Reuse, redesign, repurpose

Expectations for office stock, build to rent and student accommodation are increasing, with many existing buildings not meeting modern requirements. With developers under pressure to cut costs, due to inflated material prices, and to reduce carbon footprint, we are seeing more demand for the redesign and repurposing of existing buildings as a viable alternative to comprehensive demolition and rebuild.

Many of the buildings constructed in our city centres in the 1960s and 1970s are recognisable through the prolific use of concrete which was in vogue at that time – both for structural support and as a means of cladding. Although modern taste has moved beyond the brutalist architecture of this era, the concrete frames, which in Belfast were designed to survive bomb blasts, provide a robust and flexible starting point for considering the idea of reuse. As well as reducing costs associated with demolition and disposal, repurposing these buildings has significant environmental benefits, particularly in relation to reducing carbon footprint. 

Designed to accommodate the increased loadings from substantial pre-cast concrete cladding panels, the removal of the former envelope provides residual capacity within the structure for extending upwards through the creation of additional floors. 

Distinct Identity

One such example, Merchant Square, is an ambitious and complex redevelopment of three individual concrete framed buildings. The scheme provides 230,000 sq ft of Grade A office space, accommodating up to 3,000 employees. The removal of the dilapidated facade and the recladding of the building gave the opportunity to achieve a distinct identity through the use of corten steel cladding, resonating with Belfast’s industrial heritage and red brick urban fabric.

It is not just office buildings in Belfast that have been undergoing refurbishment. The former British Home Stores is currently under construction to become a new retail and leisure complex in the heart of the city centre. As well as attracting a night-time economy to the city centre, this development will act as a catalyst to rejuvenate Castle Arcade, which has lately been neglected since the demise of the large department store.

Recently we have also seen the creative reuse of heritage and listed buildings, such as The Ewart on Bedford Street into Grade A office accommodation, as well as Crumlin Road Goal and the former Thompson Pump House at Titanic Quarter into working whiskey distilleries. Projects such as these require sensitivity towards their historic DNA and their presence within the wider urban setting. Working closely with the Titanic Distillers team, the listed Pump House has been refurbished to create a world-class visitor centre as well as the city’s first working distillery in 90 years. 

With a city centre as compact as Belfast, finding space to build afresh without demolition can be a challenge, but there are numerous vacant and outdated structures which present the opportunity for creative reuse.

Contact Ciaran at or +44 (0)28 9027 8000.