29th Oct 2019 in Arts

Belfast Design Week returns from 4 – 10 November, but a group of up and coming creatives is already designing the Cathedral Quarter Belfast of tomorrow.

The inaugural Urban Design Challenge – a collaboration between The Cathedral Quarter Business Improvement District (BID) and Belfast Design Week – took place last year in the weeks leading up to the 2018 Belfast Design Week.

Having been an enormous success, the 2019 Urban Design Challenge is back and underway right now.



The competition challenges participants to present creative, user-led solutions for utilising the unused spaces in between the buildings of the CQ and making the area a more vibrant and welcoming place for all.

The Urban Design Challenge was open to students and recent graduates from any discipline, in order to encourage a broad mix of creative perspectives.

Successful applicants were placed into a number of groups and every Saturday in October, attended facilitated workshops in which they were introduced to the area and invited to explore it.

As Gareth Neill of the CQ BID says, the contest demonstrates the BID’s commitment to supporting both the businesses and the creative industries in the Cathedral Quarter, with an eye to the future development of the area.

Gareth comments: “The Cathedral Quarter has long been a creative and entrepreneurial hub and it was the artists and creative businesses who turned it from something of a ‘no-man’s land’ in the past, into a vibrant hotspot for culture and originality – it’s characterised by innovation and people who are willing to take a punt on things.

“As a Business Improvement District, we want to keep encouraging that and welcoming those people to Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.

“The area is currently surrounded by significant change, with many new buildings being built and older ones being regenerated.

“The ambitious expansion of the Ulster University campus on York Street signifies not only an imminent influx of students to the population, but also the arrival of the University’s world-class School of Business which has the potential for many exciting spin-offs such as business hubs and incubator spaces.

“Taken in the context of the Cathedral Quarter’s creative entrepreneurial history, the BID’s vision is to help deliver more innovation and creative efforts going forward – and the Urban Design Challenge is a great way to demonstrate the hands-on, supportive role we can offer.”

The teams are challenged to reimagine the spaces in between the buildings of the Cathedral Quarter in order to make the public realm feel safer and more inviting, and therefore encourage people to spend more time in the area as a whole. This is ultimately good for businesses across all sectors, as well as arts and cultural organisations and venues, particularly those who thrive if footfall is high.

Considering the needs of all users of the area was important, so the contestants were encouraged to speak to business owners and residents, and gather first-hand perspectives and opinions on what works and what might be lacking from the area.

They considered things like the streetscape, the street lighting, wayfinding and navigation and permanent fixtures like street furniture.

“We wanted them to consider how their design could affect how the Cathedral Quarter is used and experienced by people,” says Gareth, “This is why it was important for it to be a multi-disciplinary process; we had teams made up of students and professionals in the worlds of marketing, graphic design, urban planning, visual art and graphic design – to name just a few.”

Last year’s winning team devised a system of multifunctional modular seating which could be used as seating, impromptu performance staging and even play areas. They identified a number of different groups of users and stakeholders, and proposed that a flexible, transportable, interactive collection of modular seating could make the place more welcoming, encourage socialisation and busking, and make up for a lack of green space.

One of the other groups created an ‘Alternative Belfast’ map, which included a printed map as well as signage, forming a navigation system which would promote the Cathedral Quarter’s businesses and cultural venues and sights, as well as providing income for the businesses who sold the printed map on their premises. The solution included special signs, stickers and posters in the BID’s Cathedral Quarter branding, as well as utilising billboards.

The third group presented a selection of design-based initiatives, centred on the idea of redeveloping Writer’s Square into a multi-use space. Their proposal included wayfinding and street lighting, use of green space, public realm improvements, designated spaces and experiential elements.

At time of publishing, the final facilitated workshop of the 2019 Urban Design Challenge has just taken place; the teams will shortly submit their proposals and we’re very excited to see what this year’s challengers come up with, given the high standard we saw last year.

The entries will be on display in a special exhibition which will run throughout Belfast Design Week (location to be announced) from 4 – 10 November, with the winning design announced on opening night. So keep your eyes on our social media accounts, and those of Belfast Design Week, for announcements.

Belfast Design Week is an annual, independent, industry-led event which brings designers and design enthusiasts together for an eclectic programme of talks, workshops and exhibitions and the Cathedral Quarter BID is proud to bring a special series of Lunchtime Learning workshops to BDW 2019.

These bitesize digital marketing daytime workshops have been super popular and these design-focused sessions are already enjoying a lot of interest. Tickets are completely free – click here to read more about them and bag your free tickets.

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