Invisibility Appropriation Subversion: An Observation Post at the Shankill Falls Divide

Reenie Elliott

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This paper considers invisibility, appropriation and subversion in the architectural history of an observation position at the Shankill Falls Divide in West Belfast, 1972. The Falls Road area was considered by the British Army to be a hotbed of Nationalist Republican sentiment (figure 2) , and was subjected to intrusive surveillance, as evidenced by the sheer volume of observation positions I’ve recorded, see figure 3. My aim is to investigate a structure that has since been dismantled, but which played an important role in the conflict. Following Foucault, I ask the question ‘How significant was invisibility in the appropriation and subversion of an architectural space for surveillance purposes?’ I document an accumulation of covert lookouts constructed within the façade of an RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) station incrementally over time. These micro-tactical structures were designed to establish a network of power by augmenting and manipulating viewing trajectories.

I use architectural drawing to document the location, architectural, and spatial qualities of the observation position within a network of similar coercive architectural structures (figures 3, 11, 12). I have noticed that surveillance operations started to deploy tactics of concealment, appropriation and subversion in 1972, in a shift from overt to covert observation . I argue that as well as a security response to the conflict, this reflects a wider crisis in modernist colonial urbanism, and a breakdown in urban functionalism. The date is consistent with the emergence of postmodernism in architecture, also in 1972.

To see where it sits within the paradigm shift between modern and post-modern architecture, I analyse the architectural structure using Le Corbusiers’ five points of architecture, a quintessentially modernist manifesto . I then test it using Venturi Scott Browns’ definitions of the Duck and the Decorated Shed, a postmodern one (see figure 5) . My aim is to show that observation positions in Belfast at this time offer a more politically charged example of the postmodern turn in architecture than that identified by Charles Jencks, namely the demolition of a housing project in St. Louis Missouri, also in 1972 . This is important because it reveals a latent postcolonial condition in postmodern architecture, a topic that has been inadequately theorized . The impact will reflect itself in understanding postmodernism in architecture as a social, political and a postcolonial phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBuilding Material
Publication statusIn preparation - 31 Aug 2021
EventFIELD CONDITIONS: Architectural Association of Ireland Research Group - TU Dublin, Dubin, Ireland
Duration: 24 Jan 201925 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Architecture Association of Ireland Research Group (AAIRG)


  • Architecture Association of Ireland Research Group


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