MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

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MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

A glazed tower sits atop the volcanic stone facade of this performing arts centre in Belfast to create a beacon above the surrounding rooftops.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

Designed by Irish architects Hackett Hall McKnight (now Hall McKnight), the Metropolitan Arts Centre is wedged between two existing buildings on a hemmed-in corner plot that sits beside the city cathedral.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

A long and narrow atrium divides the building into two halves and is surrounded by walls of exposed concrete and brickwork.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

Skylights bring natural light down into the seven-storey space, where balconies accommodate cafe and bar areas.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

An auditorium is located on either side of the foyer, while dance studios and exhibition galleries fill the floors above and below.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

Also recently completed in Belfast is a maritime museum dedicated to the RMS Titanic.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

See more stories about projects in Ireland »

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

Photography is by Christian Richters.

Here's some more information from Hall McKnight:


The MAC Arts Centre, Belfast

The MAC is the key cultural element in the regeneration of Belfast’s emerging Cathedral Quarter, historically the Merchant City of Belfast.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

The building completes the newly established St Anne’s Square, a new public space for the city, and engages with the pre- existing street network.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

The Square is addressed with a tower that registers the building on the wider city skyline.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

The solidity and substance of this tower offers a contrast to the ‘pattern book’ pastiche of the square, conferring a sense of age and permanence to the space.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

The use of local basalt stone cladding for this element of the project asserts the civic significance of this new cultural venue for the city.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

The project deploys an architectural language drawn from the traditional brick warehouse and mill buildings of Belfast. The qualities of these buildings derive from the methods of construction and the simplicity of the details.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

It is to these robust qualities of pragmatism and strength that the practice has referred in developing the design of the MAC.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

In addition to the presence of the tower the project is defined by two brick blocks, constructed from in-situ concrete, which contain the main spaces.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

Clad in brick, the expression of each block is distinct due to minor adjustments to the architectural language.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

One is a regular cuboid form expressed with a repeated elevational treatment that reflects the wrapping of large spaces with cellular accommodation; the other is a less regular form with large, individual openings offering into larger, more volumetrically generous spaces.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

The foyer occupies the tall voids between these two brick-clad forms.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

The main spaces of the building are the foyer and cafe bar, 2 auditoria, 1000m2 of gallery and dance studios.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

The gallery spaces are connected together by the multi-level foyer.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

The foyer spaces recall the tight streetscape of the neighbourhood - a compressed space characterised by top-light and defined by internal elevations of brick and concrete.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

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Site constraints ‘force’ the building into the adoption of a stacked section– with galleries on top of the theatres – a kind of ‘plateau’ to which one ascends via the staircases that traverse and ascend their way around the foyer.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

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Above this, 2 large spaces accommodate dance/rehearsal activities.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

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Studies of the brick elevations influenced the approach to the stone and concrete walls that have been developed with similar qualities of surface relief.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

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The brick cladding of one of the concrete boxes has been peeled away to reveal a 5 storey high concrete wall to the foyer.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

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The deliberate introduction of pattern to the wall is expressed as a kind of abstract drawing through the use of smooth concrete framing to fields of highly textured board-marked concrete.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

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This ‘drawn’ or ‘marked’ elevational approach is also employed on the exterior where the basalt surface of the tower presents a relief texture to the Square.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

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Internally, in-situ concrete is recurrently exposed as an internal finish for walls and soffits.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

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Brickwork extends to interior walls that address the urban qualities of the foyer where terrazzo floors prevail.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

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MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

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The project has achieved a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating from the BRE which reflects a high level of environmental performance.

MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

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MAC Belfast by Hackett Hall McKnight

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  • david

    Somehow this is tasteful and vulgar at the same time. It strikes me as too thematic.

  • Chris

    I don't usually like a hundred different materials merged into one building but this is just stunning.

  • http://www.walnutgreydesign.com/ Mr Walnut Grey

    Belfast born & bred, I love this. It is great to see such an amazing city thriving & striving. The cathedral quarter is one of the best locations in town! Visit the Merchant Hotel if you're there… great for afternoon tea or a cocktail.

  • sufficialquar

    “The solidity and substance of this tower offers a contrast to the ‘pattern book’ pastiche of the square, conferring a sense of age and permanence to the space”.

    An odd comment here. I wonder if the authors understand the meaning of “pastiche” as it appears to be used here to describe the antithesis of “solid”?

    I do like the black tower – it is the most solid-looking element of the MAC – but the fact is that it is not solid stone at all: it is formed from thin stone slips that are fixed onto hundreds of stainless steel brackets. It’s as much a stage set as the neighbouring St. Anne’s Square.

    In reference to “pastiche”, the randomised, bar-code elevational approach of the MAC building is surely a pastiche of the ubiquitous mid-noughties buildings to be found up and down the length of the UK. Very derivative indeed.

    Anyway, the solid-looking effect of both contrivances, both styles, are actually complementary.