Beyond the shadow space: architecture as a professional and creative process; during and post-conflict.

Ruth Morrow, Ciaran Mackel, John Dickson Fitzgerald

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    Much has been written about the impact of conflict on the physical nature of cities; most obviously perhaps the damage, destruction, defensive construction and spatial reconfigurations that evolve in times of conflict. Set within the context of Belfast, Northern Ireland, this paper will focus on three areas. First, a closer reading of the long-term physical impact of conflict, in particular, the spatial forms and practices that persist conceptually and culturally, and/or resist re-conceptualisation. Secondly, the effect of conflict on the nature of architectural practice itself, considering whether issues such as appointment and procurement impacted on architectural expectation and the context of operation. Thirdly, the effect of conflict on people, in particular in relation to creativity and hence the psyche of practice itself. This section will also identify the conditions that undermine or support design quality and creativity not only within times of conflict but also as society evolves out of the shadow space. 1
    Twelve years on from the Peace Agreement,2 it may seem remarkable from an external perspective that Northern Ireland still needs to be reflecting on its troubled past. But the immediate post-conflict phase offered the communities of Northern Ireland place and time to experience ‘normal life’, begin to reconcile themselves to the hurt they experienced and start to reconfigure their relationships to one another. Indeed, it has often been expressed that probing the issues too much, at too early a phase, might in fact ‘Open old wounds without resolving anything’ and/or ‘Destabilise the already fragile political system.’3 This tendency not to deliberate or be too probing is therefore understandable and might be the reason why, for example, Northern Ireland's first Architecture and Built Environment policy, published in June, 2006, contains only one routine reference to ‘the Troubles’.

    Clearly, however, there is a time in the development of a healthy, functioning society, when in order effectively to plan its future, it must also carry out a closer reading and deeper understanding of its past. As Maya Angelou puts it, ‘History, despite its wrenching pain/ Cannot be unlived, and if faced/ With courage, need not be lived again.’4

    Increasingly, those within the creative arts sector and the built environment professions are showing interest in carrying out that closer reading, teasing out issues around conflict. This was led in part by the recent publication of the Troubles Archive by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.5 Those involved in the academic or professional development of future generations of architects are also concerned about the relevance of a post-conflict condition. As a profession, if architects purport to be concerned with context, then the almost tangible socio-political circumstances and legacy of Northern Ireland does inevitably require direct eye contact. This paper therefore aims to bring the relationship between conflict and architectural practice in Northern Ireland into sharp focus, not to constrain or dull creative practice but to heighten its potential.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)57-70
    Number of pages14
    JournalJournal of Architecture
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
    • Architecture


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