Work to assess if Belfast Primark building will rise from the ashes once again
The local architectural profession watched in dismay as Bank Buildings, one of Belfast's much-loved historic landmarks, was engulfed in flames yesterday.
Bank Buildings, designed by WJ Lynn, has been a landmark at the end of High Street since 1900 and withstood several b omb explosions in the Seventies.
Will it be able to withstand the effects of yesterday's devastating fire? With such a severe blaze, that appears to have spread from the roof down to the lower floors, the immediate priority for the building will be to ensure the safety of the public by assessing the structural stability of the premises in the short term.
This is a potentially dangerous job, but modern technology can help reduce the risks to surveyors.
Following the recent fire at the Glasgow School of Art in June this year, drones were used to provide preliminary surveys of the building's condition, allowing specialist engineers the opportunity to assess the extent of damage before entering the building.
After detailed condition surveys, and pending the outcome of decisions about the structural stability of the Primark building, questions about restoration versus demolition will have to be addressed, and it may be a long and complex process to determine the future of the premises.
This process can again be assisted with modern survey techniques.
The building would be laser scanned both to assess the verticality of walls and structural elements and how they may have been impacted by fire.
This type of scan will also provide records for historical purposes and to assist with planning its restoration.
Further detailed surveys will be undertaken in person by engineers to assess the individual structural elements and whether they can be reused or refurbished safely.
During previous refurbishments, the structure will have had fire protection applied, but the duration of this blaze, which appears to have lasted over five hours, will have severely tested any structural fire protection.
The primary focus will be to retain the building if possible.
The aim will be to ascertain if there is enough of the historic fabric remaining to allow restoration.
The Royal Society of Ulster Architects hopes that restoration is possible as historic buildings such as Bank Buildings provide an important contribution to our cityscape and to our sense of identity.
- Joan McCoy, President of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA)