I was recently invited to participate by PLACE Built Environment Centre, Belfast, in ‘Space: a social agenda’ symposium, held and organised by The Braid arts centre in Ballymena, Co Antrim this October. I was honoured to join an impressive line-up that included arts practitioners, creative placemakers, architects and the local authority and government, the kind of mixed professional bag that I believe is essential to successful built environment working. Highlights of the day for me included those that I shared my panel, ‘A New Way of Working in Northern Ireland: the UK and international perspectives’, with former Architecture Centre Network colleagues Micheal Corr, from PLACE and Tom Keeley, (knowing him from his Architecture Foundation days), and also Torange Khonsari from Public Works.
Micheal spoke eloquently on streets as a democratic space where the public has rights and where a meanwhile use of space can open up new possibilities of permanent use. In this regard, I was reminded of Urban Prototyping Festival by Gray Area Foundation for the Arts in San Francisco and its 30% base rate for converting prototyped projects into permanent ones. Tom introduced us to Learning from Kilburn, an experimental space for uncovering the area and planning forward from this, and New City Reader, a billboard posted urban commentary publication. These are two great mechanisms for community engagement and I’d be keen to see this applied to some projects in Brighton and Hove, this city going through a period of quite substantial master-planned change. Torange called for the continued and deeper crossing of (perceived) boundaries between art and architecture, an approach I couldn’t advocate more.
The afternoon went on to feature Ricky Harris from Granby Park, Dublin. This is a place I spent some time in when over in Dublin over the summer on research (photos can be found here) and its outputs for a temporary pop-up park are quite considerable:
Ones to watch are PartII architecture students and artists Tara Kennedy and Jo Anne Butler, that together work as Culturstruction. Its ‘Glittery Embrace’ pontoon lingering space for teenagers in Callan, Co Kilkenny, seemed to strike a chord with the audience. The duo went on to list numerous other projects that showed an intuitive understanding of and insight into the built environment and its users, this work is of an incredibly high calibre.
It was the creative placemaking approach of James Hennessey from Paul Hogarth Company, though that lingers with me the most since the symposium. James was leading the practice’s placemaking work in Ballymena and instead of a presentation of off-the-peg and token community consultation schemes, as can so often be experienced at conferences of architects, we were shown a scheme of community engagement work that had depth, breadth and creative flair. James detailed the 12-step approach they had taken to genuinely engaged community design:
- Stakeholder Meetings
- Public Display
- School Event
- Street Performers
- River Braid
- Band At The Stand
- Street Olympics
- Urban Farm
- Dress the Street
- Shop Interviews
- Workshops a,b and c
Some of these elements will be recognisable in the standard public consultation process, no bad thing at the right time if you know they will work. Some won’t mean anything without the context of Ballymena, which is as it should be as each placemaking is bespoke to that place. It was refreshing to hear James advocate for this approach and I look forward to seeing how Ballymena develops – with The Braid taking the lead too in creating this event – and I hope it’s the first of many - it should be exciting times for the people and town of Ballymena as well as its architectural and design communities.
Photos courtesy of The Braid.