Divided cities exhibition visits Manchester

Divided cities exhibition visits Manchester

A free exhibition showing the complex relationship between the city environment - such as buildings, walls and murals - with urban conflict is in Manchester this week.

The recently finished study was led by Dr Ralf Brand from The University of Manchester, who showed how the urban environment in Belfast, Beirut, Berlin and Amsterdam is affected by and helps to cause conflict.

’Architruck’ - the Royal Institute of British Architects North West’s mobile exhibition - will be in Manchester over four days starting on Mon Apr 19 as part of the Manchester Architecture and Design Festival.

The exhibition, which has already been to Beirut and Belfast and will also visit Berlin, Amsterdam, Exeter and London, displays photographs and diagrams of conflict points in the four cities.

Dr Brand hopes the work will help policy makers, planners, architects, urban designers and citizens to create a built environment which will tackle social polarisation and foster community cohesion.

The project team coordinated focus group discussions, conducted around 100 interviews and asked volunteers to interpret their daily environment with disposable cameras and mental maps.

In Belfast, Dr Brand found the stubborn persistence of sectarian attitudes could be partially blamed on everyday urban features which would be uncontroversial in cities less blighted by conflict.

"Belfast’s buildings, fences, parks, footbridges and even a playground influence the location, intensity and duration of bitter conflict between Catholics and Protestants," said the School of Environment and Development based researcher.

"But we also found examples of where architecture can help to heal the wounds of the Troubles."

He added: "In places like Belfast, Beirut, or Nicosia, the urban landscape can either keep people apart and thus foster stereotypisation and radicalisation or it can facilitate friendly encounters and thus potentially alleviate divisions.

"So it is not only a mirror of social conditions, it also influences and solidifies them."

Case studies:

A controversial footbridge

A pedestrian bridge built across the Westlink motorway in West Belfast was moved 50 metres to improve disability access. Both ends of the bridge were elevated giving young people a vantage point to throw stones into each other’s neighborhoods. Dr Brand said: "This problem could have been easily avoided if there had been proper consultation between engineers, local government and the community. It would be too simple just to blame the youngsters."

Stewartstown Road Regeneration Project: a positive example

The careful planning and construction of a community centre with shops, offices and a café has helped to transform a particular area in outer West Belfast from a hotbed of inter-communal violence to one of peaceful coexistence.

Images are available.

Architruck will be at Albert Square, Manchester, from the afternoon of Mon 19 Apr . It will then move on to Piccadilly Gardens on 21 April, ending on 22 April. Check www.urbanpolarisation.org for details. Open 9am to 5pm except on the first day.

For more details about the Manchester Architecture and Design Festival visit www.madf.co.uk

For media enquiries contact:

Mike Addelman
Media Relations
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
07717 881567
michael.addelman [a] manchester.ac (p) uk