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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March 2005, 11:17 GMT
Building debate towers over city
The tower will be the biggest building in Belfast
The tower will be the biggest building in Belfast
Last November, one of Belfast's landmark buildings was demolished in a matter of a few seconds.

Churchill House was at one time the city's tallest building.

Now, just a few months later, plans have been announced to create Belfast's newest tallest building.

The 50m Obel Tower will be a 26 storey residential building, including an eight storey hotel, apartments and a seven storey office suite at Donegall Quay.

All of the apartments - priced from 100,000 to 475,000 - were reserved within two days of release.

The building is described by the developers as "a conflation of old Belfast and obelisk".

However, there are concerns among some that the new building could follow the old Belfast of Churchill House rather than the Customs House it neighbours.

Marcus Patton, a committee member with the Ulster Architectural and Heritage Society, said there was nothing wrong with tall buildings in principle.

But he added: "If you allow one site to have one high building, then it blights everything else around it.

"Churchill House was like that 40 years ago - it was the tallest building in Belfast - and it was demolished last year and everyone said: 'Good - glad that's gone'."

However, there is a risk-factor, in that 10 years from now people could say that this thing is a monstrosity
Professor Alastair Adair
University of Ulster

Large buildings can create wind tunnels and often do not fit into the older townscape in which they are built, he said.

"Melbourne is a city which works very well with its skyscrapers, because there are Victorian frontages and in behind them are the new buildings - you don't feel you are walking past them."

Mr Patton said he did not feel tall buildings revitalised a city and that restoring unused buildings was a much better way to develop.

In the home of the skyscraper, the United States, the mayors of 10 major cities had pledged to move away from such developments and produce "pleasant urbanness", he said.

'Distinctive statement'

Professor Alastair Adair, head of the University of Ulster's School of the Built Environment, said many European cities were seeking to create an iconic building.

Cities like London, Liverpool and Glasgow were positioning themselves within "European visioning" designed to "send out a very definite statement".

The Obel tower would be "a very distinctive statement for Belfast", said Professor Adair.

"It is certainly innovative in the sense that most of the towers that have been built have been government buildings or hospitals.

"It is the first time that a major high-rise building has been built for residential use outside of a public authority.

We wanted a tower - it stands for the future
Gayle Blackbourne
Karl Properties

"However, there is a risk-factor, in that 10 years from now people could say that this thing is a monstrosity. Or it could be like London's 'erotic gherkin', which most people would agree is a beautiful building.

"What the planning authorities need to ensure is that there is sufficient high-quality design in the detail," said Professor Adair.

Ulster Unionist assembly member Esmond Birnie agrees.

He believes we should promote new buildings of the highest possible standards.

Other European and North American cities have benefited from using architectural competitions to get world leading designs, he said.

"Belfast's skyline probably could benefit from a small number of very tall (and imaginative) buildings.

"But there is room for debate about whether Laganside or closer to the city centre is the best possible location."

He added: "Let's avoid some aesthetically challenged steel stump - after all, few people cried when Churchill House got dynamited a few months ago."

The 19-storey Churchill House collapsed in seconds
The 19-storey Churchill House collapsed in seconds

However, the developers believe the glass tower will be a symbol of Belfast's regeneration.

Karl Properties director Gayle Blackbourne said "it had to be different".

The firm is one of the consortium of developers forming Donegall Quay, which is behind the project.

"We wanted a tower. It stands for the future," she said.

Doug Garrett, deputy chief executive of the Laganside Corporation said Obel Tower "is a statement of confidence".

"The first flats in Laganside were built in 1994. We struggled to sell a two-bed penthouse for 30,000. Banks would not lend on city-centre properties. Today the same flat is 200,000," he said.


SEE ALSO
Plans for arts centre on hold
01 Nov 04 |  Northern Ireland
Row over cathedral development
29 Aug 03 |  Northern Ireland
Queen shown Laganside regeneration
26 Feb 03 |  Northern Ireland

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