Bono's look of triumphant surprise as he held up the joint hands of John Hume and David Trimble last week is unforgettable. The bizarre conjunction of popular culture, so habitually chastised for its superficiality, and two cultures replete with popular culture's diametric opposites - tradition, immovability, history, precedent - could only have happened in the Britain and Ireland of the 1990s, and is none the worse for that. It has not a lot to do with the individual virtues of Blair and Clinton. It is founded on a sea-change which has challenged the constructs of former generations such as the monarchy, religion and nationhood, while simultaneously questioning previous assumptions about what is worthy of consideration in our contemporary surroundings, be it the architecture of mass-built pre-fabs or the songs of Bananarama.
But architecture is notoriously slow to respond to changes in mood. In Northern Ireland there is an architecture of division which survived intact the last period when peace broke out. It is a nasty indelible tattoo of inconsolably long 'peace' walls dividing Catholic from Protestant, army outposts, barred entrances, and public institutions built with the effective but sinister technology of the bastion. The Observer carried a cartoon this weekend of two masked terrorists contemplating a gable-end inscribed with the legend 'Troops Out', wondering what shade of magnolia they should now paint it. The dismantling of the architecture of distrust will not always be so easy. If ever there was a moment for a competition to consider and develop a new architecture of hope in Northern Ireland, the time is now.