“one of the glories of Modernism”

When the £12million redevelopment of the Ulster Museum was announced, back in July 2005, the focus was mostly on the interior but, as noted by the Irish Times Environment Editor[subs req] Frank McDonald, the accompanying facelift to the listed building, and in particular the extension designed by London-based architect Francis Pym in 1963 – who resigned before it was completed to become an Anglican priest – is being opposed by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society and they have registered their objections with the NI Planning Office in Belfast ahead of an expected decision next week.From the Irish Times article

The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society is objecting in particular to a proposal to enclose the museum’s cantilevered concrete canopy with glass, saying this would compromise the entrance facade – “one of the glories of Modernism in Ulster”.

The society has registered its objections in a letter to the Northern Ireland Planning Service’s Belfast divisional office, in the hope that they will be taken into account before a decision is made on the £12 million (€17.7 million) scheme next week.

It cites a 1999 Northern Ireland Department of the Environment policy statement on planning, archaeology and the built heritage, which says listed buildings “can be robbed of their special interest as surely by unsuitable alteration as by outright demolition”.

The department said it would normally only grant consent to proposals for alterations to a listed building where “the essential character of the building and its setting are retained and its features of special interest remain intact and unimpaired”.

The heritage society pointed out that the planners were also required by a 1991 ministerial order to have “special regard for the desirability of preserving the building or its setting or any feature of special architectural or historic interest which it possesses”.

The society said the entrance facade “is internationally renowned for its daring splicing together of old and new . . . it is a sculptural tour de force which should be treasured and remain intact.

“The great cantilevered canopy, which provides shelter for parties of visitors and announces the entrance, is a feature of ‘special interest’ and should not be filled in. Any change would erode its character and amount to a breach of the planning policy statement”.

The heritage society stressed it was not suggesting that listing should require “mothballing” of the building. “Alterations or an extension to include café space could be acceptably sited on the east elevation without sacrificing the integrity of this major architectural event”.