Invisibility, appropriation, subversion
: British Army observation posts at the Shankill Falls divide, 1972

  • Reenie Elliott

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Visible watchtowers, high walls, checkpoints and barriers form the accepted understanding of conflict era architecture in Northern Ireland. Invisible surveillance structures also played a role, but little is known about them or their whereabouts. To examine and evoke the invisible, the measures I have had to take range from ethnographic research using drawn representations to archive research and theory. This thesis, in drawing upon and indeed innovating a series of techniques, goes beyond the visible, and in effect challenges the assumption that military surveillance was in the public interest. The resulting drawings and text are my original contribution to knowledge.

Main Question:
How was invisibility in the appropriation and subversion of architectural spaces and structures as military observation posts at the Shankill Falls Divide in 1972?

My thesis examines key reversals of power and visibility that occurred in four observation posts near the 'Peace Line' before and after 1972. All four case studies are institutional buildings that were appropriated by the British Army: a public housing project, a police station, a hospital, and a former linen mill. Through ethnographic interviews and archive research, I reconstruct speculative architectural drawings of each observation post. I consider how these observation posts affected surrounding physical, spatial and social structures. I also identify strategies of resistance in the surrounding public spaces in response to these fixed architectures of visual control. I reveal how paramilitaries and military agents alike deployed subversive tactics to remain invisible, while the visibility of civilians increased. A series of extracts from the Commanders Diary reveals a shift towards saturation surveillance, in which local people became highly visible transparent surveillant subjects.

Thesis embargoed until 31 July 2027
Date of AwardJul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy & Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorGary Archibald Boyd (Supervisor), Brendan Murtagh (Supervisor) & Dominic Bryan (Supervisor)


  • Architecture
  • divided cities
  • surveillance architecture
  • observation posts
  • military urbanism
  • conflict in cities
  • social exclusion
  • postcolonial theory
  • Foucault
  • architectural drawing
  • urban infrastructure networks
  • Irish identity
  • political geography
  • community relations
  • securitisation
  • shared space
  • peace and reconciliation
  • heritage
  • Irish archaeology
  • mapping
  • The quarantined city
  • ethnography

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