Greater Clarendon Urban Design Framework, Belfast

8 January 2004 | blog, cities, frameworks, neighbourhood, place making, strategy, waterfronts

Clarendon Urban Design Framework Context Montage
Faber Maunsell, including Douglas Wheeler Associates, Willie Miller Urban Design, Manogue Architects and Mackel & Doherty Architects were commissioned by Laganside Corporation and Belfast Harbour Commissioners to prepare an urban design framework for the Greater Clarendon, Tomb Street and Little Italy area of Belfast. This commission is part of a term contract with Laganside Corporation to provide urban regeneration, architecture, urban design and traffic management consultancy services.

The study area covers around 20 hectares on the northern fringe of the Laganside Corporation designated area and the south western edge of the Harbour Commissioners’ land ownership. The area is located on the north eastern fringe of Belfast city centre and is an important gateway into the city centre particularly from the M2 and North Belfast. The Terms of reference for the commission identify three sub-areas namely:

  • Greater Clarendon: West of Clarendon Dock stretching from Dock street and the Corry Link in the north to Corporation Square to the south and Nelson Street to the west. Historically part of this area is still known as Sailor Town and there is still a very strong sense of community among ex-residents
  • Tomb Street: Includes the area from the River Lagan to Corporation Street and from Corporation Square to Waring Street. Tomb Street runs as a central spine running north to south through this area but is closed to through traffic beneath the ‘Cross Harbour’ road and rail bridges which dominate the area
  • Little Italy: Includes the area from the Cross Harbour bridges in the east to the Dunbar Link and Patrick Street in the west. Historically this was a thriving, predominantly residential area but road building, demolition and re-housing has displaced residents although ex-residents particularly those from the area known as the Half Bap have formed an association to celebrate their local history

The Terms of Reference highlight the main aim of the Urban Design Framework as being to guide and illustrate how design and other policies and principles should be implemented within the study area to create a sustainable, imaginative, appealing, distinctive and dramatically modern gateway to Belfast.

Structuring principles

The structuring principles which underpin the urban design framework for Greater Clarendon/Tomb street/Little Italy are:

  • a linkages and movement network
  • working with existing asset
  • grain and character: defining a legible urban form
  • densities and form: building height and massing
  • landmarks and focal points and way finding
  • people and activity: making places

Linkages and Movement: There is a particular need to reconnect the area with the adjoining city centre and Cathedral Quarter as well as to establish improved waterfront links and a more comfortable pedestrian environment.  The proposals are therefore structured to maximise connectivity by forging new links, particularly by means of a new axis running from Clarendon Point to the proposed Dunbar Circus as well as through reinforcement of existing links within the study area.

Working with Existing Assets:  The framework retains – where possible – many buildings dating back to the 19th century as well as more recent structures.  These retained buildings add to the richness and history of the street scene although few of them individually are of outstanding architectural interest.

Grain and Character:  Re-establishing a cohesive pattern of streets, footpaths and frontages is a key principle in returning the area to a dense urban environment in which a variety of uses thrive, ensuring 18 hour activity and a less threatening pedestrian environment.  The grain of the area should be easily understood by pedestrians.

Densities and Form:  The framework should set out a 3-dimensional structure for the area that accommodates anticipated floorspace requirements while creating a memorable urban form which fits the character of the study area and which harmonises with adjacent developments old and new.  Four storey building is a minimum requirement but in particular areas, for example with iconic buildings on prominent sites, development could rise to 10-12 storeys.

Landmarks and Focal Points:  In order to increase legibility and way finding, the framework should identify spaces that will become focal points or sites where landmark structures can be developed.

People and Activity:  The need to create spaces in which people can feel comfortable or where they can linger is an important component of the framework.  At the present time the area is distinctly unfriendly to the pedestrian and this requires to be addressed through a blend of ameliorating traffic intrusion, expanding opportunities for public realm enhancement and establishing space for active frontages in new development proposals.
Clarendon Analysis and Directions


Clarendon Photogallery

Willie Miller, the founder and principal of WMUD, died on 12th January 2021 after a short illness. Willie was a much-loved husband and father and had a huge circle of friends  and professional colleagues. He was a multi-talented urban designer whose work had a major impact on hundreds of cities, towns and neighbourhoods throughout the UK and over the past 25 years. He also worked in Ireland, the Channel Islands and the USA.

Ines Triebel has been with WMUD since 2005, and she will continue the practice, drawing on her skills as a planner and designer. Ines has worked on place strategies, masterplans, policy guidance, regeneration and development frameworks, and the design of public realm and streetscape projects. She has extensive experience of working with communities, including charrettes.

WMUD will continue its long-standing strategic partnerships with Benton Scott-Simmons, Nick Wright Planning, Kevin Murray Associates, icecream architecture, yellow book and others. Please direct inquiries to Ines at [email protected] or contact any of the practices named above.