Sunday morning opens with a cacophony of hymns on the drawing room family piano deep in the wild west. Things can only get better, as the Belfast singer D:Ream famously once hoped. Eucharist is just sliding into memory at Belfast Cathedral by the time we glide up to the east coast bright lights. Sunday lunch is just a block away in St Anne’s Square. Dumpling Library is a gourmet rather than literary experience. Gucci clad model Janice Blakley joins us for lunch.
Covering most Oriental bases our waitress confirms, “The Dumpling Library is Asian, Canton, Chinese and Malaysian fusion. Sundays are our busiest day.” A solitary unbusy unhurried diner sitting at an island table is reading Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss under a crimson heart dangling from the ceiling. Fried spinach wontons, Japanese tofu, prawn avocado tempura, salt chilli tofu, sweet potato chips … we’re on a (kimchi) roll at our window table.
Pastiche. Yawn. The most unoriginal cliché. An architectural criticism crime. Every glass building is a Meisian copy you might as well say. Neo Geo is neo Geo is neo Geo which sounds dogmatically Gertrude Steinian and rightly so. An accusation of pastiche – and St Anne’s Square has had more than its unjust desserts – is about as original as claiming somewhere has been “restored to its former glory”. What glory? When? Really? The only glory left is in knickerbocker glory. Jonathan Meades gets it spot on as always in his essay France in the collection Pedro and Ricky Come Again, 2020, “… worldwide scream of accusatory architects: ‘Pastiche!’ The architectural doxa decrees that pastiche is a Very Bad Thing Indeed. The collective convention forgets the history of architecture is the history of pastiche and theft: von Klenze’s Walhalla above the Danube is based on the Parthenon; G G Scott’s St Pancras borrows from Flemish cloth halls; Arras’s great squares are imitations of themselves.”
The brilliant critic rants on in his essay Obituaries in the same collection, “Architecture like poetry is founded in copyism and plagiarism – both vertical, looting the past; and horizontal, stealing from the present. The obscure past, of course, and the geographically distant present.” St Anne’s Square has proved an easy target for lazy uneducated reviewers. Completed in 2010, it is Taggarts Architects’ Portland stone and red brick clad with whimsically oversized foray into late postmodernist neo Georgianism. Giant quoins have form in this quarter: Sir Charles Lanyon’s Northern Bank, Thomas Jackson’s Scottish Amicable Life Building and Corn Exchange Building all belong to the bigger is better school. Funky, not fashionable. The buildings of St Anne’s Square are just tall enough and wide enough to create an intimate public realm with a floorplate gap perfectly framing the chamfered ambulatory of the cathedral and its 2007 stainless steel spirelet. Dumpling Library is one of several ground floor courtyard facing restaurants below apartments. This mixed use development also includes a 168 bedroom Ramada Hotel.
At least St Anne’s Cathedral has never been accused of being pastiche. Ever since Belfast architects Thomas Drew and William Henry Lynn drew up its Romanesque origins in 1868, this building evolved over the next 139 years into something quite unique, slightly hard to place yet paradoxically somehow of its place and time(s). Idiosyncratic, not imitative. “The cathedral is a huge moment,” declares Ireland’s leading neoclassical architect John O’Connell. In another church in another country in another discipline Dr Rowan Williams, Lord Oystermouth, tells us at Westminster Cathedral, “The deepest of the gifts to exchange is love.” We’re loving the new Belfast, especially the next generation murals.