Thursday, September 24, 2015

The city of superlatives

Belfast ... A large city in a little country—a place where no task is ever small, where determination is never modest and the triumphs are imposingly grand. "As Belfast-people, we proclaim a belief in big ideas," explains Belfast-born architect and urban designer Ciaran Mackel in his essay "Impact of the Conflict on Public Spaces and Architecture." "We are accustomed, perhaps even addicted to, a big sense of our place in the world." The city's history is laden with superlatives. Three times Harland & Wolff built a ship that was bestowed with the title of "largest ever": the Teutonic, the Oceanic, and the Titanic. Additionally, the shipyard possessed the world's biggest floating crane and graving dock. York Street Mill was the king of all linen manufactories (helping Belfast earn the moniker "Linenopolis"). The Belfast Rope Work Company and Gallaher's tobacco factory were titans of their prospective industries.

In the words of still another architect, Dennis O'D. Hanna, the city's numerous feats of wonder are attributable to a certain shared trait: "What Belfast sets its hand to it will ultimately do well, for we are an ambitious people." A restless desire to succeed, a civic embrace of the idea that everything can be done better—and again. Van Morrison articulated it with two plain and irrevocable words. Back in the mid-1960s, Morrison and fellow members of Them were profiled in Belfast's City Week; asked to list his ambitions, the singer/songwriter stated just one: "Make it."

Perhaps then, it's no accident of fortune that the rock canon's crowning achievement can trace its roots back to Belfast. After all, this is the city of superlatives.

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