London Metropolitan University 09/10

No Place Like Home

‘I want to see how we can break the cycle of segregation. We live apart, we are educated apart, we largely socialise and recreate apart. And to me that’s not normal. If we do nothing then the cycle of segregation will continue from this generation to the next….I can help break this cycle in both housing and urban regeneration’ (Margaret Ritchie, Northern Ireland Minister for Social Development.)

Once grouped with Beirut, Baghdad and Bosnia as one of the four B’s to avoid, Belfast is now one of Lonely Planet’s top ten cities to visit. The city has suffered from 35 years of crippling civil unrest and armed conflict, but since The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 a sense of optimism has been growing; Belfast and its people are regenerating.

However, in many areas a splintered existence remains, and sectarian division and bleak deprivation are still startlingly alive. Political, religious and paramilitary affiliations are painted in vivid murals across the built environment, and the two opposing communities are often separated by stark ‘peace walls’. Pride, identity and vigour, things we celebrate and promote in our urban environments, go hand in hand with a history of violence, tension and fear.

Our main proposal for the year will be housing in West Belfast, on a site of interface between protestant and catholic communities. We will debate the same questions that the government are currently asking the Northern Irish public to respond to:

How can we tackle segregation? How can we create a shared future? How do we move forward?

Exploring and considering the area’s contradictions and subtleties, we will study community and domestic life to discover the area in its widest and most intimate forms, and to understand it as a place deeply embroiled and shaped by history and politics. Our design responses must strengthen positive elements intrinsic to this place, and demonstrate the difference between a house and a home.

We will travel to Ireland, visiting both Belfast and the West Coast, where we will look closely at the vernacular as a way of understanding what is particular about this country. We will join students from the Architecture Department at the University of Limerick, and investigate rural settlements and housing. This will give us a unique insight into the traditional Irish family home in terms of family structure, layout, construction and materiality. In Belfast, we will embed ourselves within the city and from a community centre on the Shankill Road, research and develop personal responses to the area in order to establish an understanding that can be used throughout the project.