In search of the spirit of somethingism in Belfast with Richard Weston of Ace Jet 170
Perhaps I’m wrong but I’ve read a bit about Russian Constructivism and I know a thing or two about Futurism. When you dig around the internet in search of some nuggets of information about Belfast’s Transport House, the few details you find, more often than not, claim the design of the mural, the building’s most striking feature, is in the style of the Constructivists.
I can understand why someone might think that: originally built (around 1959) as the headquarters of the Transport and General Workers Union, there’s an obvious affinity with their comrades in the Soviet Union what with once shared chains of oppression and the subsequent fight against the bourgeoisie, and whatnot.
But surely, stylistically, it’s more Futurist? With those exaggerated, dynamic lines. Or even Cubo-Futurist if you’re an ism pedant. Or, maybe designer/architect J J Brennan had sympathies with the much closer to home (if short-lived) Vorticists. In fact, in my humble, non-art-historian-but-fairly-well-read-on-early-twentieth-century-art-isms, opinion this could be described as the epitome of Vorticism: abstracted geometry, embraced dynamism, celebration of the machine age.
But what do I know?
I suppose there’s little real substance to justify such a claim, but then there seems to be as little reason to think anything else; just because there are workers represented doesn’t make it Constructivist does it? Whatever the ism and despite its prominent position in the City centre, it’s a singularly under-loved building. There seems to be very little written about Transport House, in the digital realm at least. That’s all the more surprising when you learn that it’s now a listed building; Belfast’s youngest.
Sadly, it’s in a sorry state. The access points are boarded up and some time in the noughties the original chunky, bold (actually quite Constructivist!) TWGU lettering, mounted at the very top of the building, was replaced with the then-new, swishy wishy-washy Unite logo. It must have been soon after that the building’s rooftop played host to the 2008 hunger strike. That at least was extensively reported, bringing the building some well deserved, if at the time not entirely welcome, attention.
Whatever anyone else thinks and whatever the true inspiration was for that amazing decoration, I love this building. I love it partly because I bet when it first went up it must have felt futuristic (maybe not Futurist); it must have been stunning and controversial. But of course I love it mostly for that incredible mural.
Let’s hope that one day someone realises they can retro-fit the building and turn it into something suitably interesting or useful and save it from its current gloomy state.