The Architecture of Belfast
From small market town to the city's Edwardian heydey
None of the buildings from
The earliest settlers are said to have ‘buylt good tymber houses with chimneys after the fashion of the English palle’, and some locally made brick was available.
For the majority of the eighteenth century population, domestic urban architecture meant little more than small thatched cabins. In 1752, Lord Massareene noted
The prominent citizens of 1754 who petitioned to rebuild the town noted, ‘the Houses have been suffered to go out of repair’ and that they were ‘very old, ruinous, and unfit for habitation’. It was a cycle of neglect and belated urgency that would be repeated in the coming centuries.
Georgian town: public buildings and domestic squalor
Architecture, as opposed to building, appears in
Besides houses ‘well built with brick and slated’, the Exchange and Assembly Rooms, by English architect Robert Taylor, were completed at the ‘
Nevertheless, the modest elegance of the new buildings on their wide new streets was accompanied by the squalor of the alleyways or ‘entries’ that ran between and behind them.
Though little survives of the Georgian town, it seems to have laid down what would remain ‘the basic characteristics of
Some important public buildings from the early nineteenth century survive as landmarks in the development of the character of
Commercial and industrial developments are also indicated by Charles Lanyon's conversion of the old Assembly Rooms into an Italianate headquarters for the Belfast Banking Company. The most comprehensive statement of new financial self-esteem is the
The city’s architectural character is to a large degree still formed by the buildings of this Edwardian and preceding high Victorian period. Features include varieties of classicism in red sandstone and
Less imposing or self-important buildings also play their part: Frank Matcham’s Grand Opera House and its near neighbour, the Crown Bar, are two of the most distinctive, if over-exposed, buildings in the city.
Decline and regeneration
Both the Grand Opera House and the Crown bar required extensive renovation in the latter stages of the twentieth century. Many other architecturally distinguished or characteristic buildings did not survive the Blitz of 1941, the ‘redevelopment’ blight of the 1960s and 1970s, the bombing campaigns of the Troubles, or the generalised neglect of owners and tenants that only began to be addressed at the end of the 1970s. Multistorey office buildings replaced some
good buildings and impaired the setting of others.
Regeneration schemes since the late 1980s have attempted to restore some co-ordination and aesthetic quality to the centre of
Increasing numbers of books and articles on the architecture of
Central Belfast: An Historical Gazetteer (1993) by Marcus Patton; Belfast: An Illustrated Architectural Guide (1987) by Paul Larmour; B Boyd, A heritage from stone: a review of architecture in Ulster from prehistory to the present day (1986); The Changing Face of Belfast (1982) by N Nesbitt; An Introduction to Modern Ulster Architecture (1977) by D Evans; Roger Mulholland, Architect of Belfast 1740-1818 (1976) by CEB Brett; An Introduction to Ulster Architecture (1975) by Hugh Dixon; The function of the architect (1965) by A Potter; D Dunlop, A Memoir of the Professional Life of William J Barre Esq (1868) by D Dunlop.