Form and function combine at the world-class Waterfront Exhibition and Conference Centre in Belfast……
The opening of the Waterfront Hall in 1997 heralded a bright new start for Belfast’s architecture which has since inspired a significant change that can be seen right across the city’s skyline.
So, when the decision was made to add a new exhibition centre to the Waterfront Hall, the design challenge was to create a seamless link that didn’t take away from an iconic sight that the city has taken to its heart.
While the media unfairly commented on the project before it was even completed, now that the finishing touches have been added to this significant development, it can be judged on its merits – and for Todd Architects + Planners the project remains a source of great pride.
The Belfast-based practice was the design architect for the new Waterfront Exhibition and Conference Centre, being responsible for the design development to RIBA Stage E. McLaughlin & Harvey was appointed as the main contractor, with McAdam Design retained as the company’s delivery architect.
Having been involved in the award-winning Titanic Belfast project, Todd Architects + Planners already had proven experience working on iconic buildings in the city.
“The Waterfront Hall is a well-respected building in Belfast and we treated it as such,” explained Peter Minnis, Director at Todd Architects + Planners, “but we also wanted the extension to establish its own identifiable architectural language and form while still respecting the original, circular building.
“For this reason, we retained the extension at a height where the dome of the hall behind is still identifiable.”
Expressed as a long-slung ‘box’ with its front face extending along the length of the river frontage, the new accommodation, in essence, is wrapped around the existing building over three primary levels. However, rather than just being an add-on, the extension has been carefully knitted to the original building to maximise the logistical and efficiency benefits of sharing support spaces such as foyers, bars and toilets.
It is clear that the design brief – not to mention the actual build – placed many seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the way of the project team. The fact that the project team managed to clear these hurdles speaks volumes.
To begin with, the fully integrated 4,000m2 extension was a sizeable addition to the building, yet the surrounding space was limited.
“It was the equivalent of adding a space the size of the King’s Hall onto the side of the Waterfront Hall. We had the river on one side and also a public walkway to contend with, so, all things considered, there really only was one area where it could go,” explained Peter.
That ‘one area’ was over an existing service yard that was shared with the Waterfront Hall and the neighbouring Hilton Hotel. With the location selected, the design team had to think not only in terms of building aesthetics but also about buildability.
Peter added, “With the river on one side and a public walkway to consider, access was difficult. It was a case of McLaughlin & Harvey having to use travelling cranes and simply start at one end and work their way back, and they did a fantastic job, particularly as the Waterfront had to remain operational throughout the project.”
Given the Waterfront Hall’s prominent location, the aesthetics of the building are equally as important. The upper levels where the halls are located project over the largely glazed accommodation below, allowing them to effectively ‘float’ – an effect that is heightened through the incorporation of highly reflective soffit panels to the cantilever.
The upper levels are faced in coloured, translucent polycarbonate panels, with flush, recessed and projecting glazed elements providing animation and adding depth to the elevation. They sit above a curtain-walled base of clear and lookalike glass panels.
Alongside buildability and aesthetics, the final piece in the jigsaw was function.
The world-class conference centre has doubled the event space at the Waterfront Hall to 7,000m2, all of which has been seamlessly integrated into the existing facility. The additional space has created two interconnecting multipurpose halls spanning over 2,500m2. Also included in the new extension are three large meeting rooms, each accommodating up to 200 delegates, which can also be sub-divided into six smaller rooms; two exterior terraces with stunning riverside views; and a new, dedicated riverside entrance leading to a 660m2 reception area.
“Flexibility was the key throughout and achieving this has helped create a world-class venue that allows Belfast to compete on the international conference stage,” concluded Peter.