The catastrophic fire that destroyed the Bank Buildings in the centre of Belfast in 2018 was not only a tragedy for the historic building and its owners Primark, but also crippled the trading centre of the city due to the safety cordon quickly established. Hall Black Douglas was appointed as Conservation Architects to work with the wider professional team to ascertain if the remaining structure could be stabilised and restored.
Working closely with Byrne Looby, Conservation Structural Engineers the walls were stabilised using ballasted shipping containers, and tested to establish the capability of the historic structure to stand. Following surveys from cranes and the numbering and cataloguing of every stone, the upper two storeys were carefully taken down to ensure public safety with a reduced cordon. A period of setting out a ‘conservation–led’ strategy for the project followed with public consultations for the statutory processes of securing Listed Building Consent. Historic Environment Division worked closely with Planning Service and Belfast City Council to proactively move the scheme through the process, knowing that the restrictions placed on the surrounding traders during the build were economically difficult.
Following a challenging internal demolition and strip out, the process of rebuilding began in 2020 – just before COVID restrictions hit the site. Bennetts, the main contractors, established work packages covering all the disciplines needed for the rebuild – stone, roofing, leadwork, timber windows and so on. There were many technical challenges to be overcome in the design of the new structure – as it sits within the historic walls supported on the original timber piles – with the new roof cantilevering out over the walls like an umbrella without resting on them. The sheer scale of the stonework restoration and replacement with new stone from the original quarries necessitated a team of over 20 stonemasons to be gathered by Creggstone, the specialist contractor, from all over Ireland.
Two years later, the doors have just opening on the newly restored flagship store to much public acclaim and appreciation.