Arts Council of Northern Ireland takes the lead on architecture

The Arts Council today unveiled a ground-breaking policy on the built environment, set to transform the design quality of new buildings and the way public space is developed across Northern Ireland. The policy, four years in the making, was launched in St Patrick’s School, Donegall Street, Belfast, in the company of Dr Aideen McGinley (Permanent Secretary, Department of Culture, Arts & Leisure), Marie-Thérèse McGivern (Director of Development, Belfast City Council) and the distinguished architects Ciaran Mackel and Dawson Stelfox. The launch was followed by a formal discussion among the more than 40 invited stakeholders of the issues raised in the policy.

Launching the policy, Arts Council Chief Executive Roisin McDonough said “For many people, their built environment does not meet even the simplest of their needs – a decent home, access to local amenities andopen space, a pleasant and stimulating place to work, opportunities for leisure, fresh air and a quiet, clean and safe environment. Our ability to meet these needs largely depends on the quality of the built environments we make.”

Ms McDonough took the opportunity to welcome Paul Harron, recently appointed as the Council’s Architecture & Public Art Officer, the first time such a post has existed on a par with literature, music, drama and the other artforms. She went on to announce that, from April, the Council is offering Special Initiative funding of £120,000 to kick-start smaller-scale projects such as lectures, exhibitions and publications, while the Council’s Capital fund, which has already supported buildings as radical and striking as the Marketplace Theatre in Armagh City, the Millennium Forum in Derry City, the Burnavon in Cookstown and the Island Arts Centre in Lisburn City, is still available for application.

Ms McDonough welcomed Belfast City Council’s recent Built Environmentn Conference, held last October, and the commitment shown by government to the values expressed in the policy. She went on “This is a beginning, certainly, but it also represents a major commitment on behalf of all the agencies and individuals involved in drafting this policy to setting the development of our buildings and public spaces on an entirely new footing.”

Endorsing the document, Dr McGinley highlighted the need for the Assembly to have an architecture and built environment policy and welcomed the Arts Council’s document as a possible blueprint for it.

Select Key Recommendations

  • Government to adopt a policy on architecture and the built environment, one which supports high quality design and raises awareness among clients and the wider public and through its own procurement processes.
  • Ensure that quality of design and universal accessibility are key components of procurement processes in capital building projects.
  • Support the establishment of an Architecture Centre for Northern Ireland.
  • Promote excellence in architectural design through individual and civic awards.
  • Review the planning process to support high quality contemporary design and sensitive conservation.
  • Establish a Built Environment Task Force for Northern Ireland.
  • Establish a ‘Quality Watchdog’ based on existing European models.