MIPIM 2018: Empty space to Belfast’s special place

By Chris Kane - Tuesday, March 13, 2018 14:11

Placemaking is not a passing trend, writes Chris Kane, Chairman of Vanguard Real Estate - the developer behind Belfast Waterside’s £400m regeneration – and a driving force behind Salford Quays as the BBC’s former Head of Workspace.

Placemaking trends? There are plenty, of course. In 2023 will Korean-style food trucks be as popular as they are now, will 3G still be the material of choice for pitches and playparks? Elements within placemaking will always be susceptible to being en vogue or out of vogue; however, the key tenets behind placemaking remain paramount to successful urban development: human-scale and people-focussed design; connected and shared spaces that encourage human interaction; and use of high quality materials when all-mixed together, can make people not only want to visit a place, but stay there.

The concepts behind placemaking are evidenced in the earliest urban spaces from Palmyra in modern day Syria, to early Athens. But by the 1960s, writers like William H. Whyte had noticed a worrying trend, wryly observing, ‘it is difficult to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.’

The skill of placemaking has experienced something of a revival. MediaCity in Salford, Place la Republique in Paris, and the New York Highline to name a few recent examples, have all put people at the forefront of their urban interventions. We must never forget that cities are not just the realm of cars, infrastructure and buildings, they are, most importantly, for people too.

The challenges for new, large-scale mixed-use schemes remain the same and successful public spaces and community-engagement are fundamental to their success. Building strong, healthy cities by promoting placemaking and the integration of arts & culture in community revitalisation is a mission-statement to adhere to.

‘People make places’

Creative placemaking capitalises on local community assets, inspiration, and creativity to deliver public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well-being. Without it we’re left with generic places and disconnected people. So, what does this mean for workplaces? I believe the connection is clear – good places engender happy, and by extension, creative people. The benefit of combining placemaking theory, with workplace delivery, is obvious. And that is what we are trying to achieve at our Belfast Waterside project.

In Northern Ireland the Belfast Waterside is a 1.7m sq ft transformational project that will become a well-connected new centre for a city swelling with young, educated graduates and generations of people eager for shared space.

Belfast Waterside plans are not a purely commercial enterprise. Our plans are the result of extensive stakeholder consultation and can be summed up by: ‘you said we listened.’ The £400m project delivered over a five-year period aims to fill in a missing piece of the city by regenerating, reviving and re-connecting this pivotal site in the city of Belfast.

And this is being achieved through a collaborative approach with the vibrant and creative local community to reinvent and reimagine Belfast’s largest brownfield site into a new waterfront destination integral to the day-to-day lives of the people of Belfast.

‘It’s about vision and planning’

More than ever, good design matters.

The Belfast Waterside masterplan is designed by award-winning Danish architects Henning Larsen and promotes a mix of residential and office spaces, alongside food, creative, retail and an enhanced public realm. A pedestrian and cycle bridge, as well as community and cultural facilities, are also included in the plans. By using the river as a feature of the site, Belfast Waterside will re-stitch the east of the city back into the bustling city core.

Henning Larsen, through a tiered approach to building design, has calculated that by reducing the wind speed along the waterfront, outdoor areas could remain comfortably in use for up to 25 weeks of the year – in contrast to the 9 weeks the city's inclement weather typically permits.

A placemaking-focused development’s design should eke out every attribute from the site; why would it not?

The external space in Belfast Waterside will create a high quality, urban place. The internal workspaces will continue our placemaking beliefs to support the people they hold, in terms of productivity and creativity. Who knows, maybe we can help deliver some of the £70billion the Stoddart Review suggests can be unlocked by more effective workplaces?

Empty space to Belfast’s special place

Placemaking developments build strong, healthy, and robust communities can act as a catalyst to drive social change by aligning broader community revitalisation with placemaking efforts – and in conjunction with thriving commercial elements.

Belfast Waterside has been conceived, planned and implemented with this ethos in mind. It represents a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a unique destination for the city, which builds on the area’s rich heritage and on Belfast’s recent successes. Where once stood some of the world’s most successful industries, we aim to deliver one of the world’s best places.

Chris Kane



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