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Department of Architecture


The scheme, which combined repair of the historic building with establishment of a craft skills centre on site, bringing together trainees from all parts of the community to work on structures that, whilst initially temporary, could form the basis of a permanent facility.

This project examines how contested heritage assets have been dealt with in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement with a specific focus on the transformation of former County Gaol in Armagh into a bi-communal school for construction and traditional building skills.  

Acknowledging that the contested history of the site makes its productive, shared use difficult in the near future, the scheme attempts to prolong the lifespan of the structures whilst drawing useful benefit from the derelict building. This not only allows the buildings to survive into a future where less fraught conversations over their meaning can be had, it also provides an important educational resource to young people growing up in the post-Troubles era. Confronting the sectarian overtones of communal building in Northern Ireland will recast the contentious site as a resource for vocational training.

The project then employs the material language of repair.  The proposed building, wrapped around the existing boundary wall, minimises the loss of historic facades and clearly differentiates the mass of the new build elements from the existing. It also allows the project to act as a transitional ‘thick wall’ between the closed gaol and the wider cityscape. In the initial phases, scaffolding, secondary roofing, and work sheds around the site perimeter are constructed from simple, butt-jointed timbers, allowing the works on site to commence as quickly and cheaply as possible. The construction of the inner volumes is carried out to a higher quality of finish and the jointing techniques employed are more complex to reflect the progression of the apprentices’ skill sets. These workshops are then to be used for highly specialised skills training such as CAD-based production techniques, advanced carpentry and cabinetry / furniture making. Indeed, the phasing, structure and finish of the scheme can be viewed as an analogue of the hierarchy of joinery > carpentry > cabinetry in woodworking.

In this way the phasing of the scheme’s construction can be seen a parallel of the school’s curriculum, with simple forms and techniques continually supplemented by more complex and refined methods. Students at each level of their training will thereby be able to work on the building of the school itself simultaneously, repairing, building and rebuilding both the site and the still tenuous union between communities.

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