Belfast Telegraph

Why the new Belfast skyline highlights the progress we've made since 1998

Today’s much-changed skyline at Belfast harbour
Today’s much-changed skyline at Belfast harbour

By Ciaran Fox

Architecture over the last 20 years highlights the significant progress of our society as it emerged from conflict but also reminds us of the political instability and the divisions that remain.

There is no doubt the Belfast Agreement made an enormously positive contribution to our physical landscape.

As a direct result of the agreement much of the defensive architecture common in Northern Ireland in 1998 no longer exists.

Police stations, watch towers and army barracks have disappeared.

Many of those sites have become the focus for regeneration initiatives - the award-winning Girdwood scheme in north Belfast springs to mind.

Titanic Belfast, the Odyssey, the MAC, the Lyric, the reworked Ulster Museum not to mention the new hotels and restaurants, all tell of a city that is much more attractive for visitors and for residents too.

Beyond Belfast the investment in the Giant's Causeway Visitors' Centre and the Peace Bridge in Derry stand out as symbols of how peace has enabled tourism growth. Peace, and the confidence that it is a permanent peace, has brought Belfast city centre back to life and has set it on an upward trajectory.

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Ulster University is in the process of moving its campus, new office developments highlight Belfast's increasing success at attracting foreign direct investment and plans are afoot to start to repopulate the city core.

Alongside this progress, the architecture of division persists. More than 100 'peace walls' continue to divide our communities.

Projects not delivered also tell their own story of division. The Peace-building and Conflict Resolution Centre at the Maze designed by world renowned architect Daniel Libeskind and due to open in 2015 has now been in cold storage for five years. Regardless of how the current Stormont impasse and Brexit conundrum unfold I think it is important over the next 20 years that architecture not only reflects the changes in our society but plays a more active role in driving positive transformation in our communities.

  • Ciaran Fox is director of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects

Belfast Telegraph