Book review:Young & Mackenzie architects of Ulster

For those who are interested in architecture, this is a must. For the rest of us, Young & Mackenzie, Architects of Ulster is a fascinating look at the buildings of Belfast and beyond. Sound dull? Absolutely not, it’s a volume of 400 pages of meticulous research which will hold the attention for an age.


Dr. Paul Harron used his PhD research into the local firm Young & Mackenzie to write this volume for the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society highlighting as it does a period in time where Belfast was establishing itself as a city of industry and culture; this showed most of all in Donegall Square and along Donegall Place to Royal Avenue where the city fathers wanted to create a wide boulevard lined with iconic structures. This was achieved by three generations who left a legacy of outstanding beauty.

The firm was founded in the late 1800s by Robert Young Senior with his outstanding assistant John Mackenzie. Young, who had studied architecture in Glasgow and was determined to establish a design company to lift Belfast out of its ‘mean and shabby’ appearance with grand shops and offices, churches and villas achieved his dream with buildings such as the Presbyterian Assembly Buildings in Fisherwick Place now a conference centre, Robinson & Cleaver with its great sweeping staircase and elevators, veranda now a restaurant, then for ladies to promenade and embellishment in stone and bronze; they created Anderson & McAuley’s, Scottish Provident Buildings and Ocean Building on each side of the City Hall. When James Reid Young, the third generation, married into a Quaker family, the company began designing for other clients including Methodist churches with fine examples on Newtownards Road, Springfield Road and Cavehill Road Methodist, described by Paul, ‘with swept roofs possessing a certain Scandinavian air.’

Before the family company came to an end after 115 years of continuous work, their legacy extended from red brick warehouses, to Magee University, to a cemetery to the new mansion that became Culloden Hotel ‘overhanging Belfast Lough’, to a town hall in Co. Donegal to Cunningham Memorial in Cullybackey, principally funded by two wealthy twin unmarried sisters.

This is a fascinating book, full of surprises and a credit to the author.

Anne Hailes

Architects of Ulster:
Young & Mackenzie
Published by Ulster Architectural Heritage Society. £28

Post Author: Belfast Times

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