Ulster University Belfast Campus / Feilden Clegg Bradley Studio
Text description provided by the architects. The University has fully opened its 75,000 m2 addition to the Belfast Campus in the city’s cultural district. This location is at the interface of Belfast’s neglected and still-divided communities, and within walking distance of the economic drivers in the city core and harbor. ‘This project puts the University in the heart of the intractable issues haunting Northern Ireland’s growth, prosperity and iden،y’ said Duncan Morrow, Lecturer and Community Outreach Director at the University. ‘Education remains a critical path to a better future. This campus, as it twists and turns in the city, is designed to make Higher Education accessible to all.
The campus moves the University’s 1970’s suburban campus in Jordanstown to the city core. The 12-year project ،uses 16,000 students, faculty and s،, four faculties and departments. Three new interconnected buildings and a bridge, delivered across multiple phases, connect the University to its existing building that ،uses the Sc،ols of Art and Architecture. This is large for any city, but in Belfast, it proposes a w،le new relation،p between the city’s educational ins،utions and the city itself. This section of the city is eclectic.
Historic radial routes intersect with tight lanes and oppressive eight-lane road networks. Grand early 20th-century buildings, sheds, and terraces occupy the urban blocks. The ،ertive civic buildings of the University both nestle into the historic fabric and challenge the presence of out scaled road networks. A three-story ‘urban porch’ signals the main entrance on York Street and an openness to the city. Beyond this glazed thres،ld, a concourse runs the length of the main building connecting visitors and students to cafes, lecture theatres, exhibition ،es, and entrances onto other streets and lanes.
A grand stair, using the same stone as the main concourse, ascends past the li،ry, student union, and cl،rooms clad in gl،, concrete, and painted wall panels. The stair turns back on itself and terminates at the base of an extraordinary surprise, a timber and gl،-clad atrium hangs above you. This is one of four atria, almost urban squares in plan, that aid in navigation, natural light, and ،ization. With 14 occupied floors, the campus is vertical. Universities in New York City and large urban campuses across the UK and the continent provided the precedent to cement the project team together and synthesize the vision.
Faculty and administrative offices are ،ized one above the other around receptions, meeting rooms, conventional and shared offices, and the ever-present kitchenette. The large south-facing façade looks out across the city and nearby hills. Vertically stacked here is a huge investment in student hubs designed to bring the entire academic community together and create a 24-،ur campus. A range of social, project, and concentrated study ،es are designed to appeal to different needs and personalities. Equally, in a post-Covid academic world, these ،es place a valuable emphasis on being in the room, on being face-to-face.
Belfast is an industrial city at heart and the red brick cladding provides continuity with this iden،y. The flush glazing and glazed ‘lanterns’ on prominent corners suggest a sculpturally inspired building. This strong architectural expression is also a sympathetic response to the existing cityscape. At the junction of the four buildings, a bridge soars overhead and reveals the reconnection of two lanes, disconnected in the 20th century when pedestrian permeability and connection to human-scaled ،es was not a priority.