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Former shipping offices transformed into a hotel

At any time, a number of buildings might be undergoing a significant transformation as they are given a makeover and transformed for a new use. 
 
Whether it is a former factory or mill, warehouse or offices, many buildings with considerable history and heritage are being revamped and reused, instead of being demolished to make way for something built from scratch.
 
New insulation is just one of the measures that may be included in the process of giving a building a new lease of life, with this frequently being an element that was not included in the original structure. This can be either because of its different usage or due to lesser statutory requirements when the original construction took place.  
 
Belfast is a place where a number of renovations are being undertaken to turn old buildings into new hotels. Perhaps one of the most compelling projects is that of the old Harland and Wolff offices in Belfast, where over 1,000 ships were designed before construction took place at the adjacent shipyards. Most notably, it was here that the Titanic was designed by Thomas Andrews, the maritime architect who followed the custom of sailing on the maiden voyage, and went down with the ship.
 
The £5 million project, which began in 2015 after the awarding of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, has seen the restoration of the arched rooms that will become a centrepiece of the hotel, a stopping point for tourists exploring the origins of the famous doomed liner as well as part of the new visitor accommodation. In all, six rooms, including Thomas Andrews' office, will be accessible to the public. 
 
Speaking to the BBC, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Northern Ireland Paul Mullan said: "It is wonderful to see the final elements coming together.
 
"This will be another world-class maritime and industrial heritage attraction for visitors."
 
The building has been vacant since 1989 but will reopen in September amid much fanfare. As well as being well-insulated for guests, there will be a need for much work to be done on the showers in the hotel rooms. Some might jest that they hope the waterproofing turns out to be more effective than the watertight door system that had reputedly made the Titanic 'practically unsinkable' until the glancing blow from an Atlantic iceberg proved otherwise. 
 
It is not just because of its maritime heritage that Belfast is a growth area for hotels; the growth in tourism in the city and across Northern Ireland has been part of the peace dividend since the Good Friday agreement came into force 20 years ago.  
 
Developer Lawrence Kenwright has been behind several of the renovation projects in the city. These include the acquisition and transformation of the Crumlin Road Courthouse and the Scottish Mutual Building. 
 
Both of these buildings have lain empty and in need of much renovation. The Scottish Mutual Building, which was constructed in the 1900s, will have 80 guest rooms when work is complete, and has been chosen by Mr Kenwright to have another Belfast-related theme, the city's most famous sporting son George Best.
 
He told the Belfast Telegraph last month how the venue was following the model of another footballing icon, the late Liverpool manager Bill Shankly. He said: "We are using the knowledge that we have gleaned from the Shankly Hotel. Every room has a story of an individual that knew him.
 
"It's about unearthing those stories... not so much the main life stories that everyone knows. This is about the stories you don't know about."
 
As Belfast's hotel market grows, it may be the city gains more themed hotels - and keeps insulation and waterproofing installers busy as old buildings are given new purpose.


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