QUB’s Street Society 2014 and Derry Walls

Street Society 2014Derry Walls: Day 1

What is QUB’s Street Society?

Street Society at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) is an initiative of the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering (SPACE)  It tries to bring energy and innovative design thinking to a variety of real issues and clients, all within the space of a single week. Holywell Trust’s City Walls Heritage Project is pleased to be hosting a group of  first year undergraduate and master’s architecture students,  in a one-week design research office, focusing on opportunities to “re-make” Derry’s Walls as a community asset rather than a symbol of conflict.

What design problems will the students look at?

Derry’s Walls are the largest ancient monument in state guardianship in Northern Ireland but are still technically in the ownership of the City of London. Their structure gives Derry’s city centre a unique sense of enclosure and protection. However, since they form part of Derry’s major Peace Wall, the monument also separate communities from the commercial core and from each other. In August 1943, Denis Winston, Chief Architect, NI Ministry of Home Affairs, set out a vision that the houses adjacent to the Walls on the outside should be cleared away and a boulevard around their exterior provided: “of doing in a different way something for which Paris and Vienna have made themselves famous”. Seventy years on, all of the buildings which had come to  abut the exterior of the Walls, have been removed from Butcher Gate to New Gate. However  the exterior of one of NI major tourism icons is not as well  presented as it could be, with some of the key near views being spoiled and the exterior circuit of the Walls being rarely used by visitors. During a single week the QUB  students will attempt to provide architectural & engineering design solutions for the following issues:

i. A design solution for community access to and from the Fountain Estate which replaces the “Dog’s Leg”, a structure which mars the 18th C triumphal arch  of Bishop Gate.

ii. A design solution for Water Bastion area, at the entrance to the Central Library, in an area frequented by large numbers of teenagers, but where the heritage of the missing bastion is hidden and the open space near the Walls is railed off.

iii. A design solution for the use Plinth of Walker’s Pillar on Royal Bastion, as viewing platform for visitors and as a stage for events held on Nailors’ Row outside the Walls.

iv. A design solution for the development and management of the open spaces created outside the Walls from New Gate past Bishop Gate to Butcher Gate: better communicating the heritage of the dry moat which was until the 19th C the main feature; encouraging community use of these open spaces in a way which re-enages the communities of the Fountain, Long Tower and Bogside with the City Walls but also in a way which meets community needs without detracting from the near  views of the City Walls.

During Day 1 the  QUB students received a  general tour of the Walls to better understand their design and construction as piece of 17th Century military hardware and to look at how the Walls were being used and managed in the 21st Century. Early tomorrow morning they will review the list of potential issues and will decide if design solutions can be provided for all four issues within just one week.