Just as Palestine and Israel spiral into ever decreasing circles of chaos there are signs that we are emerging from our past. Two things in recent days have pointed to the transformation. There’s the early signs of a changing of the guard in our generation of politicians, and King Billy is to replace the grim reaper on a gable end in the Village.

But by far the most trumpeted indicator of so-called progress is in retail. A few months ago a big blue Swedish box of tricks opened. And last week, well, I could hardly believe that the opening of a shopping centre made the lead in all the news outlets. You need to understand that I despise the idea of a ‘shopping experience’, so I’m not all that interested.

But what I do enjoy is the bold new approach to architecture. The dome looks good I must say, especially when it is lit up. And it’s the latest of adventurous contributions after decades of mortifyingly bad examples.

I work in the east of the city and it’s changing dramatically. Projects on the former Scirocco site and the much heralded Titanic Quarter feature buildings that wouldn’t be out of place in the finest cities of the world and I love the bold adventure of developers and architects that dares to imagine a whole new story for Belfast.

Other developments in East Belfast are being made with an eye to anchoring the local community and providing design which will re-imagine the area in ways which are sensitive to the past. Plans are afoot to redevelop familiar landmarks in the area like the school on templemore avenue, vacant land at bridge end, all with an eye to revitalising the N’ards road by 2012.

My own work is focussed on the Skainos Project, a 2 acre redevelopment initiative on the site of East Belfast Mission. It’s exciting times indeed.

What we all need to be aware of though is that community and civic pride is not secured simply by architecture, still less by new shopping centres. Relationships need to be developed intentionally. Physical regeneration must be supported by social investment.

As a Christian, I long to see the church engaged not just in the renewal of the private life of individuals, but in the wholesale change required to make our communities better for everyone which includes the transformation of our civic spaces.

Such was the vision of the prophet Isaiah, who described God’s people as the renewers of streets with dwellings and the rebuilders of broken walls.

So, let’s see more bold architecture that we can argue over. But let’s also see more investment in the lives of people. And please God, let’s see people of faith play their full part.

First broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster, Thought for the Day, 10 March 2008

0 thoughts on “Architecture

  1. The new architecture and proposed developments are very exciting. Thats an excellent point that this is not enough, how fantastic would it be to see society really transformed by people demonstrating the love and creativity of God, to see more of God’s kingdom actually materialise. However, after exploring the new Victoria Square (I am a shopper!) I couldn’t help feel an uneasiness. The Urban outfitters shop at the entrance seemed to have some nice stuff however on closer browsing there were things like voodoo dolls, eye masks with bad language all over. Many of the shops inside the centre are very expensive, handbags costing a mere £3000 and £8000. After talking to a friend who works in one of these shops apparently lots of purchases are being made…and all on credit cards. Not sure how this new development will influence communities in Belfast or what direction the city will move in next.

  2. Excellent thoughts. I’m looking forward to getting back to NI next month to check out Victoria Square (among other things!), from the images I’ve seen so far it looks pretty unique. I’ve been reading Rick McKinley’s book, This Beautiful Mess, and he relays a story of a couple in his church doing something similar: gathering people around them to go reclaim a derelict park area, which lead into about 50 projects after a couple of years. In Glasgow I have some friends who meet as a church (instead of a Sunday service) once a month on a Saturday to help clean up the River Kelvin. I loved that thought: a church that believes in it so much they cancel “the Sunday service” so they can be part of restoring creation.

  3. I have a friend who says that the key to the peace process here was ‘get them shopping!’ I’m not sure he was too far wide of the mark.

    It’s interesting to see the dis-ease growing down south on the long-term impacts of the celtic tiger economy. An article in last week’s Irish Times spoke of the money being spent on the Tiger Cubs – bizarre.

    What we need, as you point out Emma, are intentional communities who will choose to live differently. That’s a tough challenge for the church I think.

    Thanks both of you.

    btw emma, if you fancy a coffee when you’re over, drop me a line.

  4. You said:”As a Christian, I long to see the church engaged not just in the renewal of the private life of individuals, but in the wholesale change required to make our communities better for everyone which includes the transformation of our civic spaces.”

    I say: “Amen!”

  5. …and amen! thanks mr x

    Wouldn’t it be great to develop a biblical vision for our public space that would enable the church to make the case for truly human space? It’s there. In the prophets at least.

    we just don’t read the bible with any sort of practical head on.

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