Ecclesiastical Building Disuse and Identity: The Case of Carlisle Memorial Methodist Church
RIBA Research Trust Awards 2010
Carlisle Memorial Methodist Church. Image courtesy Dr Karen McPhillips
Church buildings constitute an important feature of the UK landscape, but especially so in Northern Ireland, challenged as it has been by issues of identity. In the capital city of Belfast, church buildings often provide both stability and security of local identity. The visual impacts of church architecture have strongly influenced the shaping of the built environment, which in Northern Ireland has been particularly tied to the sense of identity, and belonging within local communities, and perhaps more negatively, to its segregation (Mitchell, 2006). Since the introduction of the peace process in 1998, however, settlement patterns within the city have somewhat altered. This has resulted in many churches finding themselves situated in an opposing community and hence experiencing abandonment.
Despite a plethora of research demonstrating the link between architecture and identity; the relationship between local communities and architecture in Northern Ireland has been neglected. Using the Carlisle Memorial Methodist Church as its case study, this research examines the degree to which a disused religious building affects the local identity and sense of place attachment of younger people within the contested environment of Belfast.
Structured around a series of participatory learning/action workshops with a group of
11 - 14-year-olds, this research brings a unique youth focus to this particular area of concern as well as enabling the creative exploration of possible future uses of the church at a time when it is about to be redeveloped.
In assessing the final report, RIBA Research Grant sub-committee member Sophie Handler said:
'Given the paucity of research on the views of young people and their environment; this research presents a valuable addition to research practice that highlights the need to engage further with this age group. It moves thinking about the future life of historic monuments beyond the more vocal and audible representations of historical societies to actively accommodate the more marginalized voices of a younger demographic. Here, in the final report, the youthful re-imagination of the Church's future use is presented alongside and given an equivalence of status to the historic record of the building itself making the case that all age groups - in conflict settings in particular - should be seen as creative resources rather than as passive recipients of architectural change.
The research presents a number of fascinating observations from the typology of valued spaces (for this particular age group) to the vital role of the building's 'apologue' in cultivating a re-connection with disused space, suggesting the vital role of creative practitioners, policy makers and community groups in actively nurturing connections with disused environments.
This is an invaluable and timely study that manages to critically examine the concept of place attachment from a generational perspective while actively engaging with a younger age group in what is a still live debate. There is real potential for this research to impact on the future life of this historic monument.'
Sophie Handler, July 2012
You can download the final report 'Ecclesiastical Building Disuse & Identity: The Case of Carlisle Memorial Methodist Church – Youth Perspective' below.
Dr Karen McPhillips (BSc, MSc, PhD) is a Research Associate at the School of Architecture and Design based at the University of Ulster. Her primary research interests include the areas of architecture and cultural identity with a particular focus on religion. She is specifically interested in exploring the influence of architectural space and environment on identity and behaviour, and is intrigued how heritage and conservation can play a role in forming identity, especially in tensioned societies such as Northern Ireland.
Dr Karen McPhillips can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.