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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 June, 2004, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Belfast's mark of design distinction

Five choices of Britain's best new architecture

To mark Architecture Week, each day this week The Magazine has been looking at one of five notable new buildings to have opened in Britain in the past 12 months and asked what the excitement is about.

Like Birmingham's new landmark Selfridges department store - featured in this column on Wednesday - the Batik Building is dedicated to selling elegant designer goods in a clean, modern environment.

That's where the parallels end. While Brum's vaunted new retail magnet is a huge, brassy statement against the city's cluttered skyline, Batik, on the fringes of Belfast centre, is low-rise, modestly sized and quietly understated.

Nevertheless, it is a distinguished new building for the city, where urban regeneration is one of the most tangible effects of the "peace dividend".

The building recently won an annual award from the Royal Institution of British Architects.

Built on part of the old Ormeau Road gas works, the building combines mostly showroom with some office space for Batik Interiors, a contemporary design and furniture shop.

The challenge for local architects Twenty Two Over Seven was to design a modern, linear building which respected the industrial forms which used to occupy the site, and some of which still do.

In response, it came up with a building suggestive of a simple, steel shed on legs, with large, vertically subdivided windows occupying the space between the "legs".

Inside Batik
A limited palette of materials helps exude a sense of calm
Stainless steel cladding across the upper-third offers a subtle variation in materials while reinforcing the building's linear rhythm.

Inside and out, the palette of materials - concrete, grey porcelain, timber, glass, render and steel - are deliberately limited.

Detailing is "clean, bespoke, robust, crisp and pragmatic" according to trade magazine the Architects' Journal, while the two lower "showroom floors provide a "dignified and restrained backdrop" to frequently changing shops displays.

One critic commented: "This is architecture of deep conviction. It is both erudite and disciplined, and rooted in its context. It deserves... to be considered a building of distinction."

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I never knew this building existed until reading this today - and I live in Belfast! The Gasworks site where this is situated is fenced off with one way in and out, and is dominated by a big, white ugly Halifax call centre, with other, older red brick buildings around the perimiter making it impossible to see whats actually there. Well, you learn something new every day.
David , Belfast

Boxy, brutalist and banal - where has the bravery gone?
John Wilkinson, Kettering

Having seen old photographs of the original Gas Works site, I would guess that the design of the building is intended to echo that (the shape of the roof and choice of materials) so we don't lose a sense of the history of the area. In that respect I consider it quite clever.
Franchesca, Belfast

Great to see diversity in the Gasworks between the modern and old in this historic development site, though perhaps not an icon for Belfast. At least some thought has been demonstrated here compared to the tasteless buildings in the city's former enterprise zones!

Looking at the pictures, nothing about this building stands out. How can it be a landmark piece of architecture when I'd walk past it without looking twice?
Kirsty, UK

It fits in well with the apalling new buildings around it and mocked by the elegance of the remaining old gas works buildings. Why do architects see redevelopment schemes as an excuse to exercise their own vanity and ignore the simple beauty of the existing surrounds?
Niall, Belfast

This is just one of the many new buildings in Belfast. Hopefully with this kind of news getting out more people will see there is far more to Belfast than just the obvious.
John, Belfast

Striking, simple and significant - the side of Belfast of which i am proud!
Sheena, Belfast

I drive past that site about six times a week - all that is visible is a shed-like exterior. I thought it was a temporary building, one put up while the real buildings were being constructed. It looks like a farm shed, and there are many of those all around Northern Ireland for comparison.
Mary, Ballygowan, NI

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