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What Did They Build That For? spacer Issue 1
What Did They Build That For? South Side Studios, Tate's Avenue
by David Brett
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There are some buildings that are numbingly ugly from the outside but manage to be aceptable from within. There are some buildings that, elsewhere, might look fine but in that particular place look silly or pretentious. There are others that may look lovely, feel good from within, and yet be socially offensive. And of course our feelings and tastes change; what looked great last year can get out of fashion - and a great deal of the appearance of a building is just that - fashion. And then there is the building's equivalent of a face-lift; alter the outside, but its just the same within. One can go on like this for a long time. Finally, there is one point that most people miss - that there a no good buildings without good clients. Architects, for the most part, are wholly at the service of their employers and their accountants. Architects have to take a great deal of abuse when it is rarely their fault. When a building is seriously ugly, very offensive or just plain wicked, it is usually the fault of the client.
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Take a walk down Tate's Avenue. Have you been there lately? No great place; but The Village has a character. Character is what makes a place; we don't have to like it but we recognise it. Just as we recognise a person, or a dog, and line of trees on a hillside. Every person, every dog and every line of trees is unique. So what do we make of 'South Side Studios'? High quality lodgings for the young professional couples; part of the normalising of the city that is going on everywhere around us.
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The building stands beside Tates Avenue like a docked liner; handsome, cool and neatly detailed; a long oblong of brick and aluminium and glass with behind it a lower block and a courtyard enclosed by a very high wall. The lobbies are attractive and light, the flats within - the 'studios' - look as though they have been well done, though I expect that they depend too heavily on air-conditioning and electric vents. There are even some routine pseudo-abstract paintings in the passages. (Why didn't they employ one of Belfast's many real artists who work in real studios?) Below is a large car-park with a Bat-Cave entrance. The courtyard is 'landscaped' with cypress trees, planting boxes and B&Q decking. This is attractive, neat and modishly done. It is a good new example of a building type that is now being established throughout the town - housing intended to exclude; the 'gated' community.
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Let's be clear about this. The purpose of this building is to split off the affluent from the poor. To make physical neighbourliness impossible. Those high walls, that courtyard, that Bat-Cave and the electronic locks are as sure markers of social failure as any 'Peace Line'. Buildings like this are becoming increasingly common; they are full of the contempt of 'normalised' Belfast for the real city of real histories. The imagery of these developments signals a denial of actuality and a refusal to engage with the concrete difficulties that attend any kind of civic life. They demonstrate the shallowness of the normalising project.
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This building, in effect, is an insult to The Village into which it has floated - like a cruise liner full of tourists coming into a third-world port. It doesn't matter how handsome it is.
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What Did They Build That For? South Side Studios, Tate's Avenue
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