Thursday 16 October 2014


As part of this year’s Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s, one event will examine how the Ulster Museum’s architecture has evolved over the last 100 years.

Entitled The Ulster Museum 1914-2014: Evolution amidst Revolution, the exhibition features rarely seen archival drawings, photographs and footage of the museum – shedding new light on one of Belfast’s most iconic buildings. 

Taking place from Friday, October 17, the exhibition explores the influences — both local and global — that shaped the building, and considers how the forces of modernity were absorbed, over the course of a century, into its architecture.

It is part of the British Council’s Absorbing Modernity series – a mini festival within the main Ulster Bank Festival at Queen’s – which through a series of events and exhibitions, looks at the history of architecture in Northern Ireland over the course of the past century.  

The exhibition will examine the three main three periods of development in the museum – which remarkably coincide with defining periods of history of the province: the birth of Northern Ireland, the outbreak of the Troubles and post-Good Friday Agreement.

 Evolution amidst Revolution is curated by Rosaleen Hickey and will feature not just architectural drawings, but also the original 1964 architectural model of the proposed extension, rarely seen photographs, archival footage, and more.

Speaking ahead of the exhibition, she said: “This year, in the centenary of its original design, it is wonderful to be able to celebrate the architectural importance of the Ulster Museum. 

“This unique exhibition brings together, for the first time, a range of exhibits that illustrate the evolution of the museum, from drawings dating back to 1914 that show the original proposals for the Belfast Municipal Museum and Art Gallery, through to plans for the most recent  (2006-09) redevelopment of the museum.”

The exhibition is supported by the British Council and the Arts Council Northern Ireland as part of Absorbing Modernity. Commissioned by the British Council, Absorbing Modernity is inspired by this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale and the British Pavilion’s A Clockwork Jerusalem. 

Speaking about the event, David Alderdice, Director of British Council Northern Ireland said: “Exhibitions such as this are extremely important for Belfast, and indeed Northern Ireland, as it reflects the Ulster Museum’s stature as an iconic building. It’s also wonderful to tell the story of how the museum has transformed — as has the city — over the past 100 years.

“Evolution amidst Revolution is just one of a series of events we have been working on as part of Absorbing Modernity, and it’s been great to get the chance to collaborate with the Arts Council Northern Ireland, the Belfast Festival and the Ulster Museum, to bring events tied into the Venice Architecture Biennale to Northern Ireland.”

Kim Mawhinney, Head of Art, National Museums Northern Ireland commented: ”National Museums Northern Ireland are delighted to have worked with the British Council to draw the public attention to the huge impact 100 years of architectural development has had on the Ulster Museum. 

“Many of the drawings and objects on display have never been seen before and I am sure the public will be fascinated to see what the museum could have looked like if the original plans had been completed. As one of Belfast’s iconic buildings, visitors to the exhibition will see just how important the 1970s concrete extension was in terms of international Modernist architecture.”

Absorbing Modernity is a mini festival within the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s. Events have been developed in partnership with Belfast Exposed, Forum for Alternative Belfast, PLACE, Queen’s Film Theatre, Queen’s University, the University of Ulster and the Ulster Museum.

 Other highlights of the festival include Building for the Silver Screens, curated by the ex-director of the QFT, Michael Open.  The exhibition at the QFT shows how much we have lost in terms of the built environment, specifically in terms of our cinema architecture. It captures a bygone era when over 40 cinemas were operating in Belfast. Today the Strand Arts Centre stands as the last remaining example of modernist cinema architecture in Belfast.

 There will also be an exhibition at the Golden Thread Gallery looking at Craigavon 50 years after is birth. The exhibition reveals the bright ambitions for housing development in Northern Ireland in the post war period.  Explored through archives and plans, the exhibition is also an opportunity to see work of one of Northern Ireland’s finest photographers, Victor Sloan.

 Other highlights of the festival can be found on screen; Forum for Alternative Belfast’s film An Epoch translated into Space, shows local architect Paddy Lawson’s involvement with the Ulster Museum Building, meanwhile the series of films curated by Susan Picken to be shown at Queen’s Film Theatre and the Strand Cinemas have the effect of bringing to life the architecture of modernity.

The Ulster Museum 1914-2014: Evolution amidst Revolution, will take place at the Ulster Museum from October 17 until November 1. Tours of the Ulster Museum, led by architectural historian and exhibition curator Rosaleen Hickey, will accompany the exhibition.  The tours will take place at 1pm on Thursday 23 and 30 October, starting from the atrium. The duration of the tours is 40 minutes.

For more information on any Absorbing Modernity events visit 


Notes to Editor

  • The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We work in over 100 countries worldwide to build engagement and trust for the UK through the exchange of knowledge and ideas between people. We work in the arts, education, English, science, sport and governance and last year we engaged face to face with 18.4 million people and reached 652 million. We are a non-political organisation which operates at arm’s length from government. Our total turnover in 2009/10 was £705 million, of which our grant-in-aid from the British government was £211 million. For every £1 of government grant we receive, we earn £2.50 from other sources. For more information, please visit: or follow us on Twitter: @BCouncil_NI
  • The National Museums Northern Ireland’s core ethos is Explore. Engage. Enjoy. Situated across four unique sites, they care for and present inspirational collections that reflect the creativity, innovation, history, culture and people of Northern Ireland.
  •  The Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s runs from October 16 until November 1 2014. It is biggest festival of its kind in Ireland and Northern Ireland, attracts 60,000 people and puts Belfast on the world map of artistic celebration.For over 50 years Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's has been lighting up the city with music, dance, drama, poetry, literature, comedy and visual arts. The festival attracts the biggest names in the world– everyone from Laurence Olivier to Jimi Hendrix has taken part.


About the British Council

For further information please contact: 

Claire McAuley T +44 (0) 28 9019 2224 | M +44 (0) 7856524504 Twitter: @BCouncil_NI