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Investigation: can architecture bring divided cities together?

06 Nov 2007

An investigation into how the design of buildings and neighbourhoods can steer cities away from violent division is announced today.

Dr Ralf Brand from The University of Manchester will look at a range of issues affecting Belfast, Beirut, Berlin and Amsterdam, including how they can improve their potential for "friendly environments".

The work will help policy makers, planners, architects, urban designers and citizens to create a built environment which will tackle radicalisation within communities.

It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

With fellow researcher from the University's School of Environment and Development Dr Jon Coaffee, the pair will coordinate focus group discussion, interviews and use volunteers to interpret the environment using cameras, diaries and mental maps.

Also under the microscope will be the Stewartstown Road Regeneration Project in Belfast  - a small retail and office complex where Protestant Suffolk and Catholic Lenadoon housing estates meet in outer West Belfast.

Members of both communities shop in a specially designed building which have measures including anti graffiti paint, dual access and exit points for Protestants and Catholics and clear passage to entrances.

It is an innovative move in the light of the sectarian violence witnessed by the Stewartstown Road communities throughout the Troubles.

Dr Brand said: "Radicalisation is reflected physically in the form of segregated neighbourhoods, fences, road bollards, street layouts, flags, gates, murals, the ornamentation and alterations of buildings and various kinds of territorial markers.

"As we know from places like Belfast, Beirut, or Nicosia, the urban landscape can either keep people apart and thus foster stereotypisation and radicalisation or it can facilitate friendly encounters and thus potentially alleviate divisions.

"So it is not only a mirror of social conditions, it also influences and solidifies them."

He added: "We aim to examine whether the link between social trends and the urban environment differ in cities that are characterised by different patterns of radicalisation.

"That may help us to identify if mutually shaping relationship can be steered away from a spiral downward trend towards more stable social conditions."

Notes for editors

Dr Brand is available for comment

For media enquiries contact:
Mike Addelman
Media Relations Officer
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881 567
michael.addelman@manchester.ac.uk