Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich is the Irish language cultural centre founded in 1991 and located in this refurbished Presbyterian Church. The centre is named after Robert ‘Shipboy’ McAdam, a Presbyterian Gaelic revivalist from the mid 19th century and Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, another gaelic scholar.
The building is a red brick church built in a gothic style and was the Broadway Presbyterian Church in Belfast from its construction in 1882 up until 1982. It became vacant in the mid 1980’s and was renovated around that time to make workshop and educational space though conversion and insertion of two floors with fire exits into the building. In that process the internal sense of the church was lost and the basic structure of the layout was defined.
Our design approach was informed by both the immediate physical contexts of the building and its use and the broader context of regeneration through culture. Conceptually the shape of the extension was generated from mapping the golden section across the existing elevation and the site on the main Falls Road entrance side. This generated an overall form which clearly defers to the church tower allowing a unified asymmetric elevation. The resulting glazing to the extension makes reference to the main gothic window of the original church.
Materials were chosen to reflect the church and the history of Belfast, the brick skin of the extension clearly references the brick of the church building and the adjacent terraced streets. The copper refers to the copper clad church tower which was unfortunately reduced in height many years ago.
We sought to expose elements of the older church hitherto covered while also ensuring that as much of the sense of the original building was retained. Most notably the church tower which had fallen into use as a store, could be returned to use as circulation space; the side wall of the church could be used to add character to the internal spaces of the extension; the church trusses could become a part of the character of the office mezzanines.
The extension provided the opportunity to redefine the terminus of the axis the building sits on when approached from along the Falls Road. Prior to the construction of the extension the terminus 'leaked' into the adjacent Nansen Street. By taking the extension out to the back of the footpath the new role of the building became visible and the axis could be more satisfactorily closed. The extension and its play of solid and void together with illuminated signage allow it to contribute to the life of the street both day and night.