy ford is an inaccessible dismembered city block, concealed behind a corrugated fence. Beyond the fence a Victorian RIC barracks was due to be demolished and a multi-storey car park was to be built in its place. A thesis site was found within the boundaries of what could not be shown on modern maps ‘for security reasons’. Therefore the site came before the brief and the approach to the site was a process of urban design through archaeology; using spoken and physical mnemonics that lay embedded in the urban landscape.

People refer locally to the police as ‘the po-lis’ just as much of Belfast history can be found in its name, Another layer of the city can be investigated through the word ‘police’. The entomology of the word police comes from ‘polis’, the ancient Greek word meaning ‘city’ or more specifically ‘a body of citizens’. A new urban grain for Belfast would be a ‘Polis House’, a polemic for a Senate. It becomes place of independent research and inquiry, an archive of public records, where rhetoric can take place along with the recording of anonymous confessions. The Polis House becomes the inverse of Stormont, mending the cities fabric and creating a new urban grain. Its rooms are hidden below street level, it can be wandered in upon and walked through, it is there to serve rather than to be served.

Catherine Blaney


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