Belfast losing its individuality?

Away from parades (for a moment at least…) and the chairman of the newly launched Ireland chapter of the International Network for Traditional, Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU), Robert Adam, has warned that Belfast is at risk of losing its own identity due to architectural trends which are failing to take account of the distinctive characteristics of towns and cities in the designing of new buildings. Of Belfast’s new shopping centre, Victoria Square, Adam said:
“It’s good architecture but the problem is it could be anywhere…..There’s nothing that tells me I am in Belfast, I could be anywhere in the world.”
So, Sluggerites, what buildings take your ‘fancy’ in Belfast and which ones define the city for you?

  • eranu

    ive never actually been in it, but i like the shape of bittles bar beside the victoria centre. its pretty distinctive. in the cities ive been to in europe, its the buildings from 100+ years ago that make its character. anything newish seems to be poured concrete with decorative granite panels or glass hung from it. more lego than building, and no chance of any character. and dont start with that modern art cobblers!

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    Ah Belfast lost it’s ‘character’ with the end of the Empire and economic hard times that followed, not forgetting when the Luftwaffe struck, as well as the IRA as well as the 1960’s/70’s planners and developers. However with all the recent new developments, Belfast has taken on the look of another provincial ‘British’ city as indeed a lot of the cities throughout Ireland.

    When it comes to architecture and the visual arts we here in Ireland are very, very conservative, which is why our cities don’t look particularly distinctive and unique, but rather remain provincial ‘British’ cities.

    However the Crown Bar is the little jewel of Belfast. Decorated by Italian craftsmen, it’s a great piece of Victoriana. And the big jewel is Belfast City Hall of course,again decorated by Italian craftsmen, its ostentatious interior is rather reminiscent of any Catholic cathedral in Rome.

    The new Lyric Theatre should be another new contemporary addition for the city…

    ….amd Belfast looks that it might have Ireland’s tallest building…that’s if the U2 tower isn’t built in Dublin as well as a tower at the new redeveloped Point Depot (due to the present credit crunch).

  • Brian Walker

    As a visitor these days, maybe I notice changes more starkly than an inhabitant. For me, distinctive Belfast is Waring St and environs, Donegall Square and Victoria St. Just thinking of them tells you how much they and the other remnants of the Victorian city centre are under threat. The bigger and grander commercial and mill buildings are the landmarks round which others are grouped. The character of the broad line of Victoria St and Adelaide St parallels survive for example, while High St, Great Victoria St and Bedford St are almost doomed. The renovated Ulster Hall might just save the latter but with Ewart’s derelict and crumbling, it looks like touch and go. Chichester St is in the balance.

    What is a typical “Belfast” building? Hard to say, I think it’s a matter of scale and intimacy
    working together. Victoria Sq will work if it pulls up Ann St/Arthur St/Cornmarket. The day of cheapo fortress architecture is over. The big task now is to save the city centre from becoming like a tacky Smithfield robbed of its old character. Road blight isn’t the whole answer and often it’s only an excuse. People should kick up stink about planning notices. What has happened to the wonderful Ulster Architectural Society (Charlie Brett RIP)?
    Next targets for rehab and sympathetic development are Cathedral Quarter and the little warren around Chapel Lane which is only just clinging on. Does anybody with power care?

    It’s daft to be against all modernity. The cleared site on the renovated Lagan has created quite a convincing Big City modern core, focused on the Waterfront.

    One underrated asset is much sympathetic public housing since the 80s, starting with Markets with its strong vernacular character.There are gaps there. Councillors and campaigners should insist on Parker Morris standards everywhere. And while I’m in the area, the Gasworks is a triumph, even though there isn’t much contact with the Markets where they should resolve that ridiculous row with residents’only parking, 10 am – noon; 4pm-6.30pm. Perhaps the touchstone for all Belfast development will be the Ormeau Road, chic at Ballynafeigh, faltering but developing lower down.

  • Its going to look a bit different this weekend.

  • DK

    Main think that gives Belfast character are that wherever you are, you can see the hills. Other than that, it really is a mixture of bits and pieces without an overall theme. Probably the best recent things have been the Odyssey complex and the emergence of Catherdral Quarter – at least from an inhabitants point of view. You also have to appreciate Victoria Square and Ikea – again if you actually live here.

    Architecturally, the big “signature” items (to me) are, in no particular order:

    St Annes Cathedral – biggest celtic cross in the world, and now a massive spike.
    Albert’s clock – and its tilt.
    The H&W;cranes
    The city Hall
    Botanic Park – a tropical ravine in Belfast!
    The entries
    Queen’s Uni
    The ulster hospital tower block
    The black man (actually green)

  • Brian MacAudh

    As long as it is divided along sectarian lines with enough hatred to go around for everyone, it will still be Belfast

  • michael

    Speaking with some degree of education in architecture (BSc), The Ulster museum is probably considered to be one of Belfast, if not Ireland’s most important modern pieces. Of course, that was before the troubles, which had a huge effect on our architectural aspirations, as a society(ies).

    But yeah, i can’t really think specifically of what characterises contemprary Belfast. Unless we know that, trying to think what an architecture/ urbanism of Belfast would be is a waste of time. It merely aesthetics and is would suffer from the same problems that V. Square has been accused of.

    Great to see some architecture stuff on Slugger, lets hope there’s more! Thanks Chris!

  • michael

    sorry about all the errors in that previous post! wrote it in a hurry!

  • Harry Flashman

    Belfast is fundamentally a Victorian, northern British city (trust me I use the term “British” in this instance as a geographical/socio-economic term rather than a political designation) in the same way as Glasgow or Bradford.

    Those architectural qualities which marked it out were regarded as utterly charmless a few decades ago hence the rush to obliterate them and replace them with shiny new concrete and glass structures, and as Greg points out the Luftwaffe and their erstwhile allies in the IRA didn’t help either.

    So now Belfast like every other town and city in Ireland (Charlie Haughey and his buddies had a lot to answer for in the destruction of the old beautiful “Georgian” city of Dublin for essentially the same reasons) loses its individuality in the face of a pan “British Isles” (I use the term very guardedly for want of a better expression) identity of UK High Street shops and bars and uniform fashions, perhaps the distinct accent will also soon go the way of the old buildings to be replaced with a mid-Atlantic/Thames Estuary/Australian twang downloaded from cable tv and the internet, who knows?

    Progress, isn’t it marvellous?

  • Jamoose

    It will be really interesting to see what happens with the re-generation of the Titanic Quarter.
    For me, I think one of the biggest balls-ups was with the gasworks on the Ormeau Road.
    That had the potential to be a great museum/library, but instead, after making such a good job of cleaning the main house up, they turned the entire area into Belfast’s own little Slough.
    Megaliths of Govt. property quickly erected by the blandest of architects, held together with red tape in order to house mountains of spotty teenagers answering phone calls and queing to pay late car-tax.
    Bittles is a terrific spot and one of the best kept and original bars in the city. Not only on the exterior but inside too.
    There is artwork everywhere depicting portraits of great Irish writers.
    The Crown is beautifull to look at but unfortunately it’s full of suits and tourists – which I suppose is not a bad thing.
    Kelly’s cellars out the back of Primark is also beautifully preserved — though daunting for an old baked bun like myself.
    The Hatfeild on the Ormeau Road is has one of the most splendid interiors i’ve ever seen. Pity it’s full of spoilt culchies. Yer man from ‘Holyland Warzone’ could soon take care of them.
    Our cathedrals are also some of the finest in the world. Just look at St. Anne’s or St. Patricks in Armagh city.
    The Odyssey has put a nice modern twist when you’re driving into the city but it would be nice if the Titanic Quarter capitalised on it’s heritage and brought back a bit of red brick.
    Stonemasonry has notably been neglegted in recent years as well. Probably because of expense but when was the last time you met a stonemason.
    City Hall is also quite remarkable. Pity it’s full of plonkers.
    And I’d say Stormont isn’t exactly a shitheap when it’s compared to other international houses of Parliament (Westminster excluded).
    And what about our murals? The ruddy tourists love those things.
    Even Geraldine McQueen got one in a very humerous moment from Peter Kay’s Popstar, soapstar, possibly a … whatever.
    The Cregagh estate — nicknamed Jerusalem because of the flat roofs on all the houses — likewise in the white city up north.
    Our parks aren’t the worst either. Just look at Botanic.
    Come to think of it, after all the shite we’ve been through, we proud citizens of the BFS have’nt actually came out the other side too badly.
    It could be worse. We could live in Lisburn. Imagine the hours wasted looping the city in that stupid one-way system.
    And they dont even put Belfast on any of the signs.
    It’s like a big lobster trap.

  • Alan

    We hardly appreciate what we have anyway. Follow the crowds (?) of tourists and they stop to photograph the Crown, the Assembly Buildings ( wasn’t there some idea that this was going ?), the City Hall and Queens.

    For some character that’s still there – the Rosetta Cottages, the Moravian Church on University Road, Inst, the Carnegie Library on Donegal Pass ( despite Quintin ), Martyrs’ Memorial ( not), Rosemary St Presby, Miss Moran’s Tobacco shop, Seaview football ground ( for still being there), the old part of the zoo, the City cemetary and Queen’s Arcade ( and a big hand to Lunns as there is nothing as blissfull as walking out of the noise of Royal Avenue at 9 in the morning into a haze of classical music while you walk past Lunn’s lovely ladies polishing their rocks).

    Some of the landmarks are long gone – the Elephant in North Street, the row of cottages at Peter’s Hill, the Wheatabix Flats, Divis, Tullycarnet maisonettes ( because Castlereagh is Belfast ) and the Carousel on Gt Victoria St.

  • Dec

    We could live in Lisburn. Imagine the hours wasted looping the city in that stupid one-way system.
    And they dont even put Belfast on any of the signs.
    It’s like a big lobster trap.

    Have you ever noticed how south of Tempo there is a welcome to City of Lisburn sign by a large green field. I realise up at Lisburn they have a tenuous grasp on reality ( They trumpeted it as “Northern Irelands Premier city” a few years ago) but is there something we should know?

  • The Raven

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this thread. More please!!

    “the Elephant in North Street” – I take it you are referring to the building as opposed to the actual elephant that adorned it? The elephant itself was there one weekend and gone the next. I wonder who’s student bedroom it adorns now….

    I do a lot of photography, and there are still some lovely Belfast “bits” out there. Finding them isn’t that hard. While I disagree with nothing in the above posts, may I add a couple of rants that I have posted before:

    When all the work is done, the Customs Square building will not be visible from the river or other side thereof. Who is responsible for screening that magnificent building off in such a way? Also, I was in that building a few years ago, and many parts of its original interior were still there. However, now it has been torn apart from the inside out, and is faceless and bland.

    Also, I miss North Street Arcade, with its big windows. It could have been a fabulous little mall, if left alone….(read “not burnt down in a malicious insurance job…allegedly)

    There’s also a building down Ann Street, almost opposite Forbidden Planet that looks as if it were an old cinema…lovely Mackintosh-esque front to it? You know the one I mean.

    My mother used to talk about walking through City Hall as a shortcut. She “loved to hear the sound of heels on the marble”. She also used to speak about the Anderson McAuley building (I hope I got the right building) and its “sweeping marble staircase”.

    If you want to see some gems in Belfast, you really have to look up. Above the tacky neon signage, there are lovely examples of what it used to be like. There’s also Ten Square with its “heads….Malmaison has retained a great character in that end of the town….there’s so many.

    Take a couple of hours on a Sunday and walk through the town. Well worth it.

  • Some of you guys need to get out of Belfast!

    It is a tip, let’s face it. It has very few buildings (let alone districts) of note. Compared with an average village in Europe, it is nothing. Harry Flashman is right – it is “fundamentally a Victorian, northern British city”, and that is not a good thing!

    It lacks almost everything that a pleasant, enjoyable city needs. Go to Barcelona, Paris, Copenhagen, any town in the Netherlands or Germany, Strasbourg, Lille, Lyons, Vilnius, Neuchatel, … hell, anywere if you want to see what cities can be like. Belfast ain’t anything, and it isn’t becoming anything.

    I dispair of the petty introverted ignorant minds which actually think tht Belfast is worth a candle compared with real cities. Compare it to Bradford or Huddersfield, if you must. But accept that it is in the lowest league of European cities, and has a pathetic per capita ratio of ‘notable’ features.

    End of rant.

  • Neil Blaney (SP)

    Next targets for rehab and sympathetic development are …. the little warren around Chapel Lane which is only just clinging on.

    That’s outrageous. I was able to spend only 2 hours in Belfast on my recent visit and that’s the only place I went. Is Kelly’s Cellars to go?

  • The Raven

    Yeah Horseman, you’re entitled to your rant.

    Firstly, we’re not all from Belfast.

    Secondly, don’t assume from the petty tribal arguments that we don’t ever get out of Belfast.

    We have what we have, and we try to appreciate it as best we can, regardless of its Northern British Victorian nature.

    Frankly, if all you wanted to contribute to a discussion about architecture in Belfast was the torrent of bile you just came out with, I don’t know why you bothered.

    I’m sure there’s a policing thread somewhere.

    Actually, that’s harsh of me. Notwithstanding that we have no Gaudi, and no Eiffel, and no Langhans, and taking into account what has been discussed above, perhaps you’d like to contribute constructively, and give us your opinion of some of the older architecture in the town?

    Or would you prefer just to heap scorn?

    Or are you just in “i’m-a-wee-troll” mood today?

  • Alan

    I won’t defend Belfast, it doesn’t need it. It’s character is there because of its people – and we aren’t going anywhere. No matter what they build, we’ll rub off the sharp corners, spit on the floor and make it ours.

    The sweeping staircase was in Robinson Cleavers ( now . . . . Burger-bloody-King ). There was a staircase at Anderson McAuley, but not “kwalady”

    There are some interesting buildings on May Street, including the Auction Houses that only exist because the developers have been looking elsewhere

    Someone else mentioned the entries – Pottingers, Joys – the Monaco Bar down to Whites – and at the Duke of York.

    It would be nice if there were more green spaces. Too many of the churches have turned their lawns into carparks.

  • The Raven

    Alan – you’re right – I checked with my silver-haired, ancient mariner of a Ma, and she stands corrected. Cheers.

  • picador

    Belfast losing its individuality?

    Wait a minute! Which Belfast are we talking about here!?

    Belfast NI
    Belfast ME
    Belfast SA
    Belfast NZ

  • picador

    Wow. I really screwed that up. Here goes again.

    Belfast losing its individuality?

    Wait a minute! Which Belfast are we talking about here!?

    Belfast NI
    Belfast ME
    Belfast SA
    Belfast NZ

    Preview is really useful. I must remember to use it!