Weaving a sense of place and ‘centrality’ throughout the hotel with elegant interpretive interventions
Inspired by the original Grand Central Hotel, that could once be found a short distance away on Belfast’s Royal Avenue, the new Grand Central is a magnificent addition to Hastings Hotels' portfolio.
Located at the heart of Belfast’s historic Linen Quarter, we saw an exciting opportunity to galvanise a distinct sense of place into the very fabric of the hotel – imbuing both the interior and exterior with inspiring and surprising interpretation that enhances the guest experience.
Drawing on beautiful architectural details from surrounding historic buildings, strong cultural themes inspired by the city and the Grand Central’s important location, we developed interpretation that, at times, blends seamlessly with the interior design scheme and, at other times, will take the guest by surprise.
Words and pictures
Central to our most impactful interventions is a new poem that we commissioned especially for the Grand Central from Northern Ireland-born and Pulitzer Prize winning poet Paul Muldoon. Paul, who studied locally and actually worked in the Grand Central building when it was known as Windsor House still feels very connected to the city.
His new poem ‘Belfast Hymn’ takes the reader on a sweeping tour of the places and people that make the city what it is. Taking a carefully selected section of his piece, we rendered it out of steel on a 4.5 metre high screen at the hotel’s entrance and chose others to be carved into the exterior paving that guests cross as they come and go.
As guests leave the hotel and stroll out into Belfast they will see a large wall-mounted etched city map that we designed to be orientated to their viewpoint and guides them towards the most significant heritage and cultural locations within easy walking distance.
Back inside, we took architectural details from around the Linen Quarter and etched them into a panelled screen that shields the hotel’s Grand Café, a subtle nod to Grand Central’s neighbours.
The wolf and the seahorse
In the first floor Seahorse restaurant a very large illustrated piece oversees diners and depicts an ‘imagined mythology’.
For this special tribute to Belfast we were inspired by the city’s coat of arms. Little is known of its origins but it is likely that the wolf represents Sir Arthur Chichester – it was, after all, his heraldic emblem.
Chichester was the mastermind behind Belfast’s original streetscape and his wolf is joined on the coat of arms, and in our composition, by the seahorse – a reference to the city’s maritime heritage. We expanded the story, with Chichester the man, symbolised by the wolf, overseeing the building of the original town.
Encountering the seahorse for the first time, they begin a turbulent partnership as man attempts to tame the resistant sea. Eventually they reach a kind of harmony as the land and the sea begin an unpredictable relationship together.
Setting the scene
Since the idea of creating a new Grand Central was still in its infancy Hasting Hotels have sought items from the original and have accumulated an impressive collection.
To remember the source of their visionary idea we designed a unique installation – part artefact display, part art piece – using tableware from the first Grand Central Hotel in Belfast. This is now mounted in a specially recessed section of a panelled wall close to the Seahorse restaurant and bar.
Linen, the City and a great man
The Grand Central has a number of suites, each featuring interpretation that reveals the origin of its name.
Three are named after great linen industry families that operated in the immediate neighbourhood; there are six city suites, named after streets connected to Belfast’s past; and there is one very special suite dedicated the the mastermind behind Hastings Hotels: Sir William Hastings, a man who, it is said ‘defined the gold standard in hospitality’ but who sadly passed away just a short time before the new Grand Central Hotel opened its doors.
A head for heights
High up on the 23rd floor guests will encounter the Observatory Bar – a special place with probably the best view of Belfast. On a clear day it offers views far beyond the city’s outer edges as well as unique angles on the buildings in the immediate area such as Belfast City Hall. At night the view becomes a glittering skyline illuminating Belfast beneath a patterned starscape.
Whether seen by day or night our Observatory Book encourages guests to look out using a beautiful contemporary illustrated panorama. It is designed to add value to the guest experience, provoking engagement with the surrounding view, orientating them and encouraging their exploration of the city and wider landscape.
An ode to Belfast
While guests relax in their rooms they can enjoy leafing through ‘An ode to Belfast’, a special heritage book we designed and wrote for the Grand Central. Our goal here was to strengthen the visitor’s experience of the city and enrich their stay at the hotel.
A gift from the Grand Central to guests, ‘An ode to Belfast’ is lavishly illustrated and shows guests what they will discover as they step outside; from the architecture of the immediate neighbourhood, through the city’s heart and around its most interesting corners.
And in the centre of the book is Paul Muldoon’s full poem ‘Belfast Hymn’.