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MacEwen 2024 shortlist: St James’ Community Farm, West Belfast, Northern Ireland

‘It is a huge building for a crazy small budget – you can barely construct a shell for that’

St James’ Community Farm, West Belfast, Northern Ireland by MMAS.
St James’ Community Farm, West Belfast, Northern Ireland by MMAS. Credit: MMAS

St James Community Farm, West Belfast, Northern Ireland
MMAS for Belfast City Council and St James’ Forum
Contract cost: £210,000
GIA: 153m2

St James’ Community Farm is a new building situated on a piece of vacant, publicly owned land between a nature reserve and the terraced streets of St James’ in West Belfast. It was identified by locals as a potential community resource and a proactive group of residents decided to adapt the space as an urban farmyard, cultivating crops and introducing livestock. The group was initially offered funding for shipping containers, but MMAS approached it on a pro-bono basis to develop a more ambitious vision for the money.

The final design uses a linear form of simple mono–pitched buildings to shelter a central, interior space from road noise, fumes and excessive breezes, thus creating a micro–climate conducive for growing, playing and hosting performances, discussions and events. These pre-fabricated modular forms are clad in reflective metal to refer to typical agricultural buildings while creating a robust shell. Within the main farm and garden space, the buildings were clad with timber donated by a local merchant, treated and fixed on site. A colonnade of ‘V’ shaped timber posts supports the projecting roof on the inner side, heightening the sense of enclosure within the courtyard garden and orientating the space toward the Belfast Hills beyond. Greenery will grow up them in time.

  • St James Community Farm, West Belfast, Northern Ireland by MMAS.
    St James Community Farm, West Belfast, Northern Ireland by MMAS. Credit: MMAS
  • St James Community Farm, West Belfast, Northern Ireland by MMAS.
    St James Community Farm, West Belfast, Northern Ireland by MMAS. Credit: MMAS
  • St James Community Farm, West Belfast, Northern Ireland by MMAS.
    St James Community Farm, West Belfast, Northern Ireland by MMAS. Credit: MMAS
  • St James Community Farm, West Belfast, Northern Ireland by MMAS.
    St James Community Farm, West Belfast, Northern Ireland by MMAS. Credit: MMAS
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The resulting structure displays tactile and characterful facades, reflecting the ad-hoc and self-built spirit of the farm. Through the self-build construction and creation of the building’s appearance, a deeper pride and ownership of the finished project has been cultivated.

The judges of this year’s MacEwen Awards shortlist felt the project achieved an enormous amount for the neighbourhood for the budget. It has become much-loved, bringing in wildlife and people, with both adults and children gaining new skills.

‘It is a huge building for a crazy small budget – you can barely construct a shell for that budget,’ commented judge Je Ahn.

Meanwhile, judgeAlex Scott-Whitby particularly enjoyed the architecture: ‘I really like the diagonal, Y-shaped structure forming the space outside – it is very simple,’ he concluded.

See more on MacEwen shortlisted projects and architecture for the common good 

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