A version of this article appeared in the June edition of the RIBA Journal
A 499,000 meter invisible line carving its way across the island of Ireland has become a visible symbol of our pre-Brexit woes and perhaps, more importantly, the future stability of the Good Friday agreement — here be ghosts. Northern Ireland / the north of Ireland; my own personal dialectic; a place I love and, if I am being honest, sometimes hate. I hate living in a place where a simple punctuation mark like a slash has become a powerful signifier for thirty-years of violence, immense pain and visceral anger — something I will never understand.
But, amongst the noise, there are other things to talk about too. Like new emerging architectural practices and older established firms who, as the tide of talent has risen, have risen too. A story reflected in the twenty-one schemes shortlisted for this year's regional RIBA awards in Northern Ireland — a list three times longer than last year.
To get to visit and write about many of these buildings is a pleasure. The most memorable so far this year was ARdMackel’s new building for Coláiste Feirste — the only secondary-level, Irish language school in Belfast. A simple, low budget affair built into the prehistoric limestone hills of west Belfast; a handshake with the geographical history of the ancient Gaelic speaking inhabitants who walked its slopes. One to watch is ARdMackel’s soon to complete Líonra Uladh, a broadcasting building for Irish language radio station, Raidió Fáilte.
For many practices, the size of Northern Ireland and the complexities of procurement frameworks mean that the focus is mostly on small domestic projects. Among the bland white boxes of conveyor-belt ‘modernism’, in vogue particularly along the north coast, are a number of noteworthy residential schemes. One being the Micah Jones designed agricultural-barn-inspired ‘long house’ in Co. Down — reflecting something of a diverse local vernacular, present also in the work of MMAS, Shane Birney Architects, Patrick Smyth, McGonigle McGrath and others.
What becomes of the invisible-visible line remains to be seen but in the midst of the noise, there are good things happening — things worthy of celebration.