Castle Court Shopping Centre
By Building Design Partnership
Castle Court presides over Royal Avenue as a major glass structure and backs over the old Smithfield market.The Centre’s private-sector developer John Laing began construction on the 8.4 acre site in 1988 following the approval of £10m from a Department of the Environment (DOE) Urban Development Grant. (The DOE spent a further £5m on developing the Royal Avenue and Millfield area.) The finished project opened in 1990, comprising 77 retail units covering 450,000sq ft of retail space, with 170,000sq ft of office space and 1,600 parking spaces (in a multi-storey arrangement). The Department of Health and Social Services acquired 165,000sq ft of the office space upon completion in 1990 to accommodate 700 civilservants. In 1994, the development was sold to an English property company and it is currently operated as a Westfield Shopping Centre. Castlecourt continues to provide a major retail hub with well-known High Street department and chain stores as anchor tenants in the centre of the city. A major refurbishment by Belfast-based Todd Architects was completed in 2005 costing £9m.
Castle Court was built at a time when Belfast was vulnerable to bomb attacks on commercial property. The Northern Ireland Environment, Richard Needham, declared a policy that whatever was destroyed would be replaced by better; essentially urging the bombers to see that they would have no success in eroding the quality of the city. The building of Castle Court was effectively a declaration that the bombers had failed because a huge glass fronted building would survive their efforts.
Royal Avenue, leading from Donegall Place and Donegall Square (with Belfast’s City Hall at its epicentre), formed the great boulevard project of 19th-Century Belfast. Made up of tall Victorian and Edwardian commercial and retail premises, it epitomised the city’s heyday. The Avenue continued to be the city centre’s prestige shopping street throughout much of the 20th Century; however, economic decline and the impact of the Troubles on city-centre life, including bomb damage, led to inevitable decline and physical impoverishment from the late 1960s on. In the mid-1980s, the Castle Court development was the pioneering project designed to revitalize the Avenue and the city centre’s fortunes. While in many ways a significant and courageous move “and seen by many at the time to be a “forward-looking” contemporary design with its use of externally expressed steel frame and considerable use of glass, all with Hi-Tech overtones” it was also controversial, in that its huge scale spreading to the rear of Royal Avenue swamped the historic pattern of streets and “redeveloped” an historic part of the city at Smithfield, losing much of the city’s inner urban character; the scheme also brought about the final demise of the historic Grand Central Hotel, demolished to make way for the development. Berry Street to one side of the shopping centre was cut in two and effectively lost its identity as well as reducing street connectivity.
Photograph by Brian Morrison
Belfast City Centre
Name of Architect
Building Design Partnership
Large city-centre shopping centre with retail and office space and 1,600 car parking spaces, housing Debenhams, Easons and other big retail names.