The Architecture of Territory and Segregation in Belfast

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


The conflict in Northern Ireland taking place between 1969 and 1994 (often referred to as ‘the Troubles’) has profoundly impacted the social, political and economic structures of Belfast. Less recognised, is the wider spatial and material legacy that the conflict has left behind. The ‘peace- walls’ which continue to separate some of Belfast’s most contentious communities, have come to be widely recognised as the embodiment of this spatial and material legacy. This paper presents original findings from a three-year multi-disciplinary investigation, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, that significantly extends this current understanding of physical and social division. The paper reveals new evidence of a distinct and important, yet largely unrecognised, body of divisive architecture and infrastructure: a realm of ‘hidden barriers’ stemming from a confidential process of security planning taking place between 1978 and 1985, at the height of the Troubles. This highly visual paper presentation uses detailed architectural mapping and immersive fieldwork photography of six research case-studies to comprehensively illustrate the complex ways in which these ‘hidden barriers’ continue to promote social, economic and physical division across Catholic and Protestant communities in present-day Belfast. These forms of intervention range from larger-scale uses of road-planning and land-use zoning to permanently divide formerly connected areas; to the use of smaller-scale architectural barriers to deliberately fragment spatial connectivity and restrict movement within inner-city community streets; to the formation of invisible barriers now manifest in everyday elements of public space which have come to be recognised locally as marking the territorial boundary between two communities. Through an examination of their contemporary social, economic and physical effects, the paper examines how these ‘hidden barriers’ escape the popular attention that is paid to Belfast’s peace-walls, and commensurately raises a series of critical questions about the role of architecture in conflict-transformation and peacebuilding processes.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2019
Event16th Annual International Conference of the Architectural
Humanities Research Association
- Dundee, United Kingdom
Duration: 21 Nov 201923 Nov 2019


Conference16th Annual International Conference of the Architectural
Humanities Research Association
Abbreviated titleAHRA Dundee 2019
CountryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Architecture
  • Conflict
  • Territory
  • Security
  • Military
  • Community

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  • Research Output

    Hidden Barriers and Divisive Architecture: The Case of Belfast

    Coyles, D., Hamber, B. & Grant, A., Jun 2018.

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

    Open Access
  • Housing Plans For The Future

    Wylie, D. & Coyles, D., 28 Aug 2018, 1 ed. Gottingen Germany: Steidl Verlag. 80 p.

    Research output: Book/ReportBook

  • Legacies of conflict: housing and the security-threat-community

    Coyles, D., 2 Aug 2018, Heritage after Conflict: Northern Ireland. Crooke, E. & Maguire, T. (eds.). 1st ed. London United Kingdom: Routledge, p. 118-137 10 p. (Routledge Studies in Heritage).

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    Cite this

    Coyles, D. (2019). The Architecture of Territory and Segregation in Belfast. Paper presented at 16th Annual International Conference of the Architectural
    Humanities Research Association, Dundee, United Kingdom.