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Belfast at the Crossroads: City of Walls
or the difference between you & me...

Degree Project
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Advisor: Brian Goldberg

I read a story about a boy who lived in the trees.

His world exists within, but separately of his parent’s world below. He exists in a world without responsibility, war, or resentment.

All that separates Cosimo’s world from the world below is a few feet. To reenter his old world, all that it would take is a simple drop to the ground. To enter Cosimo’s world, all it would take is a simple step up to a branch. This small difference is enough to create a clear boundary that functions as both a line that is carefully crossed, and as an edge in which interactions and negotiations take place.

Belfast, Northern Ireland is a city divided into two realms, by religious, political, and cultural beliefs. It is divided, literally, by walls. ‘Peace Walls’ have erupted over time at lines of severe conflict: shootings, bombings, and riots. Throughout the civil warfare, the walls have remained, bearing witness and standing as a physical testament to the divide.

In a contested city, how is a new world created? A world, however small or expansive, that exists as a separate, solitary entity within a larger world? How, and where, does it engage with the past, the world left behind? How can this world provide an escape, however brief or enduring, from a disputed reality?

The walls of Belfast are masks between conflicted peoples.

Their discontinuous nature means that they don’t explicitly divide- one simply must walk around the edge of the barrier to cross over to the other side. They provide a sense of comfort to the two sides, a necessary separation, one which makes the interactions around the walls more meaningful, in their calibration. They allow both sides to control the levels of interaction with the other. When these residents of warring communities enter common, shared territories, it is a knowing and careful gesture.

In a city of conflict and divide, peace walls provide a necessary separation between Catholics and Protestants, Nationalists and Unionists, Republicans and Loyalists. Boundaries are provide momentary and enduring masks between you and me, or between us and them...

Boundaries mediate, separate and protect the two realms of Belfast. Gaps and permeations become moments of engagement with another. Masks and Reveals in the wall are calibrated to form an enclosure (a void) in which anonymous, masked exchanges take place.

“Thus it is that ideas about the nature of things are built into the structure of our surroundings, creating a novel topos which reflects the patterns of its own, all too human, causes, and which becomes, in the end, self-justifying- if only because to ignore the existence of a wall is an act of the sheerest folly, leading inevitably to concussion and unsightly abrasions.”*

* Evans, Robin. Translations from Drawing to Building and Other Essays. Cambridge: the MIT Press, 1997 (p 41)