Architecture and the Bomb in Belfast and Beyond

Stef Helm Grovas

If one of the imagined futures of the city is increased and intensive securitisation, then Belfast represents an antecedent. Site of an urban conflict for over thirty years, much has been written about the effects of The Troubles on the society and space of Northern Ireland. And yet very little has been written about the specific architecture realised in the city centre of Belfast and elsewhere.

Architecture during this period, whether replacing previous bomb-damaged buildings or not, was often built in anticipation of the bomb. The ultimate veto on planning permissions was held by the British Army. Accordingly, late twentieth-century Belfast became a laboratory for the types of urban defensive tactics that have developed to currently pervade many western cities as architecture – at the scale of the building and its components including the façade – became calibrated and designed according to the threat of improvised ordnance in general and the car bomb in particular. The result was a generation of buildings which, unlike the overt trappings of militarisation such as check points and watchtowers, not only endure but hide their military exigencies in plain sight through aesthetic and architectural filters, conventions and (often postmodernist) style.

Seeking to combine a range of disciplinary methodologies including architecture, art history, geography and planning, this research project maps the relationship between architecture and the bomb in the development of late twentieth-century Belfast and, by extension, elsewhere.

A digital resource communicating the work of Architecture at Queen's University Belfast