In 2014-2016, I created a series of photographs showing the weaponized architecture (and its evolution in history) of the police stations in the Paris banlieues. While in the city center of Paris, as well as in the white bourgeois and higher middle-class south-western banlieues, police stations may feature transparent and somewhat welcoming architectural characteristics, those situated everywhere else in banlieue municipalities whose residents belong for many to the racialized working class (whose parents and grand-parents may have been colonial subjects of the French empire), architecture implements a semi-militarized material formation belonging to a broader antagonistic policing agenda against these residents (in particular Black, Arab, and Roma young men). Yet, and although the banlieues constitute in my opinion a geography of the French colonial continuum (as I wrote in my last book), the way policing is implementing on this geography cannot be the exact same than actual colonized territory. This led to a second series (a quite short one) about the French colonial military police stations on the Great Earth of Kanaky – New Caledonia, where the militarization is more explicit in its architecture language.
The present post presents a similar endeavor in the context of another colonial occupation: the North of Ireland (more specifically, six of the nine counties of Ulster), which was segregated from the newly-created Irish Free State in 1922 at the end of the incomplete Irish Revolution and remained under British control when the 26 other counties became the Republic of Ireland in 1949. The Irish Republican anti-colonial movement opposed to the British army and settler loyalist paramilitary groups led to the period of 1968-1998 known as “the Troubles” — nb. I use the term “settler” here not to deny the fact that many Ulster Protestants have been living in Ireland for centuries ever since the 16th and 17th century settler colonial process known as the “Plantation,” but rather to trace the political genealogy of militant unionists in this colonial context. The militarization of the North during the British counter-insurrection against the Ireland Republican Army (IRA) and its affiliates was massive and materialized in particular through architecture. The built environment embodied by police and military barracks in particular could not be more manifesting a state of colonial war against Republican Irish, as a few photographers have showed. After the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the enactment of the negotiated peace process (which halted the armed struggle, but certainly not the anti-colonial movement itself), many of these structures were dismantled. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) which constituted the colonial police force in the North was also renamed in 2001 into a seemingly more sober “Police Service of Norther Ireland.” Many of these occupation structures however remain and are still operating as police barracks today as the following photographs illustrate (please note that the series could have included many more of these structures).
Colonial militarized architecture always expresses a self-sense of illegitimacy in its defensiveness and, as such, participates to a vision of its inexorable dismantlement. In the case of the North of Ireland, we have to believe that the recent developments triggered by England and Wales’ decision to withdraw onto themselves through Brexit, will precipitate the reunification of Ireland and the obsolescence of these structures.
All photos by Léopold Lambert (March 2022), Creative commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International. ///