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Council appoints Ralph Appelbaum Associates to develop interpretive masterplan and concept design for the Belfast Stories Visitor Experience

Published on 2 July 2024

Belfast City Council appoints Ralph Appelbaum Associates to develop interpretive masterplan and concept design for the Belfast Stories Visitor Experience.

The landmark Belfast Stories project at the Bank of Ireland site on Royal Avenue continues to gather momentum with the appointment of Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA), the world’s largest practice dedicated to the planning and design of cultural attractions, to deliver the Interpretive Masterplan and Concept Design for the visitor attraction element of the proposed city centre destination. RAA is supported by Barker Langham in the role of Curator and Interpretation Planner.

The appointment coincides with the project moving into the architecture RIBA Stage 2, also known as the ‘Concept Design' phase, a crucial milestone in the definitive eight-stage ‘Plan of Work’ model pioneered by the Royal Institute of British Architects, and recognised as the industry standard process of briefing, designing, constructing, and operating building projects of scale.

Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Andrew McCormick said:

Belfast Stories is making significant progress and RAA’s appointment is another fantastic step towards unlocking almost 100 years of heritage at the 5,000 square metre Art Deco Bank of Ireland site. It is wonderful that the ambition we have for Belfast Stories is matched by the teams appointed to transform this much-loved heritage site into a dynamic public space, visitor experience and creative hub that holds the potential to transform our city centre. 

Belfast Stories is a flagship project for the city and very much embodies our ambitions for Belfast to become a more inclusive, compassionate, vibrant, and visited city.

RAA will work alongside the Integrated Design Team, appointed in November 2023. Oslo-based Snøhetta, the firm responsible for designing the Oslo Opera House and the 9/11 Memorial Pavilion in New York, and Belfast-based TODD Architects, are leading on the architectural and structural design, whilst property and construction consultancy, Gleeds, are overseeing project management.

The visitor attraction will be central to the success of Belfast Stories. RAA was selected based on its outstanding international experience designing museum and narrative environments including the Obama Presidential Centre, Chicago, the International Slavery Museum and Maritime Museum, Liverpool, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. The company has also supported The Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena and the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) in Dublin.

John Blanchard, Director at Ralph Appelbaum Associates said:

We are delighted to be part of the team that will help bring this unique project to life. We are already immersing ourselves in the city of Belfast and look forward to working closely with the Project Management Office and our partners to design this ground-breaking visitor experience. At its heart, this project is about capturing, collecting, telling and sharing Belfast’s stories to empower both residents and visitors to further explore and understand the city’s past, present and hopes for the future. Our role is to provide the vehicle to allow these stories to be shared collectively for the very first time. It’s an incredible project.

RAA’s full team includes Michael Grubb Studios, Lighting Designer; Sysco, AV Hardware and Film Auditoria; and Fraser Randall, Specialist Cost Consultant.

Belfast Stories hosted a forum event today, July 2, with the experience design team. Attendees heard about some of the team’s emerging ideas, and had the opportunity to better understand the scale and shape of the project’s ambition, whilst also contributing their own views.

Belfast Stories holds the potential to transform the city centre and contribute to the city’s ongoing regeneration, according to Tourism NI’s Chief Executive Officer, John McGrillen. He said:

Belfast is the gateway to the region - attracting people to this authentic and vibrant city is essential to the growth of our tourism industry right across Northern Ireland. We are a nation of storytellers and storytelling is at the core of our experience brand, allowing us to share our Giant Spirit with the many visitors who come here.  Belfast Stories has the potential to become the home of the city’s fascinating, complex and diverse narrative and the natural orientation point for tourists when they visit Belfast and Northern Ireland.

Belfast Stories will also become a focal point for the region’s burgeoning creative industries and a base for film-related organisations, as well as providing a home for Northern Ireland Screen’s digital film archive.

Richard Williams, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Screen, believes screen is at the core of what Belfast Stories can offer. He said:

Belfast Stories will prioritise the power of screen. By creating a dedicated, dynamic space to explore authentic local stories, and developing the industry’s skills at the same time, we are putting infrastructure in place that offers the region a really exciting opportunity to continue to build its screen legacy.

For more information, visit Belfast Stories (link opens in new window), @belfast_stories on Instagram or @Belfaststories on Facebook. For information on the Belfast Region City Deal programme of investment, go to Belfast Region City Deal (link opens in new window) or search #BRCityDeal on social media.