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I hope restoration of Botanic Garden's Tropical Ravine does not destroy my fond memories from childhood

letter of the day: historic building

The Tropical Ravine in Belfast's Botanic Gardens was always one of my favourite places to visit as a child. Coming out of the Belfast Museum, usually after seeing the dinosaur exhibit one more time (back when the museum actually had such things), I would often rush straight to the hot embrace of that tropical oasis, which had somehow sprung up on a wet island in the Atlantic.

As a child back then, to go from the bones of prehistoric monsters to finding yourself in a tropical jungle, complete with intense heat and claustrophobic atmosphere, was as close as one could get to feeling a part of prehistory.

As time wore on I still often visited the building; it often served as shelter from the cold winter winds on my trips to and from Queen's University. It was while sheltering from the bitter North Atlantic winds outside that the Victorian architecture, with its rusty red bricks and coal-black iron railings, really began to grow on me.

The more I saw the building with grown-up eyes the more I appreciated the beauty of its gritty architecture, made of brick and iron. Recently I went again, expecting to find everything as it had always been since my childhood - the battered red brick rising out of the trees around it, the heat steaming up the glass of the doors and windows and the familiar sound of water dripping from leaves as tall as buildings. Instead, this time, I found a construction site. The building was being torn apart.

Checking the Belfast City Council website I read this passage about the project: "We're restoring the Tropical Ravine. The ravine had become old and inefficient, but it's set to be restored back to its former glory, with a modern 21st-century twist that will see it become one of Belfast's most popular tourist attractions."

So, at least it wasn't being totally removed. Just restored. But while I understand the need to upkeep old buildings, I cannot help feeling that something will be lost with this restoration.

And this "modern 21st-century twist" doesn't sound promising to me at all.


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