Cartographies of conflict
: Belfast's hidden architectures of territory and division

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis illuminates the unseen ways in which ‘everyday’ architecture and space in Belfast continues to foster social and physical division, now more than two decades since the 1998 Belfast Agreement. The format forgoes the traditional linear thesis argument to take the form of six research papers, framed within dedicated opening and closing contributions, which instead chart a cartography across related but distinct trajectories of the research landscape.

By converging practice-based architectural fieldwork with archival analysis, the thesis traces not only the origins of Belfast’s first permanent ‘peace walls’, but also an equally divisive but much less visible realm of hidden barriers and sectarian territories formed from ‘everyday’ architectures and spaces. It leans on the writings of Foucault, Goffman, Lefebvre and Bourdieu, challenging familiar narratives portraying physical division as a predictable outcome of inter-group conflict. It reveals instead how these hidden barriers and sectarian territories are constructed in a liminal field where power and governance over architecture and space is diffused amongst an ambiguous mix of state, military and local forces.

The thesis establishes how the foundational imposition of physical interventions occurring between 1977 and 1985 can be understood as a political programme which concretised politically agreeable, but vastly disproportionate, extents of ethnic territory now normalised and embedded across contemporary Belfast. Core to this argument, is the exposition of a problematic historical dichotomy where local forms of power play a fundamental role in unofficially shaping official forms of governance over architecture and space.

Ultimately this thesis contends that these hidden barriers and sectarian territories
embody a profoundly undervalued aspect of conflict-transformation planning, emblematic of wider societal challenges where established inter-group peace is often conjoined to entrenched physical segregation. The thesis therefore opens up several new strands of inquiry into the role played by architecture and space in conflict and peacebuilding processes.
Date of AwardNov 2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBrandon Hamber (Supervisor) & Gavan Rafferty (Supervisor)


  • Architecture
  • Planning
  • Peace walls
  • Security
  • The Troubles
  • Community

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