RMI Architects Office Projects

The Weaving Works

Location:  Belfast

Client:  Karl Developments

The Weaving Works has seen the redevelopment and regeneration of Armagh House, a neglected 19th century red brick building on Ormeau Avenue. The scheme involved the transformation of the former linen warehouse into four new floors of offices, including a striking new 4th floor extension constructed in glulam timber and glass, and the conversion of ground floor to provide a new café and restaurant opening onto Ormeau Avenue. The scheme has been a huge regeneration success achieving full occupancy prior to completion and acting as a catalyst for regeneration in this important City Centre gateway location.

The works were led by Karl Developments in Partnership with Department for Social Development who owned the building and named Karl as preferred developer in 2014 following an invitation seeking developer’s proposals.

The original development brief called for a high quality, innovative development which would promote sustainable urban regeneration. The DSD Vision Statement stated that:

“The Department is seeking a development that will build on the historic character of the Linen Conservation Area and, in terms of use, contributes to a sustainable and vibrant Belfast City Centre. The winning proposal will be a sustainable development of high quality design that, as far as possible, contributes to the social, community and economic renewal of the local area.”

Karl Developments proposal for a mixed use office and retail development targeted a new long term, sustainable re-use of the existing building which would harness the character of the existing building and reactivate the surrounding streetscape. Located in the prime business district of the City Centre, there was a growing demand for Grade A city centre office space which was being encouraged by Belfast City Council who were also promoting greater activation of street frontages and the ‘café-culture’ associated with many European capitals.

The Karl proposal won the bid and working with Belfast Regeneration Office Urban Regeneration Programme the scheme was design was developed by RMI Architects. Working closely with Planning Authorities and the Conservation Officer at Belfast City Council RMI Architects proposed the striking new glulam extension to the existing building and successfully steered the project to full planning approval in 2016.

Cost:  1m - 10m

Status:  Complete

Type:  Office

  • Project Status:
  • Completed
  • On Site
  • Drawing Board

Job Complete01/01/2018

The conversion and extension works comprised of external works to repair and upgrade the building envelope and improvements to bring it up to modern office standards for thermal performance, comfort, light and services. Extensive repairs were made to the external masonary and new high quality granite plinths were formed at street level along with injected DPC to address issues around rising damp. To help connect the building activities to the street and encourage outside eating and dining the existing high cills were lowered to table level. A new entrance was added at the corner of Alfred Street and Ormeau Avenue which enabled the ground floor to be split into two units, one taken on by Café Nero and the other by locally owned restaurant The Dogtrack. Both new and existing accesses have been formed to ensure full DDA compliance and ‘access for all’. The planned installation of new awnings and street furniture will bring further life to the streetscape.

An existing access from Alfred Street has been upgraded to provide the new entrance to the upper level offices. New granite plinths add quality and a degree of grandeur and scale to the office entrance and to the new café and restaurant entrances. At the office entrance the new ‘Weaving Works’ building name and the linen connections of the building have inspired the design of a new feature wall constructed in plywood fins. This feature walls sweeps around the entrance lobby and opens to reveal the reception desk before directing users towards the lift and stair. A simple palette of materials is used comprising polished concrete floor (harking back to the original terrazzo used), lacquered plywood, plastered walls and exposed original brickwork. The soft flowing curves of the stairs, feature plywood wall and reception are underscored with discreet LED lighting strips and are intended to convey a softness evocative of the unfurling linen looms.

The main Alfred Street stairwell provides the primary vertical circulation through the building, complimented by two new and fully DDA compliant lifts formed in the original services shafts and a secondary means of escape stair onto Joy Street. On the Alfred Street stair the flaking layers of paint and plaster have been sandblasted back to reveal the original brickwork and concrete and new full height glazed landings allow light to flood down the stairwell.

On the main office floors generous windows on three sides flood the deep floor plan. Where salvageable original pitch pine timber floors have been sanded down and lacquered and again the old layers of paint have been removed to expose the original brickwork. The original wooden window frames were beyond repair and have been replaced with new aluminium frames. The concrete soffits, columns and beams are left exposed to allow the full character of the building to come through and exposed services and lighting run overhead with exposed conduits for data and power fixed to the regularly spaced column grid.

To maintain optimum useable office floorplates new washrooms and WCs are located to the rear with borrowed light coming from the existing lightwell.

The ‘highlight’ of the scheme is the newly constructed top floor office suite. In a nod to one of the first buildings in Ireland to use a reinforced concrete structure the new top floor is constructed from glulam columns and beams in what we believe is the first glulam top floor extension in the City. The same structural grid as below is maintained but column numbers are able to be reduced due to the reduced loads at the top floor. Through the wooden columns an unbroken horizontal band of glazing extends around three sides and to the south reveals panoramic views of the City. Fully curved corner glazing maintains the softness of the building and large sliding doors open to a generous south-facing terrace. The overhanging roof provides shade to the offices to mitigate potential for glare and overheating.

On the top floor a mixed mode ventilation strategy has been used which allows air to be drawn in from the perimeter sliding glazing and means that exposed overhead ducting and AHUs can be avoided so as to fully express the glulam beams and column heads. Data and power are provided in a raised access floor which could be accommodated within the structural transfer grid.

  • Project Status:
  • Completed
  • On Site
  • Drawing Board

Drawing Board

The background/history of the site – why the need for regeneration?

The original Edwardian, former linen warehouse had been laid dormant and decaying for many years. The external brickwork was deteriorating, windows were broken and boarded up and extensive repairs were required. Internally, the lack of heat and infestation of pigeons, vermin and wood rot were taking their toll on the building. In terms of its place in the streetscape and in comparison to its neighbours the building also appeared to have no rooftop. In urban terms the building was making a distinctly negative impact on its context and was much in need of regeneration at the important location at the edge of the Linen Quarter Conservation Area and gateway to the City Centre.


Is the scheme part of a wider regeneration policy in the area?

The scheme is part of the Linen Quarter Development Area as defined by Belfast City Council and when conceived fell within DSDs Urban Regeneration Programme. The area has seen wider regeneration in recent years including the Lucas Building, converted to residential use, the Ormeau Baths and the Klondyke Building. This scheme represents a further significant step in the regeneration of the area.


What particular problems have been overcome?

  • Finding the right uses
  • Working through development brief


Did it involve handling contaminated land?

No – there was asbestos removal, pigeon guano removal, treatment of dry rot to timbers, extensive building fabric repairs, including to existing brickwork, extensive concrete repairs to structure and window heads, new ground floor slab, dpm and insulation Who uses or occupies the area? How have they received the scheme? Although only opened a matter of weeks the new restaurant and Café have quickly became popular with the local business community and this can only improve when First Derivatives estimated 400+ move into their new offices.


Was the local community involved in the development and what was their reaction?

The scheme was developed by Karl in partnership with DSD to deliver on their objectives for ‘a high quality, innovative development which would promote sustainable urban regeneration.’ On completion of the project DSD have expressed their delight that those objectives have been and will be delivered on


Has the scheme acted as a catalyst for other improvements in the area?

The project is just completing so its early days in terms of the scheme acting as a catalyst for other improvements in the area but early indications and reactions have been very positive. The ground floor uses which include a new Nero coffee shop and a new restaurant (The Dogtrack) have breathed new life into the streetscape and we expect this to improve further during the spring and summer months as additional outside seating and canopies are added to the Ormeau Avenue frontage. The arrival of First Derivatives 400+ staff is expected to provide a massive regeneration boost to other local businesses and the local economy.


What are the area’s long term prospects?

The long term prospects for the area are extremely positive. The area continues to improve and the Weaving Works is expected to have a significantly improve the long term prospects of the area.