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Wednesday23 July 2014

Final bid to halt Ulster Museum extension plan

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More than 200 architects from around the world have joined heritage groups in a last-ditch campaign against the £12 million redevelopment of Belfast’s landmark Ulster Museum.

The scheme by Hamilton Architects— which has planning permission — aims to redevelop the B+ listed, Francis Pym-designed brutalist extension at the 1920s museum with 1,225sq m of extra space, including a large glass entrance facade.

But the Ulster Heritage Society, which argues that the proposal would “seriously threaten [the building’s] value”, has revealed that a petition against it has been backed by architects including John Tuomey and Barrie Todd, plus groups such as the Twentieth Century Society and modern movement lobbyist Docomomo.

Rita Harkin, research officer at the UHS, said the campaign was a “last-gasp attempt” to persuade ministers to intervene.

She said: “The proposals have been rushed through without any meaningful public consultation and will seriously threaten the museum, which is a successful and almost unique example of the marrying together of two buildings, one from the 1920s and one from the 1960s.”

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has also backed the petition, warning that the proposed entrance doors and a glass wall under the existing entrance canopy will disrupt “the character and aesthetic of the facade”, while James Dunnett, co-chair of Docomomo, has said the changes would “seriously reduce [the facade’s] visual weight and sculptural impact”.

But John Gilmour, director of development for National Museums Northern Ireland, told BD the glass facade was needed to make it “fit for 21st century purposes”.

He added: “We tried and tested every possible configuration, and are satisfied that this solution will not significantly dilute what is special about the building while producing a museum that better engages with the public.”

Paul Millar, partner at Hamilton Architects, said there had been extensive consultation and that the proposal would “not diminish” the building’s architectural integrity.

He added: “The creation of a transparent facade... provides much needed interaction between the museum and its parkland setting, which the existing building ignores. We believe our design is a sympathetic response to the shortcomings of the existing building.”

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