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Venice Biennale 2012


Forum for Alternative Belfast
International Bauausstellung Belfast

Mark Hackett and Declan Hill, Directors of Forum for Alternative Belfast (FAB), arrived in Berlin with a question: ‘Braucht Belfast eine Internationale Bauausstellung?’ – ‘Does Belfast need an International Building Exhibition?’ 

The Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) was a far-sighted urban renewal project carried out in West Berlin between 1979 and 1987. The programme consisted of Neubau (newly constructed buildings), led by Josef Paul Kleihues, and Altbau (repairs and alterations to existing blocks), led by Hardt-Waltherr Hämer. IBA was realised over the course of a decade, often through ambitious international competitions that offered many young architects their first experience of building on a large scale. FAB hopes that lessons learned from the process and delivery of IBA 1987 can be applied to the re-stitching of Belfast. The Missing City Map published by FAB in 2010 will become the basis for the international competition that FAB plans to complete by 2018. 

Interview with Forum for Alternative Belfast

Why did you want to be part of Venice Takeaway?

The theme dovetailed with a research project that we have been considering for the past 18 months. We set out with a question: ‘Braucht Belfast eine Internationale Bauausstellung?’, which translates as ‘Does Belfast need an International Building Exhibition?’ We are interested in how lessons taken from the process and delivery of a project carried out in Germany could be applied to the ‘critical reconstruction’ of Belfast. We hoped that being selected to take part in Venice Takeaway would prove a catalyst for our research to further the project on an international level.

Where did your idea come from?

In 2010 Forum for Alternative Belfast published the Missing City map, which very starkly illustrated the need for a strategy to re-stitch the centre of Belfast to its inner-city neighbourhoods. Having lived in Germany in the 1990s, we were familiar not only with Berlin’s Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA), which ran from 1979 to 1987, but also with the longer tradition of building exhibitions in Germany, which has spanned much of the twentieth century.

How are research and exploration important to your practice?

For a variety of reasons Belfast has fallen behind other cities in its development and evolution. Forum for Alternative Belfast has always stressed the need for proper research and analysis of Belfast and advocated exploring better developmental strategies. We believe Belfast can leapfrog ahead by learning from other cities. We strongly believe in lobbying to apply best practice to projects. Sometimes architects have a tendency to reinvent the obvious, but our practice sets out to discover new and unexpected readings of the city. We see the work of the Forum and others as active research and action. The city is a project where each new reading can lead to change for the better. Considering the dysfunction over in the past four to five decades, we believe we must be active in our search for other models that can initiate change in Belfast.