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Belfast Lutherie

Part 1 Project 2010
Niall Magennis
Queen's University Belfast | UK
This brief saw the creation of a educational, exhibition and manufacturing base for the production of stringed instruments within Belfast city centre. Northern Ireland is home to world renowned guitar makers who have mastered the skill and precision of this craft and this lutherie looks to build upon this heritage.

The site is located adjacent to Royal Avenue in a largely forgotten isolated public space. The Lutherie will act as a catalyst, creating a new node within the city, rediscovering Bank Square with a thriving public realm. Key routes will be reinstated to amend the fractured connections to the centre and the character and vernacular of Belfast will be celebrated.

This project explores the tectonics of architecture, the simple beauty of materials and their composition. The concept is pure, a series of concrete volumes accommodating the schedule of rooms and workshops, which are enclosed by a wrapping brick skin. The space which remains between the blocks forms intimate courtyard areas housing circulation.

The brick skin is structurally independent from the concrete elements, consisting of a structural steel frame onto which, pre-assembled brick panels can be bolted in a rhythmical order. As this veneer is non-load bearing, a variety of bonds can be used including perforated brick which creates a unique atmosphere, diffusing light into the courtyards.
Where the skin passes the concrete volumes a typical wall section applies, (concrete, insulation, cavity then brick). However when passing a courtyard, the insulation is revealed behind a fine poly carbonate film, peeling away from the skin and when inside the central enclosed courtyard, the insulation stops to expose the raw concrete finish reflecting the transition from external to internal thermal zones.

The discoloured material palette of grey brick, concrete, steel and silvered woodfibre insulation is broken by the introduction of brass anodised aluminium. These precious metal walkways contort and weave throughout the courtyards providing access to each level within the concrete volumes and suspended from oversized roof beams, they create a stringed forest of cables within. Overall, the building is a display of tectonics affiliated with the industrial typology of Belfast.

Niall Magennis

The Belfast Lutherie is conceived as a home for the teaching of stringed instrument making in Northern Ireland, where a number of guitar makers have progressed from bedroom start-ups to companies of world renown, including Lowden and Avalon guitars. The objective of the lutherie is to nurture a new skills-based industry, provide a resource of knowledge and create dedicated space for manufacture, exhibition and performance of the instruments made. The proposed location for the Belfast Lutherie is on a plot currently used as a loading bay for a declining city centre shopping complex; the siting of which frustrates the successful habitation one of the few truly public spaces in Belfast city.

Niall’s project begins by exploring the language of the definitive walled boundaries present on the existing site and characteristic of Belfast city; the project uses walls to extend into the wider public realm and set up a multitude of spatial conditions outside the walls and within the walls. The economy of means evident in the urban design is equally applied in the limited material palette where a rich elevational treatment of brick is achieved through an exploration of surface, texture and material that is akin to weaving. The project is exemplary in considering construction in an inventive manner by giving meaning to modern-day brick construction systems and everyday materials often derided as being superficial and unworthy of attention. Understanding the use of light framed brick skins to be more akin to a veneer, Niall develops a clear tectonic concept where a curtain wall-like construction unwraps from the inner structure and reveals itself, generating particular spaces appropriate for their context and function. The result is an intelligently considered design executed with technical excellence, imaginative flair and absolute clarity and legibility.


• Page Hits: 15582         • Entry Date: 25 July 2010         • Last Update: 11 September 2010