Northern Ireland

Key milestone in transformation of historic Belfast bank into tourist attraction

A design team has been appointed for the former Bank of Ireland building project which Belfast Lord Mayor Ryan Murphy called a ‘much-loved heritage site’ (Liam McBurney/PA)
A design team has been appointed for the former Bank of Ireland building project which Belfast Lord Mayor Ryan Murphy called a ‘much-loved heritage site’ (Liam McBurney/PA) A design team has been appointed for the former Bank of Ireland building project which Belfast Lord Mayor Ryan Murphy called a ‘much-loved heritage site’ (Liam McBurney/PA)

The transformation of a historic Belfast bank to become a new visitor attraction has reached a “significant milestone”.

The Art Deco-style former Bank of Ireland building, which dates back to 1931, is set to reopen in 2029 as Belfast Stories.

An integrated design team has now been appointed for the project following a 12-month competition led by Belfast City Council and supported by the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba).

The appointment is a partnership between Oslo-based Snohetta and Belfast-based TODD Architects.

They will lead on design, supported by a team of specialists, while property and construction consultancy Gleeds has been appointed to oversee project management and design assurance.

As a flagship project of the £850 million Belfast Region City Deal, the appointed consortium will see the 5,000-square metre site transformed into a state-of-the-art, interactive and immersive visitor experience that celebrates the stories of Belfast and provides vibrant social spaces for visitors to enjoy.

It is also intended that the site will become the city’s greatest example of a climate-resilient building, supporting Belfast’s position as a Top 10 globally sustainable city, according to the 2022 Global Destinations Sustainability Index.

Belfast Lord Mayor Ryan Murphy described it as a “significant milestone”.

“We’re grateful to all those involved in the international design competition for supporting us to attract the highest calibre of talent to match the ambition we have for this unique destination,” he said.

“Belfast Stories will transform a much-loved heritage site and continue the regeneration of this part of the city centre, as well as becoming a vibrant place for people from Belfast and further afield to come together and share in the unique character of this place and its people.

“We look forward to inviting residents to support this unique opportunity as the appointed team determine a design that reflects local contributions.”

Robert Greenwood, partner and director at Snohetta, said the building and adjacent site “have the potential to become a bold architectural statement that Belfast can be proud of”.

“We share in Belfast City Council’s vision and collectively offer the insight and experience to create a space that will improve the vibrancy and aesthetic of this part of the city, but we also recognise how excellent architecture can deliver community benefits and have lasting cultural impact,” he said.

Tourism NI’s chief executive, John McGrillen, said the project has the potential to “revitalise the city centre and contribute to the ongoing transformation of the city”.

“Belfast is the gateway to the region. Attracting people to this authentic and vibrant city is essential to the growth of the tourism industry across Northern Ireland,” he said.

“We are a nation of storytellers and storytelling is at the core of our experience brand as it allows us to share our “giant spirit” with the many visitors who come here.

“Belfast Stories aims to showcase this trait and to create a world-class attraction which will allow visitors to explore and understand Belfast and Northern Ireland through our people’s lived experiences.”

Belfast Stories is also set to become the focal point for the screen industry, as a base for film-related organisations, and a home for Northern Ireland Screen’s digital film archive.

Richard Williams, chief executive of Northern Ireland Screen, added: “It’s wonderful that the appointed design team understands how important it is that Belfast Stories prioritises the power of screen.

“The story of Belfast is complex, multi-faceted and compelling but, crucially, it is still being written, so to have a dedicated, dynamic space to explore authentic local stories, and develop the industry’s skills at the same time, offers the region the opportunity to continue to build its legacy in screen.”

Belfast Stories will be launching a Stories Network early in 2024. This will be an open forum for anyone to attend to find out more about the project and meet the design team. For more information visit www.belfastcity.gov.uk/belfaststories or @belfast_stories on Instagram.