Let’s think back, for a moment, to 1980, when the Royal Society of Ulster Architects, to its great credit, addressed the numbing reality of the first wave of leisure centres – thought to be one way of relieving social unrest in 1970s Belfast – that turned out to be mostly grim, uninspired, defensive, box-like structures with high-level windows.
In Leisure Centre Provision in the Eighties, the RSUA called for “colourful, exciting buildings which stand out from their environment and cannot be missed…” and emphasised that “The night time appearance of leisure centres is of critical importance. The majority of community use is likely to take place on mid-week evenings and stark windowless boxes will never appear exciting in the dark.”
It took 25 years for the RSUA’s vision to be realised. In 2002, after the Victorian-era Falls Road Corporation Baths was destroyed by fire, local architects Kennedy Fitzgerald and Associates (KFA) won the competition to build its replacement. The Falls Leisure Centre was the first new leisure facility to open in Belfast since the 1980s.
KFA’s pastel-coloured Okalux glazing, offset by natural fibre-cement façade panels, creates a soft even light by day. Come dusk, the centre gives out a frosty aqueous glow, topped off with roof lanterns that pulse rhythmically from deep red, through purple to the darkening blue of the night sky and back again.
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