spacer
What Did They Build That For? spacer Issue 2
What did They Build That for? - The new BIFI building
by David Brett
spacer
Challenged to name the ugliest new building in Belfast, let's name the new B.I.F.H.I. campus at the foot of Divis Street, on one of the most prominant sites in the city. Cheapskate and ill-proportioned, of course, but also morally objectionable because of the values it embodies.
spacer
Cheapskate because of the shoddy way it has been built from the cheapest materials; they seem to have run out of grey brick several times and not found matching replacements; because someone has made concrete block look a worse material than it is ..etc... There is nothing wrong with cheapness, it can be cheerful, stylish and welcoming; but not if it is shoddy.
spacer
Ill-proportioned; because it seems to have been designed around a job-lot of industrial window-frames, to which the facades have been made to submit. Because the bands of cream brick bear no relation to each other or to the areas of grey brick that is not happenstance; as a result the building appears to lean backward. The lack of a convincing roof-line might have remedied this. The semi-circular bay has no discernible relation to anything. Because the entrance is merely a slot.... A building with these indications on the surface almost certainly carries them into its interior.
spacer
What did They Build That for? - The new BIFI building
spacer
spacer
But these visible failings are the sign of a kind of contempt, for the activities and people who are to be housed in it, and for the fabric of the city centre as a whole (that is to say, you and I ). Compare with three neighbouring structures. The old 'Technical College' is a pompous old pile that obstructs a much better older building : but it is built to last, in excellent materials, with skill (look at the precision of the stonework as you pass next time). It honours its function - further and higher education - by taking it seriously and spending some money. On the other hand, 'Inst' behind it is the product of ruthless economy - Soane's original drawings were cut to shreds in the building; but the proportional sense remained, and with it the dignity. Teaching and learning were to take place in modest and graceful surroundings, aligned with the vista of Chichester Street ( which was then in much the same style). Then move along the road a bit and look at what the Housing Executive managed to do with different kinds of bricks and blocks and mass-produced window-frames - comely, decent houses that show ideals of neighbourliness and which, moreover, are built to very high standards indeed.
spacer
Now go back to B.I.F.H.I and ask yourself what are the values and attitudes this building embodies.
spacer
I confidently predict that this building in forty years will be an even greater slum than the building it has replaced, and that it will be cordially hated by all who work in it, and that we will all survive BY NOT LOOKING AT IT.
spacer
(NOTE: what is going to happen to the mural by John Luke that used to be in the old building; it is presently hidden behind black plastic in the midst of demolition.)
spacer
spacer
home | information | issues | artists & writers | columns | reviews
spacer