The council appoints Ralph Appelbaum Associates to develop an interpretive master plan and conceptual design for

The council appoints Ralph Appelbaum Associates to develop an interpretive master plan and conceptual design for

Date: 02 Jul 2024

The Belfast Stories project at the Bank of Ireland site on Royal Avenue continues to gain 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.

The RAA is supported by Barker Langham as Curator and Interpretation Planner.

The appointment coincides with the project entering RIBA Architecture’s Phase 2, also known as the ‘Concept Design’ phase, a crucial milestone in the definitive eight-stage ‘Work Plan’ model created by the Royal Institute of British Architects and recognised as the industry standard process for briefing, design, construction and operation of large-scale construction projects.

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

“Belfast Stories is a flagship project for the city and represents our ambitions to make Belfast 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 the design of the Oslo Opera House and the 9/11 Memorial Pavilion in New York, and Belfast-based TODD Architects are leading the architectural and structural design, while property and construction consultancy, Joys, are overseeing project management.

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

John Blanchard, Principal at Ralph Appelbaum Associates, said: “We are thrilled 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 innovative visitor experience. At its core, this project is about capturing, collecting, telling and sharing the stories of Belfast to empower residents and visitors to explore and better understand the city’s past, present and hopes for the future. Our role is to provide the vehicle to enable these stories to be shared collectively for the first time. It’s an incredible project.”

The full RAA team includes Michael Grubb Studios, lighting designer; Sysco, AV Hardware and Film Audit; 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, while also contributing their own insights.

Belfast Stories has the potential to transform the city centre and contribute to the city’s ongoing regeneration, according to Tourism NI CEO 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 across Northern Ireland. We are a nation of storytellers and storytelling is at the heart of our experience brand, enabling 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 growing creative industries and a base for film-related organisations, as well as housing Northern Ireland Screen’s digital film archive.

Richard Williams, CEO of Northern Ireland Screen, believes that screen is at the heart of what Belfast Stories can deliver. He said: “Belfast Stories will prioritise the power of screen. By creating a dedicated and dynamic space to explore authentic local stories and develop industry skills at the same time, we are putting in place an infrastructure that offers the region a really exciting opportunity to continue building its legacy on screen.”

For more information, visit or @belfast_stories on Instagram and @Belfaststories on Facebook.

For information on the Belfast Region City Deal investment programme, visit or search #BRCityDeal on social media.