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Friday, 16 August 2013

A Review of the PLACE Urban Design Academy 2013

The PLACE Urban Design Academy 2013 took place in the first week of August. Following last year's event at the Obel in Belfast, this second edition was held in the somewhereto_ re:store venue, occupying an empty retail space on Bangor Main Street. Young people aged 14 - 19 explored the built environment through workshops, tours and talks.

PLACE Urban Design Academy participants.

On Monday morning, PLACE’s new Creative Director Michael Corr encouraged the students to rethink their preconceptions about architecture and the role of the architect. Then, on to business as the two teams, Team Young and Team Geriatrics, battled to construct the tallest tower made of balloons that could support a can of coke. Team Geriatrics' superior strategy and execution won the challenge. Following a walk around Bangor town centre, Andrew Molloy - a PhD student at University of Ulster - introduced the students to methods of mapping urban spaces. The participants mapped their thoughts and feelings about the town using plans, wall drawings, and more unusual materials like masking tape, balloons and chalk.

Mapping Bangor.

Tuesday morning centred around town centre living: architect Ciaran Mackel led the participants around Bangor to identify areas that could be creatively re-imagined in preparation for an afternoon design workshop. Team Young focused on making the town more attractive to their age group and proposed the introduction of a youth centre, digital media space and a roof top football pitch. Team Geriatrics looked at how we might attract families back to town centre living.

Architect Ciaran Mackel with 'Team Young'.

PLACE volunteers Clare, Helen, Joanne and Senan introduced participants to architectural model making and principles of scale during a demonstration on Wednesday morning. Following a step-by-step guide to modelling a basic dwelling, the participants allowed their imagination to run wild, producing lighthouses, town halls and an urban farm (complete with tractor and pigs). 

Model making at the PLACE Urban Design Academy.

After lunch, the participants walked up to the new Bangor Aurora Aquatic & Leisure Complex where David Warden, Director of Leisure Services at North Down Borough Council, discussed the process of procurement, construction and delivery of the £38m facility. The tour introduced the students to to issues of materiality, the relationship between function and design, and building lifespans.

David Warden, NDBC providing the participants with a tour
of the new Bangor Aurora Aquatic & Leisure Complex.

Thursday focused on re-use of heritage buildings. The morning began with the launch of the draft Living Places Design Guide by DoE Minister Mark H Durkan MLA. 

DoE Minister Mark H Durkan and James Hennessey (The Paul Hogarth Company)
with Academy participants Beth Wilson and Luke McMahon.

Lorraine Robinson of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society gave an inspiring presentation on Built Heritage at Risk - after which Marcus Patton (the man who wrote the book on Bangor!) provided a fascinating walking tour exploring the town's built heritage, culminating in a discussion around the future of the vacant Bangor courthouse with Steven Agnew MLA and representatives of the campaign group For a Better Bangor. After a brief detour to Pickie Park’s pedal swans, it was back to the Academy to re-imagine the courthouse as a new cultural hub for Bangor. Ideas developed by the teams included the creation of an artist workshop, a gallery, an outdoor concert space and a dance studio - and the groups presented their proposals using drawing and modelling techniques developed earlier in the week.

The Academy participants at the former Bangor courthouse with
Steven Agnew MLA, Marcus Patton, Lorraine Robinson (UAHS),
Louise Macartney (FABB) and Ian McQuiston (FABB).

The end of the week introduced landscape architecture to participants with a presentation, site analysis and design workshop led by Catherine Adams of URS and Emily Smyth of the Landscape Institute. The groups were assigned two sites at both ends of Main Street, in areas included in the Bangor Public Realm proposals currently open for public consultation. Both teams suggested greater pedestrianisation of Main Street and an improved public realm. Team Geriatric thought the reinstatement of an outdoor pool and beach would bring more people to the seafront and marina, whilst Team Young sought to redesign street furniture, representing Bangor’s connection to the sea.


Team Young presenting their proposals for Bangor's public realm.

With the two teams level on points, the week was concluded with a heart-stopping game of building charades and a sudden death round of ‘card towers’ led to Team Geriatrics getting the edge over Team Young.

Team Geriatrics hoping their card tower will
stay up long enough to clench the win.

Mayor of North Down Andrew Muir visited the Academy on Friday to distribute prizes. Aisling Madden and Sorcha Burke received prizes for best photography, judged by photographer John Baucher. Best sketchbook went to Jonathan Ferguson Barry and the prize for character of the week was awarded to Keira Gray.

We would like to congratulate all the participants for their work. For some, it was their very first introduction to architecture and urban design, yet by Friday the quality of their work was of a very high standard. We would also like to thank North Down Borough Council for their support and all the professionals who delivered a week of engaging and inspiring workshops.. And we'd like to thank our volunteer team for their tireless efforts to make the Urban Design Academy a special event on the PLACE calendar.

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