New tour looks at how Troubles shaped built environment of today’s Belfast

A city shaped by conflict

By Kieran Hughes

T he impact of decades of civil unrest on Belfast’s architectural growth and evolution is the subject of an unconventional new walking tour taking in the centre of the city and its inner city communities.

Belfast: A City Shaped by Conflict, led by architect Aisling Shannon, explores areas like Carrick Hill, Shankill and the Grosvenor Road, where the built environment have been significantly impacted by the Troubles.

The walking tour, which had its debut outing on Saturday, March 24, explores the most obvious architectural sign of conflict – the peace walls – but also uncovers some of the more surprising ways in which the Troubles have influenced the shape of the city we see today, in the design of buildings, land usage and infrastructure.

Starting at the Europa Hotel, the walk takes in the ‘back-to-front’ inner city residential areas where roads, railings and even vegetation masquerade as interfaces.

Speaking to the Belfast Media Group Aisling says the tour hopes to point to the potential of “peace-time architecture”.

“The tour really focuses on the way in which Belfast has been influenced by the Troubles and the most obvious way is the peace walls, but there are lots of more subtle ways which it has been influenced,” said Aisling, who is currently researching a Phd in Planning for Spatial Reconciliation.

“The legacy of the ‘ring of steel’ around the city centre and other sectarian mechanisms in the past still have a legacy, for example the lack of nightlife vibrancy in the city centre and the fact that no one lives above the shops. But the tour is not overly political, it is about looking at the built environment we have in Belfast and how that has been shaped by the past.”

She says the architecture in Belfast is in many ways unique to the city.

“One of the early stops is at a police station. Police stations here are still very different from police stations anywhere else in the world and that is because of the threat that existed and still exists.”

The ‘back-to-front’ residentials areas, where neighbourhoods somewhat unnaturally face away from the city centre, contributes to an increasing segregation of communities, she explains.

“The very introspective housing in Carrick Hill is another aspect that we look at. From Carrick Hill along Peter’s Hill in to the city centre there is lots of empty space, lots of car parks where there used to be buildings.

“The houses in Carrick Hill are very inward looking, there are three rows of fencing between the road and Carrick Hill, whereas a lot of terraces houses used to just come out on the front of the street. It makes it feel separated.”

And although it’s not directly related to the Troubles, the Westlink continues to act as a barrier cutting off one part of the city from the rest.

“The Westlink was planned before the troubles began. But then during the conflict, in a way, it became a way to keep rioting and trouble out of the city centre which arguably made things worse in North and West Belfast. Now it is incredibly difficult to change something like the Westlink.”

The one hour 30 minute tour, which is facilitated by Belfast based built environment centre Place NI, is on now. For details of times and prices visit www.placeni.org

 

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