The biggest regeneration project undertaken in recent years in the Titanic Quarter, namely the £20 million restoration of Belfast’s Alexandra Dock, Pump House and surrounding HMS Caroline areas was formally opened in March 2018.

A Dry-Dock marvel 

The investment in the restoration of the Pump House, refurbishment of Alexandra Dock, installation of a new bridge and the full remodelling of the HMS Caroline, employing 20 people, has fast become one of Belfast’s latest and most imaginative tourism assets. The Pump House has been reborn as a visitors centre featuring much of the original Edwardian-era machinery and associated technology. Chartered landscape architects’ Park Hood were appointed by The National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Strategic Investment Board in 2014 to develop landscape design proposals for the refurbishment of Alexandra Dock.

On-board collaboration

The project brief brought together several collaborators to fulfil the vision of Belfast City Council (Department of Infrastructure), The National Museum of the Royal Navy, the Strategic Investment Board, the Belfast Harbour Commissioners and funding via the National Lottery. With contractors Tracey Brothers on board and collaborating with Hardscape, Park Hood set out the brief which was to develop designs which would provide a unique and beneficial environment for HMS Caroline and present Belfast’s offering as a major maritime heritage destination and tourist attraction.

The design was based on enhancing the visitor experience by significantly improving access, restoring original features where feasible and developing inspiring landscaping and interpretive displays.

Harbouring the stone

Hardscape were on hand from the outset to offer choice of materials and expertise in deciding which materials would work best in both performance and aesthetics. All materials were fully agreed with Historical Environments Division as part of the Scheduled Monument Consent process along with a strict methodology for any excavation works that were required throughout the Dock area.

Park Hood also established that much of the original Belfast and Galleted Cobble stone surfaces surrounding the Dock were still intact but buried underneath bitmac and concrete of varying depths. A core part of their design proposed that the old cobbles were fully restored and this involved the hand removal, individual cleaning and Galleted reinstallation of thousands of cobbles.

Hardscape were tasked with supplying hard landscaping options which included Magma granite bush-hammered granite paving and setts, Yellow Rock granite paving to the ramp and steps with contrasting inserts, Silva Vilar granite walling and kerbs and Kobra granite blister tactile.

Historical reinstatements

The location of key historical features picked up in the original conditions survey were incorporated within the layout design and ultimately resulted in the reinstatement of original cobbled drainage channel alignments, the retention of mooring bollards within footways and seemingly random groups of cobbles within different surfaces, all to ensure a sympathetic renewal of this key industrial heritage site. Also included was a maritime-themed play area for children which incorporated a large ‘centre piece’ play structure based on HMS Caroline to maintain historical context.

Shipshape and Bristol fashion

With the project completed in April 2018 in ‘first-class order’ everyone can be proud of this restoration project and visitor attraction. HMS Caroline is the world’s last remaining floating survivor of the 1916 Battle of Jutland, and last year was awarded five-star status from Tourism Northern Ireland.

Director of the regeneration project, Captain John Rees OBE from the National Museum of the Royal Navy, said at the time: “The completion of the Pump House and the bridge across Alexandra Dock opens this revived area of Queen’s Island for the public to explore this collection of Victoria architecture, engineering and marine technologies focused around HMS Caroline.”

Client team: Belfast City Council, The National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Strategic Investment Board; Contractor: Tracey Brothers Ltd; Landscape Architects: Park Hood; Paving and accessory materials supplier: Hardscape