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Heritage body hits out at extension to Waterfront Hall in Belfast

Exclusive by John Mulgrew

Published 27/08/2015

The controversial extension is under fire again
The controversial extension is under fire again

The controversial design of a £30m extension to Belfast's Waterfront Hall has been blasted by one of Northern Ireland's architectural heritage groups.

The new conference centre construction on the River Lagan has already sparked anger, with some labelling it "cultural vandalism" by blocking what was one of the most impressive views in the city.

Now Nikki McVeigh, chief executive of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, has said it is "unfortunate that approved plans for its extension are not seen to give due reference to the Waterfront Hall's architectural qualities, particularly its distinctly recognisable circular form".

"This is particularly disappointing when more sympathetic proposals may have been presented for consideration," she added.

She said while still a relatively new building, which is "not eligible for protection of listing due to its age", it has become "a key aspect of the city's heritage and identity".

"The value it represents to local people is evident in the attention this alteration has received. The value of our architecture, our heritage, socially, environmentally and culturally, must not be overlooked."

Work began on the extension to the Waterfront last October and is due to be completed this December.

The extension won't officially open for business until next May.

As construction work continues, many have taken to social media to express their disapproval at how it looks.

Todd Architects - the company behind the design of the extension - defended it, calling it a "contemporary, active and dynamic frontage to the waterfront".

The firm's managing director Paul Crowe said the extension was being unfairly and prematurely judged.

He said the firm would discuss the approach to the design once construction was completed.

The new building has attracted several unflattering nicknames , including the Box on the Docks, the Waterfront Wall and the Sore on the Shore.

The extension will double the size of the Waterfront Hall's conference and exhibition facilities, offering an additional 4,000sq metres of space, including a 2,000sq metre hall and a 750sq metre smaller hall.

Belfast City Council has put £11m of ratepayers' money towards the work, and estimates the new facilities could bring up to £39m a year into the economy.

The rest of the funding is coming from the Tourist Board - £4m - and the European Regional Development Fund, which is contributing £14.5m.

Construction of the Waterfront Hall for Belfast City Council began in 1993, with the circular concept created by architect Robinson McIlwaine.

Designed to catch the eye with its shape and domed roof, it was initially set back from neighbouring buildings and the riverfront.

It soon became Belfast's premier concert and conference venue, before losing out to gigs when the much bigger Odyssey Arena - now the SSE Arena - opened for business in 2000.

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