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Thursday, 24 March 2011

My PLACE: QUB 3rd Year Architecture

In this series, we ask practitioners, experts and enthusiasts for their take on the built environment - where are we now, how did we get here, and where are going?

We spoke to Alex Shields, Ciara McCallion, Michael McKeown, Catherina Caffrey and Justin Hughes, 3rd Year Architecture Students at Queen's.

The students' work will be on display at the Ulster Hall, launching Mon 28th March at 7pm

What has your group learned about designing for urban communities?

"For the past six months third year architecture students have been working closely within Sandy Row, Belfast in order to fully understand what an urban community is built up of and the need to improve, develop and sustain it. Our experiences have also taken us to Berlin in early October where we studied this urban environment and contrasted it with Belfast.

Designing for urban communities must begin with an understanding of the people who live within them. The understanding and the experience within a city.

This is shown by how the residents live their everyday life by the routes and pathways regularly taken by the community. Part of our analysis was alternative mapping, which consisted of following in other peoples tracks. This allowed us to experience the city in the footsteps of those who inhabit it forcing a different pattern to our paths and discover a new perception of an urban environment. This is a less prejudiced approach, which was firstly carried out in Berlin and later applied to Sandy Row in Belfast.

After in depth research into the community we discovered a wide diversity of the people who live there and the needs of the community both economically and socially. Some research included demographics, historic mapping, and the perception of people in the wider city of a specific community.




Analysis must be made up of many layers being steeped in history and identity. It is important to scratch beneath the surface of the topologies to engage with the social and economic issues, which are embedded within a community.

After analysis of the current urban situation we acknowledged the need for improvement to the built environment. We developed this through strategic proposals for the next twenty-five years in the form of master planning. This was complimented by proposals for small-scale interventions to address specific needs for the community in 1:1 scale projects, for example the Urban Community Toolbox. Considering the proportion of the human body highlights the immensity of the city.

Buildings situated in a community influence, and become influenced by, a complex set of social and economic parameters that continue to shape the character of each street and urban square.

The success or failure of urban environments is often determined by the generosity with which these elements meet each other and the edge conditions between buildings and their surroundings.

Increasingly the world we find is comprised of existing communities evolving in parallel with the city and in negotiation with the aspects of nations that informs their lives: politics, economics, social norms, changing technologies and the environment.

We have learnt that all views must work in a coherent manner in order to develop a clear future. It must be realized that it is the community that will live in these spaces not the architect and therefore must be at the heart of the design."

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