I lived in Belfast from 2009-2012, the crisis was hitting in a post-2008 world, and my first academic job took me to this city which I had heard of but have never been to. When confronting writing about a project that for me exemplifies what a great street is, my mind goes back to the Falls, commonly referred by local people as the “Falls Road” and taken its name from the Irish túath na bhFál, territory of the enclosures. For me as an architect, it is a masterpiece because it is the ultimate resistant political street. During the conflict in Belfast the two communities at each side of the wall, the Catholic in the Falls and the Protestant in the Shankhill, were part of a war zone, a difficult conflict between two countries: Ireland and the United Kingdom. Here walls referred to as peace lines and became physical barriers of a conflict rooted in both division, politics but also sectarianism. Some of these walls were also the testimony of murals by the Catholic community on the Falls side. Entering the West of the city walking through the Falls explains the characteristics of this resilient street. Next to the Westlink Highway that divides and fractures the city, the landmark of Divis flats (where the British Army used to be located at the top) unravels the meaning of the space when walking through.
A billboard states clearly who can enter and is welcome in this street. To the left, there is the new building for the Irish speaking radio station Raidió Fáilte–Lionra Uladh, a modern addition to the traditional fabric of the street by ARdMackel and McGurk Architects. Furthermore, there is the Hospital and St Peter’s Cathedral in the Lower Falls as well as St. Mary’s University College. The street is mainly reflective of the Catholic tradition with important landmarks that reflect this faith alongside the political struggle that defined the West of the city.
Bombay Street is part of a great collective example of community architecture after the destruction caused by the conflict, which was led by the Irish architect Sean Mc Goill. The street today is full of life and street activity. People feel proud of their community. Cafes and shops busy with tourists face the street full of families and Irish-speaking people. For me, the Falls is a great example of community work of moving from a post-conflict society into a vibrant celebration of both Irish language and culture. The Culturlann on the middle of the Falls is an old Presbyterian church converted into a great social hub of both Irish cultures, with an exhibition space, a bookshop and a café where everyone not only is, but also feels welcome to learn. Strong organisations like Forbait Feirste led by Jake MacSiacais promote Irish culture and on the top of the street, you have one of the biggest Irish speaking schools in Ireland.
Reading Gerry Adams’ book Never Give Up, for me what represents the spirit of this vibrant community is clearly reflected in his words: “The secret is to persevere. Convert the opposition. Win them over. Or wear them down. But keep going. Never give up”.
Adams, G., 2017. Never give up: selected writings. Mercier Press, Cork.
Alona Martinez Perez is a Senior Lecturer at the Leicester School of Architecture, De Montfort University. She has completed her PhD at the University of Sheffield with a scholarship award on the subject of “The Architecture of the Periphery”. She won the PhD Conference bid for AHRA (Architecture and Humanities Research Association) at Plymouth University and has presented over 20 papers and conferences on peripheral issues. Dr Martinez Perez is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in the UK and holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Architecture and Urban Design, and a Master of Science in Urban Design from Edinburgh College of Art, and a degree of Architecture from Huddersfield University.