Newry, Northern Ireland – Revealing History in Urban Reconstruction

BackgroundOn April 10, 1998, a historic peace deal was signed between the Nationalists and the Unionists in Northern Ireland, UK. As part of the deal, the Republic of Ireland abandoned its constitutional claim over the territory of Northern Ireland. The town of Newry is situated on the main road from Dublin to Belfast, one hour from each city, and just north of the border. It had been the scene of many violent episodes during the thirty year conflict. Six years later, Newry is bursting with activity and the signs of the peace dividend. In fact, if one did not know about the conflict, one would see few indications that it had ever occurred. Newry is where economic activities linking Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland are joined. Site and ProgramNewry and Mourne District Council in conjunction with Gerard O\’Hare, a major local developer, are sponsoring this Studio to provide design and development alternatives for a key site adjacent to the old town center called the Albert Basin. The site is located on an island, bordered to the east by Newry Canal, the oldest summit level cannel built in the British Isles and to the west by Newry River. Announced by the District Council in 2003, the site is set to become a significant new city centre of mixed use development in Newry. Programs for the 15 acre site must reconcile a number of competing uses including residential, retail, industrial, water-oriented recreation, art entertainment, a proposed stadium, open space, and port activities. This juxtaposition of historic urban infrastructural elements, picturesque townscape as well as recent modern commercial and industrial facilities constitutes the immediate urban context surrounding the site and reflects a unique potential urbanism for Newry, Northern Ireland. Pedagogic ObjectivesThe focus of the Studio is to understand the site both as physically static and ideologically floating. Physically, the historic imprint on the urban morphology of Newry has created a basic formal context for the site. The aim of the Studio is to use design as an effective means to provide strategies and solutions for a complex set of urban problems encountered by a rapid pace of urbanization together with economic growth in a town with a long and turbulent history. History itself becomes a medium for the transformation of this historic town from its past to its continuous future and in this process design acts as a revealing agent of the constantly mutating urban form.At the same time, ideologically, the site is understood as a multi-layered floating construct, operating on planes as diverse and as broad as the financial, legal, political or ecological. The challenge of the Studio will be to integrate design strategies with these multi-layered focuses, especially the economic forces driving real estate development of the city, as elements for reconstruction of the city\’s current urbanscape. Studio OrganizationThe Studio will initiate with a site visit in February to Newry, Northern Ireland. City leaders from both government and the private sector are intensely interested in the results of the Studio and may participate in mid-term and final juries. Students will evaluate how the site interacts with the rest of the urban context. They will provide design solutions for the site and examine alternative sites with potential for development, and recommend a strategic development framework for the city, taking into account Newry\’s role as a regional transit center, economic hub and a gateway between Belfast and Dublin. Design scenarios for the site need to meet the City\’s goals and be responsive to historical urban forms and architectural styles, as well as local economic and real estate market conditions. GSD students will interact with planning and real estate students from the University of Ulster in Belfast, who will work s