spacer
What did They Build That for? spacer Issue 4
What Did They Build That For? - The Hilton Hotel
by David Brett
spacer
The secret history of Belfast is written in hotels. When the peace process was no more than a gleam in some very secretive eyes, someone or other thought it would be a great idea, in defiance of all the obvious evidence, to start building hotels.
spacer
Did he know something no-one else knew? The city's little building boom is popularly supposed to be the result of the Good Friday Agreement; but I suspect it to be the other way round. Around 1990 a huge amount of money was looking to be transformed into hardware; and Belfast was the most undeveloped city in the U.K. Hence hotels, office blocks etc. even if they could not yet be filled. Hence something like civic peace.
spacer
And with that came Hilton, Jury, Holiday Inn, Fitzwilliam, Ramada, Quality, and now Radisson. (I leave aside the Europa, who has had her face rearranged so many times that...)
spacer
There was a time when hotel architecture was festive; it was there for fun and the appearance (and sometimes the reality) of splendour. But your big chain hotel is tied to the three-line expense account and the corporate conference. So you get what you pay for. Something reliable, the same everywhere. Stalin, in his latter days, had all his apartments decorated identically so that he was always, wherever he went in his realm, at home. This principal is now observed by Hilton, Jury, Holiday... The architectural consequences are, inevitably, monotonous, both within and without. A relentless avoidance of ostentation and festivity. These are not the hotels to which one takes one's sweetheart for the afternoon.
spacer
So what about the Hilton? I pick on the Hilton because it is the biggest and the most obvious. (I know some folk hate Jury's to death, but it doesn't obtrude on the skyline.) The Hilton is a huge object and is important to Belfast because of its site on the river, its relationship with the Waterfront Hall, and the even greater mass it makes with the BT Tower.
spacer
Considered simply in and for itself, the Hilton is what Hiltons are. Blockish, bland, well done of its kind and solidly furnished within. But buildings do not exist in and for themselves, but need, like people, to consider their neighbours.
spacer
spacer
The Hilton pretends to do this, but it is merely pretence. An attempt has been made to rhyme with the Hall, by setting it around with curved walls and a curved roof. But these curves bear no relation to the main block. The roof in particular is merely arbitrary. The total effect is to overpower the lower building and destroy the quality of the site. I refuse to believe it had to be done so lumpishly. I am quite sure that by turning the block through 90 degrees, lowering by a floor or two and extending it over the car park, and by lightening the materials from which it is made (with a judicious use of a glass curtain, perhaps, to take up the theme from the Hall) the Hilton clients could have had a building of equal lettable space for similar cost. Then there might have been a unity with the law courts, and an avoidance of the two bulks of the Hilton and the BT Tower side by side.
spacer
Buildings like us, made permanent. We should expect from them the ordinary courtesy of not taking up more space than is theirs by right. Money is no excuse for loutishness. Didn't anyone, anywhere, see what was going to happen when the Hilton was built? Or were they, equally, moneyed louts without any sense of festive wit or pleasure?
spacer
P.S. The BT Tower next door is a bit of a lout, too, but by piercing the end facades with green and glass they permit the space to go through the building; thus the end-on view down May Street is of a light building, not of a barrier.
spacer
What Did They Build That For? - The Hilton Hotel
spacer
spacer
home | information | issues | artists & writers | columns | reviews
spacer