Appropriating Architecture: Violence, Surveillance and Anxiety
In Belfast in the 1970s and 1980s, a modernist housing scheme became subject to multiple contested appropriations. Built between 1966 and 1972, the Divis Flats became a flashpoint in the violence of the Troubles, and a notorious space of danger, poverty, and decay. The structural and social failings of so many postwar system-built housing schemes were reiterated in Divis, as the rapid material decline of the complex echoed the descent into war in Belfast and Northern Ireland. Competing military and paramilitary strategies of violence refigured the topography of the flats, rendering the balcony walkways, narrow stairs, and lift shafts into an architecture of urban war. The residents viewed the complex as a concrete prison. They campaigned for the complete demolition of the flats, with protests which included attacking the architecture of the flats itself. The competing appropriations of the complex reflect how architecture is remade through use.