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NEWStudios set to lodge plans for architecture school

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Northern Irish practice NEWStudios is to submit a planning application in Belfast for a multi-use building that could house a new independent architecture school

The National Experimental Workshop Studios (NEWStudios) has produced designs for the Fountainville Rooms, a 12-storey building to replace a derelict 1880s school on the edge of the city’s Queen’s Quarter.

The practice, which has three full-time members of staff and is based at the proposed development site, has held initial talks with planners and will consult the public about the project by opening up its studio as part of Culture Night Belfast on 16 September. It will then apply for planning permission.

Robert Jamison, who founded NEWStudios last year and previously owned Robert Jamison Architects, said the design allowed for different uses but that, initially, the building could house a proposed Belfast Foundation School, an independent apprenticeship school of architecture, urban design, creative arts and cultural studies, as well as creative and engineering practices. 

New Studio Belfast School

New Studio Belfast School

Visualisation showing site with and without proposed Fountainville Rooms

‘The building we are proposing is a very important symbol of our approach,’ said Jamison, who had the idea for the building, which is being financed by a private individual. ‘It has been designed in such a way – we call it a building without function – that it is a future-proof building that can allow for numerous opportunities for habitation by different types of user groups.’ Uses could include residential, commercial, social and healthcare, as well as education.

The brownfield site on Fountainville Avenue is adjacent to a listed 1930s church. The design proposes a new 36m-tall building as the ‘missing tower’ of the church, matching the material and detail of the listed building.

Fountainville Rooms would have a ground-floor café and exhibition space, so as to ‘bring architecture to the people’, and backers would aim to run lectures open to the public. Each floor within the building, which would feature a double-stacked helical staircase around a lift shaft, would be like an extended landing, without individual rooms.

Jamison said the proposed foundation school within the building would offer apprenticeships and combine teaching with live project practice. He added that it would act as ‘a platform to offer a different way of teaching architecture’, sitting between secondary and tertiary education, and was aimed at supporting the construction industry and local institutions. He said he had received ‘good responses’ to the scheme from people at Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University in informal discussions.

He claimed that, unlike existing institutions, the proposed school ‘isn’t driven by a business model’ because it would not require payment from students. 

Ciarán Fox, director of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects, said: ‘Alternative pathways into architecture are important if we want to attract a diverse range of talented people. I look forward to finding out more about this interesting initiative.’

One foundation course already available in Belfast is INTO’s International Foundation in Architecture, which helps prepare international students for entry into an undergraduate degree at Queen’s University Belfast.

Project data

Project Foundation School - apprenticeship school of architecture, urban design, creative arts and cultural studies
Location Belfast
Type All 
Client Private
Architect NEWStudios (previously Robert Jamison Architects)
Structural Anton Sawicki (Mott MacDonald) 
M&E Mott MacDonald
Planning consultant Turley
Funding Philanthropic

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