Open House Architecture Festival

PLACE celebrate the engineering of Belfast's most iconic sites and offer a first glimpse at future landmarks with inaugural weekend of free, expert-led tours

Belfast is becoming an open house this month for a weekend of fantastic architectural insights into some of its most iconic and much-loved buildings. The inaugural Open House Belfast - Architecture Festival, hosted by PLACE, takes place in the city from July 17-19 and tickets are already going fast.

Offering a completely free few days of events, the programme comprises a combination of behind-the-scenes tours of buildings such as the Europa Hotel and Belfast Central Library. It also includes an open studio strand, where the public can visit the studios of local designers, as well as a series of special tours.

PLACE recently launched their packed programme of events with a special street party on Lower Garfield Street, where they relocated last year.

PLACE Launch

'The launch was fantastic,' says Brighdín Farren, creative producer at PLACE. 'We took over the street and had balloons and bunting in our festival colours of neon pink.' Originally launched in London in 1992 by Open City, the Open House Festival concept now takes place in more than 25 cities world-wide.

'We’d been speaking with Victoria Thornton from Open City for a couple of years about doing it in Belfast,' says Farren. 'This year, we decided to go for it, as it’s the Year of Irish Design, which is celebrating products, designs, crafts, jewellery and architecture throughout Ireland.

'Open City was keen to see an Irish-wide event, so we applied last year for funding. They had funding for programming events throughout the island of Ireland this year to support Irish Design 2015, so we received some of that financial backing.'

The Open House Belfast - Architecture Festival will subsequently give members of the public a sneak peek into buildings both new and old – with some tours of as yet unfinished sites. These include the new Ulster University campus on York Street, where a couple of lead architects for the project will carry out a special tour. There will also be a hard hat tour from TODD Architects around the pending extension at the Waterfront Hall.

There are also tours around various other buildings that have been lying empty for some time, including Transport House and Windsor House, as well as tours in iconic buildings like the Divis Tower.

'All of the tours are led by people who have worked on the building designs or who currently work in the buildings,' says Farren. 'It should be very informative and interesting!

'Then we’re getting tours and access to places that have interesting activities that we wouldn’t normally be able to experience. For example, the printing room of the Belfast Telegraph – we’re getting in at 9pm for an hour and will be led round by one of the guys there. Belfast Central Fire Station are also doing three tours. Interestingly, the design of that building was based on the design of a ship!' 

The other strand to the programme is the open studio strand, where architects and designers are opening up their studios to the public, and these do not need to be booked in advance. Participating studios include the Royal Society of Ulster Architects and the Lawrence Street Workshops, amongst others.

Meanwhile, special events include a visit to the office of one of the programme’s main sponsors, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, who worked on the Ulster University building.

'I think it will appeal to everybody' says Farren. 'It will be interesting from a historical perspective as well as for the design features. It’s all about accessing spaces and about the people who work there – the activities that go on there. At PLACE, we try to promote a healthy use of public spaces and urban spaces in general. We work across Northern Ireland to do that and this is part of that work.'

Open House Belfast - Architecture Festival runs from July 17-19. For full programme details visit our festivals section, or for further details go to