Façade as Façade: Northern Ireland’s parallel reality

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


In The Truman Show, Truman Burbank lives in a constructed false reality movie set populated by actors. In the real world, false facades exist as permanent, semi-permanent, or temporary solutions. Sometimes historic facades within streetscapes front new buildings or exist as decades-old facades designed to solve infrastructure/transport problems in cities, operate as art installations, or use decals/graphics to veneer economic blight. While often located in areas of severe urban deprivation, graphic false facades have now become a common sight in picturesque rural towns and villages often frequented by tourists. Beyond the purpose of technical problem solving, art installation, commercial permanence, or the building/interior relationships, attempts to use temporary false facades to halt the decline of retail outlets in towns and cities across the UK have now become semi-permanent fixtures. In particular, much of Belfast’s post-conflict central commercial district is surrounded by firebreaks or ‘borders’ (Jacobs), either intentionally designed or have come about as the result of civil conflict or underinvestment and significant urban deprivation. One approach by government has been to create false shopfronts using a variety of crude graphic solutions which at a glance give the illusion of an active working commercial entity. This veneer for passing vehicular traffic serves to create ‘a deadened place’ (Jacobs) which exists as a barrier or border forming a vacuum to adjoining areas and creating an ‘otherness’ where the city is ‘physically, culturally, and mentally….in pieces’ (Bevan). The degradation and decay in these areas inculcates fear and misunderstanding (Davis; Harvey) and Cuthbert argues that ‘vacant land’ is merely fixed capital waiting for an opportunity. This paper looks at historical contexts of facadism, the impact on society, and the emerging sustainability culture.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAMPS: Cultures, Communities and Design, Calgary
PublisherArchitecture, Media, Politics, Society
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 28 Jun 2022


  • Facade, Temporary shop front, urban regeneration


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