Friday, 25 January 2013

The MAC, Belfast

At the end of November last year I went on my holidays to Belfast - a city I hadn't visited before, or at least not one I'd spent time in while old enough to remember much now. There was lots to see and do, but a highlight of the trip was easily a visit to The MAC - Metropolitan Arts Centre - designed by Hackett Hall McKnight Architects and opened about a year ago. Purpose-built in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter and wedged between a number of other buildings, you can get a number of different impressions of the building depending on what direction you approach it from, as it employs a number of different materials to create a collage of blocks and planes. It's the interior of the building that's really special, continuing the idea of a collage of shapes, materials and textures facing into a central foyer and circulation space.

Different rhythms are created through the regular brick columns on one side of the foyer and the irregular board-cast concrete on the other, and the space is spliced through by The Permanent Present: the spectrum of colour by artist Mark Garry, permanently installed in the Centre. But with all this going on in the foyer and circulations spaces, the gallery spaces are - by and large - quiet, bright and contemplative spaces, giving full priority to the exhibits themselves rather than the rooms that hold them. I can't speak about the theatre spaces yet, but can attest to the comfortable seated areas in the cafe - and I really really like the chairs (designed by the architects as well, as far as I can tell). With a regularly changing programme of exhibitions, performances and events, there's always an excuse to call in if you're in the area (while I was visiting highlights included an exhibition of originals from the books of Oliver Jeffers and an installation by young artist Claire Morgan, while a major Andy Warhol will soon fill all three galleries until late April). The building's recently been announced in the architecture shortlist for Designs of the Year - if you visit, I think you'll see why.