Lives Remembered

Gifted architect made his name with Aldergrove Airport

The distinctive terminal building at Aldergrove Airport, later renamed Belfast International Airport, which opened in 1963

BILLY McAlister made his name as the architect behind Aldergrove Airport.

The distinctive terminal building, with its high ceilings and inverted pyramid motif, perfectly captured the sense of progress that the age of air travel offered to a growing middle-class in pre-Troubles Northern Ireland.

The project, opened in 1963, would lead to further airport commissions at Gatwick, Teesside, Aberdeen and Sumburgh in Scotland, which serves the Shetland Islands.

Mr McAlister also worked with leading engineers of the day on Belfast Central Station and other railway schemes and was very active in the Royal Society of Ulster Architects, providing leadership and guidance through the critical years of conflict. His first encounter with airplanes was as a young man at the end of World War II, when he learned to fly with the RAF.

Born in Shandon Park in east Belfast in 1924, he had attended RBAI and studied architecture at Liverpool University, where he met his wife Sheila.

On returning home he set up his own firm, WH McAlister Architects, which completed several projects for carpet magnate Cyril Lord in Donaghadee including his carpet factory, said to have the longest brick wall in Europe.

He was also responsible for several office blocks in central Belfast including the YMCA building in Wellington Place, better known as the car tax office.

The business grew, partnerships were formed and offices opened in Derry, London, Glasgow, Birmingham and Birmingham.

However, Mr McAlister always had the ability to look ahead and he was among the first to see that environmental impact assessments and accessibility standards would be the next requirements for planning applications.

Late in his career he enthusiastically applied himself to acquiring qualifications in these new disciplines and set up one of the first consultancy businesses in Northern Ireland in this field. His expertise was recognised and rewarded by the Ulster University with a professorship.

He was founder and senior lecturer at the Centre for Accessibility at the university and was a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland.

Ambitious, talented and energetic, he was also a warm and friendly man.

Living in Donaghadee, Co Down for many years, Billy was a highly regarded member of Donaghadee Presbyterian Church and his local community.

He was involved in many activities including car rallying, the arts, music and golf, and was also a regular contributor to radio programmes,

Professor Billy McAlister died aged 91 on November 26.

He leaves his wife Sheila, his son Bill who worked with him for many years, daughter Liz and four grandchildren.

Lives Remembered

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