QUB Lecturers Deliver Urban Prototype, Collaborating with Partner Organisations
Belfast’s first “parklet” tests expansion of outdoor space through unique partnership work
The Ormeau Parklet is an urban prototype for improving public space in Belfast. The team included QUB Lecturers Rachel O’Grady and Agustina Martire, Guest Lecturers Chris Upson (OGU Architects) and Fearghal Murray (MMAS Architects), QUB alumni Eryn McQuillan and Jonny Yau and MArch student Juliette Moore. The project tests practices of constructing demountable urban structures, a new model of partnership and methods of assessing the impact of urban interventions. The project was partly funded by QUB’s Engaged Research Seed Fund.
Follow the project’s progress here.
The partners responsible for The Ormeau Parklet have launched it as a test model to expand public space for Belfast’s people and businesses. Belfast Buildings Trust, Queen’s University Belfast, OGU Architects, MMAS Architects, the Department for Infrastructure, Belfast City Council, and four local hospitality businesses, are partnering on the project.
The Ormeau Parklet has temporarily turned a small number of on-street parking spaces into outdoor space. Pedestrians and local businesses can use the designed pavement area to help with physical distancing. It is being delivered as a collaborative partnership to test a new way of achieving civic projects across the charity, private, and public sectors. The approach champions the importance of quality design for Belfast’s public spaces and includes ongoing engagement and research during the trial to build local evidence for other possible placemaking projects in the City. Partners hope that the Ormeau Parklet will be a model that is used elsewhere in Northern Ireland.
Joanne Corr, Chair of Belfast Buildings Trust, said: “Belfast Buildings Trust works to make Belfast’s authentic buildings and places relevant for the City’s people. Through our Successful Belfast initiative, we explore new ways of involving people in doing that. We believe that Belfast’s people and places deserve quality and we’re willing to take risks to achieve that. The reaction to the Ormeau Parklet already shows what’s possible when civic partnerships are willing to work in new ways that combine civic and community action, creative design practice, and research.”
Chair of Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy & Resources Committee, Cllr Christina Black added: “The Ormeau Parklet initiative is a great example of what can be achieved when statutory and civic partners work together to be innovative and trial new ideas, which is particularly important in light of the ongoing challenges facing businesses as they navigate the ongoing pandemic. I’m pleased that Council has been able to support Belfast Buildings Trust to deliver the initiative through our Covid19 Revitalisation funding. It demonstrates a local, best practice approach to place-making that not only creates more space for people but also shows how businesses are diversifying and adapting their premises to help adhere to the current regulations.”
Minister for Infrastructure, Nichola Mallon MLA, commented “Since becoming Minister I have made clear my desire to change the way we use our roads and streets and make sure they work for the whole community. I am delighted that my Department is able to support this initiative and I’d like to commend the Belfast Buildings Trust, my officials and all the partners on the amazing job they have done to develop and deliver this innovative collaborative project. Living with the Covid pandemic has meant we need to ensure that people who meet can maintain social distancing while supporting local businesses. These parklets not only achieve this but with the inclusion of cycle parking, provide opportunities to come to these areas by active travel. I hope this project will encourage more people to get out and enjoy their local environment, the active travel experience and in doing so support our local traders.”
Professor Ian Greer, Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, also commented, “Queen’s University is delighted to be part of the informed decision-making of this initiative in the Ormeau area of Belfast, using already tried and tested research from our academics, Dr Rachel O’Grady and Dr Agustina Martire. Queen’s is taking a leading role in this project, with student researchers from the StreetSpace project compiling constructive data from local businesses and residents to feed into the success of this project, which can also contribute to future initiatives, at a time when we are all learning to adapt and change to circumstances around us.”
Architecture at Queen’s University Belfast has a growing interest in engaged practices. Dr Rachel O’Grady conducts design research exploring the role of temporary, prefabricated structures in public space, while Dr Augustina Martire runs the StreetSpace project, which investigates local mixed streets through their form, experiences and memories. They are central to the Ormeau Parklet’s trial approach model, leading the assessment of its impact.
Rachel co-designed and led the research behind the Built: East Pavilion and exhibition at C.S. Lewis Square in east Belfast, an investigation into the role temporary architecture can play in the City’s public spaces. Agustina’s StreetSpace project collaborates across academia, government, and local communities to analyse the City’s streets and fulfil their potential as people-centred, accessible, and inclusive public places.
“We have been involved in the Parklet since its inception in June, teaming up as a grassroots initiative with Belfast Buildings Trust, OGU Architects and MMAS Architects to initiate a small scale intervention that would deal with some of the challenges of the pandemic and the ongoing need for quality public spaces in the City.
The collaboration with the Department for Infrastructure, Belfast City Council, IMTAC, Department for Communities, local manufacturers and some local businesses, with the support of our team at Queen’s, has been instrumental in making the Parklet happen. We hope that this unique partnership can be a model for the delivery of urban projects in Northern Ireland.
We and students from StreetSpace are measuring the impact of the Parklet against a number of criteria and analysing feedback from the public throughout the trial period. The research on its impact is instrumental in ensuring that it can be replicated in future”.