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Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Belfast Martyrium: Collating the Relics of Human Sectarianism | Catherine Howe, Georgina Holden & Jason Stewart

The Belfast Martyrium is an MArch thesis project by Catherine Howe, Georgie Holden and Jason Stewart (University of Liverpool). The project has now been nominated to the RIBA Presidents Medal 2013 to be exhibited in September. The group explain the Belfast Martyrium below....

Although seemingly ordinary, relics from sectarian cities each hold distinct narratives and as unique physical artefacts become markers of time, charting the history of a population. How can these, contentious, potentially vexing objects, be brought together without diluting their narrative and allow their investigation through cultural and educational analysis. By collating martyred objects, how can they be preserved without creating shrines at their archived location, perpetuating further violence and tension? Belfast is a city synonymous with sectarianism for which it attracts global, political and media attention, exemplified by the recent flag protests’ broadcast across the world. 

The Belfast Martyrium. Copyright: Catherine Howe, Georgie Holden &
Jason Stewart (MArch Thesis Group, University of Liverpool).

Our architectural response poses the question how can architecture deal with difficult heritage from divided sectarian cities, harnessing them for international development and placing Belfast as a global centre of research in a field that the city has decades of experience in. 

City Context. Copyright: Catherine Howe, Georgie Holden
& Jason Stewart (MArch Thesis Group, University of Liverpool).

The Belfast Martyrium is located between Shankill Road & Clifton Street over the Westlink, amidst an urban void. As a group we identified that Belfast both lacks public green space and contains cavities, which litter Belfasts built fabric. This was our starting point for creating purpose to this so claimed ‘no mans land’ and to seductively cover the Westlink,, a physical fracture within the cityscape. 

Belfast, 1960. Copyright: Catherine Howe, Georgie Holden
& Jason Stewart (MArch Thesis Group, University of Liverpool).

Belfast, 1990. Copyright: Catherine Howe, Georgie Holden
& Jason Stewart (MArch Thesis Group, University of Liverpool).

Our thesis draws direct inspiration from the Clifton Street Cemetery situated just off Clifton Street. Its unique history and the nature of Clifton Street Cemetery as “a Paradigm for the history of the city” inspired us to use this as a strategy and concept for the Martyrium. The cemetery is a permanent collection of markers in time; we explored this as a key driver to our thesis in which we proposed an archive as a permanent collection of relics, which documents the passage of time for divided societies whilst ensuring that a certain degree of anonymity is maintained for the objects. 

Concept. Copyright: Catherine Howe, Georgie Holden
& Jason Stewart (MArch Thesis Group, University of Liverpool).

Concept. Copyright: Catherine Howe, Georgie Holden
& Jason Stewart (MArch Thesis Group, University of Liverpool).

The cemetery is comprised of a main avenue with smaller secondary streets branching off from it, these connect housed relics of sectarianism. Whilst the master plan uses the funeral procession as a concept for its design this has also been influenced by the physical characteristics of Clifton Street Cemetery. From the interment of an item at the collection point on Shankill Road , to its presentation in the Main building on Clifton Street, its entombment at the preservation stage in the form of an archive and it's exhumation for research and analysis situated in various strategic points across the site. These processes are linked to ensure that the handling of these contentious items is done with unprecedented care and consideration. 

Proposed Site Plan. Copyright: Catherine Howe, Georgie Holden
& Jason Stewart (MArch Thesis Group, University of Liverpool).

Inspired by Mausoleums/Martyria in Clifton Street Cemetery we took the physical aspects of these enclosed tombs and based our individual archival receptacles on their basic design principles. Each item would be concealed within individual martyria across the site, which would also interact with the Westlink below, creating a sculptural piece that will constantly change corresponding to new exhibitions which are displayed in the Belfast Martyriums Exhibtion Space on Clifton Street. When the Belfast Martyrium is closed the items will be enclosed within the boxes, which will physically sit below the ground surface like that of a tomb. 

Westlink Perspective. Copyright: Catherine Howe, Georgie Holden
& Jason Stewart (MArch Thesis Group, University of Liverpool).

Copyright: Catherine Howe, Georgie Holden & Jason Stewart
(MArch Thesis Group, University of Liverpool).

Copyright: Catherine Howe, Georgie Holden & Jason Stewart
(MArch Thesis Group, University of Liverpool).

By coupling the archival collection of these relics with their display space the entirety of this void within the city becomes an attractive public landscape to visit and pass through on a regular basis. The shared space created benefits the city locally, regionally and the international community, providing community members, visiting individuals and academics a method to engage with sectarian relics, detached from their weighted narratives.

Copyright: Catherine Howe, Georgie Holden & Jason Stewart
(MArch Thesis Group, University of Liverpool).

If you would like to find out more information about the Belfast Martyrium, or get in touch with Catherine, Georgie and Jason, email info@placeni.org.

To share your University project on the PLACE Blog email info@placeni.org.

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