PwC HQ, Merchant Square, Belfast

Gilbert-Ash along with their team delivers a game-changing CAT B fit-out of PwC’s new Belfast headquarters…

Photos by Philip Vile. Interior design by BDP

Gilbert-Ash’s fast tracked, high specification fit-out, created PwC’s largest office in the UK outside London, with nine floors of ‘green’ working space. 

The £15m Merchant Square project lies in the heart of the city and represents Belfast’s biggest-ever private sector office letting deal. Situated in Belfast’s historic Linen Quarter, nods to the city’s heritage are found in abundance within the building envelope and finishes. The Corten façade with its rusted finish, links the building to Belfast’s world-renowned shipyard heritage and the yellow theme found throughout the finishes reflects the famous Harland and Wolff Cranes.

The CAT B fit-out provides an innovative and intuitive working environment, encouraging collaboration and engagement throughout the company. The large floor areas provide flexibility in the use of the space. Open plan offices with hot desking facilities, glazed pods and acoustic booths, in addition to both formal and informal meeting spaces, promote a unique and flexible working dynamic. 

Acoustics were key to achieving this environment of collaboration and agile working. Acoustic ceiling rafts, wall linings and timber wall panelling were used throughout the meeting rooms and acoustic glazed screens were installed on each floor of the building, adding to the high degree of acoustic separation required. 

Photos by Philip Vile. Interior design by BDP

The feature ‘Spanish Steps’ were installed from level 4 to 5 and 5 up to level 6. The treads were clad in timber with high spec glass and wire mesh balustrading and Harland and Wolff yellow strings making them a focal point on each floor.

Level 5 of the building houses the main catering facility consisting of an extensive back of house stainless steel kitchen and food prep area, whilst the front comprises inviting seating and breakout areas complete with a bespoke servery area, encouraging staff to leave their desks during breaktimes. In addition, each operational floor is fitted with a ‘Refreshment Hub’ complete with breakout area, fridge-freezer and coffee machine. A bespoke servery counter finished with a terrazzo top and feature shelving resembling the hull of a ship, finished in the iconic Harland & Wolff yellow, brings Belfast heritage to each floor.

Extensive services installations including cabling and wiring were required to support the high-tech IT and security infrastructure. A Main Equipment Room (MER) and Secondary Main Equipment Room (SMER) were created on each floor housing data racks and main services for the floor. All CAT B services were tested, commissioned and reintegrated back into the CAT A works. High spec, bespoke lighting, predominantly from Germany and Switzerland, was installed on each floor of the building. Long lead in times due to Covid-19 restrictions and Brexit, leading to delays in manufacturing and shipping, made this package one of the key challenges on the project, with the potential to cause disruption to programme and handover.

Gilbert-Ash Project Director, Rodney Coalter, said the company had strategically targeted the project as soon as it came onto the market for tender.

“It was a very hard-fought tender process,” said Rodney. “PwC is a flagship company in Northern Ireland, right in the heart of the city. It represents an important evolution in Gilbert-Ash’s fit-out portfolio, and we were over the moon to win it. We now have a benchmark project to help win further large-scale commercial office fit-outs.”

The success of the bid was down to its aggressive programme, a handpicked and highly experienced team and a commercial approach. “It was very clear to the client how much we wanted the job,” said Rodney.

Despite the onset of Covid-19 working restrictions, the project went very smoothly. “We put a very experienced team on the project and over resourced it to ensure it was delivered for the Client on time. It was a sectional completion process. We were handing floors over to the client sometimes ahead of schedule.”

“We had a very good, collaborative working relationship with the client. Their team was very hands-on, even though they were restricted on travel arrangements. To substitute for the lack of regular site visits, we embraced Microsoft Teams and Zoom to keep in constant contact.”

Commenting on the completion of the fit-out, Rodney said, “Of all the projects I’ve worked on during my 20 years at Gilbert-Ash, this was possibly the one where we all agreed we did not want to fail. It was very important to the company and important to our business strategy going forward. Without the team we had on the project, our supply chain partners and the great relationship we had with the client, it would never have happened. It wasn’t just Gilbert-Ash, it was a team effort.”

Project team…
Client: PwC
Fit Out Contractor: Gilbert-Ash
Consultant Engineer: Troup Bywaters + Anders
M&E Engineer: Michael Nugent Ltd

Gilbert-Ash, 60 Boucher Place, Belfast, BT12 6HT
T: +44 (0)28 9066 4334


In February 2019, Gleeds was appointed by PwC to provide Project Management and Cost Management services on the firm’s new offices located in the former Royston and Oyster House buildings on Merchant Square, Belfast. PwC took occupation of the completed offices in June 2021, one month ahead of programme.

The project comprised the Category B fit-out of the 200,000ft2 building, which can accommodate up to 3,000 people. A striking reception and lobby area leads to a series of distinct spaces located across nine floors, with a restaurant, café, wellbeing area and meeting rooms complementing the office areas. A particular feature of the building is the Spanish staircase, which rises over two upper floors and is used for informal gatherings. Merchant Square has become PwC’s global flagship for its offices of the future and is a reflection of the firm’s focus on looking after its employees and their personal wellbeing.

As well as Gleeds, the project team comprised BDP (Architect), TB&A (Services Engineer) and Hasco Europe (Principal Designer).

Adhering to the budget and meeting the programme were key objectives for the project team, as well as ensuring that the level of quality required by PwC was met in terms of both design and construction. A thorough and extensive briefing process between the project team and PwC, with frequent and effective communication, ensured that PwC’s requirements were clearly understood. 

Gleeds’ Project Manager, Russell Green, put processes and procedures in place at the outset of the project which ensured that the right information went to the right people at the right time and that informed decisions were effectively made.

With the volume of information that flowed between the project team, PwC, and the developer’s team, effective information management was essential, and this was central to Gleeds’ project management strategy. 

Stringent cost management procedures were developed and implemented by Jeff McCreanor of Gleeds. A key part of the cost management process was advising PwC on the cost implications of alternative design solutions and, where applicable, any programme implications. Not only did this cost advice allow PwC to make informed decisions, it also helped to ensure that the cost budget was accurate and reliable.

After a thorough procurement process was completed, Gilbert-Ash was appointed to carry out the fit-out works. Fortnightly meetings were held between PwC, Gilbert-Ash and the project team throughout the construction phase, and this played a major part in the successful delivery of the project.

Russell Green commented, “This was a high profile project for a high profile global client, and the construction and property industries took a very keen interest in it. Its success was down to PwC being a fully informed client, excellent teamwork, good communication and a strong desire to exceed the project objective wherever possible. I cannot speak highly enough of Gilbert-Ash and the project team.”

Jeff McCreanor added, “It is not often that you get to work on a contract like Merchant Square and it was a privilege to be the Cost Manager. Bringing the project in within budget was very satisfying from a professional perspective, especially as it was the first Category B fit-out of its kind, meaning that there was no comparable cost information available. We had to build the budget from first principles, and it proved to be incredibly accurate.”

429 Holywood Road, Belfast BT42LN
T: +44 (0)28 9590 1500

Troup Bywaters + Anders (TB+A)

Troup Bywaters + Anders (TB+A) were involved from the inception of the PwC project at Merchant Square, developing the agreement for lease (AFL) for the outline base-build and Cat A construction team and then providing full M+E services design for the final Cat B fit-out team.

Despite the impacts of Covid-19, procurement challenges after Brexit along with integration with the structural elements, the project has been a huge success. Andrew Campbell, Partner at TB+A said, “The development was created by amalgamating two existing buildings and also adding further levels above these. This introduced much additional structure throughout the 10 occupied levels. The original floor-to-slab heights were limited, so co-ordination of services was critical to the success of the spaces. With the resultant spatial limitations in mind, careful co-ordination of all services was completed using our in-house BIM capabilities, to deliver an outstanding work space for PwC.

The services incorporated extensive use of heat recovery, control and monitoring via the iBEMS system and also widespread metering and sub-metering. One of the most innovative installations was the air source heat-pump serving the main commercial kitchen supply air handling unit. High efficiency heat pumps were incorporated, linked to a water tank that acted as a thermal store, which closely matched the heating and cooling loads. This not only improved the efficiency of the heat-pumps but also attenuated their primary loads through storage, thus lowering ongoing operational costs. Reflecting on the completed result, Andrew said, “As design engineers, we worked very closely with the client’s own technical team who provided knowledge and a clear path to what should be delivered. Seeing the spaces change from rooms under construction to finally being occupied by the staff is very satisfying. The PwC Merchant Square project is the largest commercial fit-out project in Belfast and certainly sets the bar in terms of quality and sustainable approaches.”

T: +44 (0)28 9068 7976

Kingspan & Drew Wylie Building Services (DWBS)

Kingspan and the  Carryduff-based flooring contractor, Drew Wylie Building Services (DWBS) were asked to provide a range of solutions to accommodate various floor heights and finishes to achieve a top quality result to match the innovative interior of the PwC buildings.

Working inside two existing buildings with varying floor levels and floor finishes presented a challenge that was overcome by the high degree of input from site staff to ensure that the required quality results were achieved. In areas where ceramic tiles were applied to the raised floor, special calcium sulphate access flooring panels were employed to provide a stable surface.

On discovering that PwC wanted to include wooden floor finishes in areas of the floor, while still retaining access into the void below, DWBS saw the perfect opportunity to introduce the Kingspan Attiro magnetic-backed timber floor finish, which met the requirements perfectly. 

Established in 1997, DWBS has grown in conjunction with the industry’s adoption of raised access flooring in modern offices, teaching environments and many other situations.

Thanks to the broad range of products available from Kingspan and their constant promotion of innovative solutions to architects, developers and the general industry, DWBS claims it has an answer for every floor access situation encountered in new-build and refurb projects.

Commenting on the completed project, Director, Drew Wylie said, ”Achieving the quality of finish with the range of products used, and all to a very tight schedule, was a most satisfying experience, and only reinforces our belief that in partnership with Kingspan Access Floors, DWBS has the products and the skills to meet virtually any requirement the industry may require.”

Drew Wylie Building Services, 129, Ballynahinch Road, Carryduff, BT8 8DJ
T: Drew: +44 (0)28 90817170 ext 1
M: +44 (0)7711 070 777

T: Dean: +44 (0)28 90817170 ext 3
M: +44 (0)7892 720341


Hennity Plastering Contracts Ltd

Trade specialist, Hennity Plastering Contracts Ltd was tasked with supplying and applying K Rend to the mechanical services building for the PwC HQ project.

The K Rend was applied by machine to reduce the amount of manual handling associated with plastering to external walls.

A short lead-in time and supply issues posed challenges on the project, but Hennity’s professional team of back office and on-site staff overcame both obstacles.

Owen Hennity, Director said, “During the pandemic the lead-in times for the delivery of K Rend was approximately 28 days in Northern Ireland. As soon as we received our instructions we sourced a supplier in Scotland and placed the order. The materials were on site in Belfast within five days, saving 23 days for this section of the works.

“Even though the lead-in notice for starting the works was relatively short, we completed the works in a matter of days so that our client was able to follow on with the other elements of works.”

The Newry-based firm provides a materials supply-and-fit service with site supervision on a wide range of jobs including: building, plastering, steel frame systems, wall partitions, suspended ceilings, civil engineering, groundworks and paving, and silent rainwater drainage systems.

Starting in November 2018, Hennity quickly established a reputation for quality, thanks to its commitment to finishing all works to client expectations. By using remote mobile digital forms the firm can collate and manage data to maximise efficiency for its clients.

Commenting on the completed PwC project, Owen said, “Most of our projects are in London so it was very refreshing to return to Belfast to show our skills.”

T: +44 (0)7712 577 238


JH Painting & Cleaning Ltd

With extensive experience gained on a diverse range of construction projects, JH Painting & Cleaning Ltd was perfectly skilled to carry out all the interior painting and decorating work for PwC’s state-of-the-art HQ refurb at Merchant Square.

Based in Dunloy, Co. Antrim, JH Painting & Cleaning Ltd is renowned for delivering quality work and meeting tough deadlines.

Commenting on the completion of this landmark project, a company spokesperson said, “We were very pleased to work on this project which will showcase our services to a vast number of visitors. Our work is usually one of the last to be completed, so we know how to ensure deadlines are met.”

JH Painting & Cleaning Ltd has an excellent, long-standing working relationship with the fit-out contractor, Gilbert-Ash.

“Gilbert-Ash is a major player with a great reputation in the construction industry and we are proud to work with such a company.”

T: +44 (0)28 2765 7471

Michael Nugent Ltd

With a proven track record in delivering large complex projects, Michael Nugent Ltd was the ideal mechanical and electrical contractor to deliver the Cat B fit-out for PwC’s HQ. 

Specialist MEP installations included; a state-of-the-art Casambi Bluetooth wireless mesh network lighting control system an extensive UPS system supplying uninterrupted power to all critical server rooms, and door access with 120KVA, 30-minute battery autonomy.

The underfloor busbar network installation ensures electrical services can be easily amended in the future, while the individually monitored electrical loads can be monitored to assess the building’s performance and run diagnostics to pinpoint and eradicate inefficiencies.

The fully programmed iBMS system provides the client with in-depth control of the buildings systems and allows for efficient usage of systems to reduce and limit energy consumption.

An energy-efficient Polar Energy System was installed to provide heating to the kitchens via a new supply Air Handling Unit.

Contracts Director, Brendan Gildernew said, “Michael Nugent Ltd and Gilbert-Ash have an excellent, long-standing relationship which we look forward to continuing. We are always privileged to work with their team and have delivered numerous groundbreaking projects.”

T: ++44 (0)28 8775 8617 

Tommy Farrell

Erne Bricklaying Company continued its long-running partnership with Gilbert-Ash by block-laying high-security buildings on the PwC fit-out project at Merchant Square, Belfast.

This was a straightforaard job for the bricklaying and block work contractor, more used to working on Gilbert-Ash’s major building projects across Great Britain. However, it was a welcome return to home ground. Tommy Farrell, Director for Erne Bricklaying Company said, “We had a small team on the job, but still it was great to be home.” 

Erne Bricklaying Company Ltd was founded in 2016 and is based in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. The firm is widely recognised for its quality workmanship and ability to scale up to deliver large, complex contracts throughout the UK.

Commenting on the PwC project, Tommy said, “As with every job we complete, it’s always satisfying to deliver a programme for Gilbert-Ash on time. This is a prestigious project for them, and it is an honour to have played a small part in its completion.”

T: +44 (0)7512 146 329

Patton Electrical Ltd

Ballymoney-based Patton Electrical Ltd strengthened its 35-year strong relationship with main contractor, Gilbert-Ash, with a temporary electrical installation at the new PwC HQ at Merchant Square, Belfast.

Even though they are temporary, energised electrical systems and circuits present hazards for all in construction. The system needs to accommodate the changing needs of a construction site and meet all safety installation regulations to protect workers from the inherent hazards associated with construction work.

“As usual, the work ran smoothly to Gilbert-Ash’s programme,” said Company Director, Gary Patton. “Our reputation for quality and professionalism and our close working relationship with Gilbert-Ash meant that we were able to get on with the job quickly and efficiently.

“With a wealth of knowledge in the electrical contracting industry, we take pride in offering high quality workmanship and reliability in all fields of the industry, including industrial, commercial, refurbishment and fit-out projects,” Gary concluded.

T: (0)7970 300 971

Fabrite Facades Ltd

Fabrite Facades Ltd fabricated all metal work, including the feature ‘Spanish Steps’ and welcome area treads for the impressive PwC HQ fit-out project at Merchant Square, Belfast.

The Spanish Steps were installed from level 4 to 5 and level 5 to 6 of the office building. The treads were clad in timber with high-spec glass and wire mesh balustrading and Harland and Wolff yellow strings, making them a focal point on each floor and evoking Belfast’s industrial heritage.

Fabrite Facades is an innovative and multi-faceted construction provider offering full design and build project asolutions throughout the UK and Ireland, focusing primarily on the structural steelwork, architectural metalwork and facade elements.

Nigel Johnston, Contracts Director for Fabrite Facades said, “Our specialist divisions enable us to carry out and deliver both technically challenging and high specification projects to the benefit of the client, principal contractor and design team.”

The PwC fit-out is the latest in a long line of major projects carried out across Northern Ireland and the UK by the Fabrite Facades team.

T: +44 (0)28 9262 1012

JP Corry

JP Corry’s Washroom division manufactured and supplied bespoke cubicles, IPS panels and vanity units for the prestigious PwC HQ fit-out project at Merchant Square, Belfast.

The floor-ameasuring on site by Contracts Manager, Gary Henderson, and precision manufacturing at JP Corry’s Springfield Road factory.   

Designing, manufacturing and installing long-life washroom solutions for over 50 years, JP Corry supplies everything from traditional washroom designs to modern contemporary styles. Gary works closely with contractors in Northern Ireland to offer exceptional expertise and support on each project. From the initial concept, Gary and his experienced team guide customers through every stage to the final installation.

Commenting on the completed project, Gary said, “Merchant Square will become one of the most iconic office buildings in Belfast and JP Corry is proud to be associated with the project. 

“We have a long-standing relationship supplying washroom products to  Gilbert-Ash and we worked very closely with the on-site team to ensure we achieved our joint programme.”

T: +44 (0)28 9024 3661