Contesting destruction, constructing heritage: The social construction of architectural heritage values in Belfast, circa 1960-1989

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The evolving urban landscape in Belfast, circa 1960-1989, is explored in this thesis with a particular emphasis on interpreting and theorising architectural heritage destruction. More specifically, the emergence of a threat of destruction over the built environment in the 1960s, and the contestation that this provoked, provides a lens through which the socially constructed nature of conservation is investigated. John Hannigan's (2006) theoretical framework for considering the social construction of environmental problems is adapted to an archival investigation of the 'prehistory' of destruction in three cases from the centre of Belfast. In particular, a values-based approach is foregrounded, whereby the ascription of values is deemed important for the 'construction' of heritage, and also its 'destruction'. It is argued that the insights derived from the use of the framework militate against the tendency towards 'totalising' or 'polemical' explanations that characterise certain literature addressing architectural heritage destruction. Furthermore, the framework is intended to be more widely applicable elsewhere when considering this often emotive subject matter. This investigation represents the most comprehensive account of the development of the legislative and institutional apparatus for the conservation of architectural heritage in Northern Ireland. The findings emanating from the study challenge common assumptions about the 'causes' of destruction in Belfast, revealing the complex interactions between those contesting redevelopment and the sometimes contradictory and conflicted positions that they held. Moreover, the discussion is attentive to the roles performed by a diverse 'cast of characters' in the events described, including leading popularising figures in the history of conservation and planning. The narrative is situated within the context of parallel developments and philosophical ideas permeating Western Europe, particularly the UK, in the twentieth century. Implications for contemporary conservation policy and practice are advanced and recommendations for future research made on the basis of the theoretical and historical insights.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Ulster
Thesis sponsors
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014


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