I don't really post anything specific about the day job here but I keep thinking about the work we did for the Titanic Hotel Belfast and, in particular, how it relates to things I enjoy most about what we do at Tandem.
The truth is, I stumbled into Tandem. I was only supposed to be there for ten months, covering someone's maternity leave. That was just over five years ago and, unless something drastic happens beyond my control, I have no intention of leaving.
I've completely fallen for interpretation design. Maybe I've explained this before – it's hard to keep track on what I put out on this blog – but, in summary: the work is worthwhile and we get to do great things with surprising means. It's hard, challenging work that takes us all over the island of Ireland mostly (although not exclusively). At its heart, interpretation design is loaded with values that bring cultural and societal enrichment. It's 'hearts and minds' stuff on the whole, rarely with a commercial objective.
Even with this particular project – where there is a commercial backdrop to the work we did – our focus was on preserving the stories and heritage of an important building now that it has been re-purposed as a fancy hotel.
You can read about this Titanic Hotel project on the Tandem website but here's a potted overview:
Titanic Hotel Belfast can be found right across the plaza from the 'World's Best Visitor Attraction' Titanic Belfast. The building was the Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices and Headquarters – originally designed, very cleverly, to give the designers of H&W's ocean-going vessels the very best conditions to work in. The two main drawing offices are vast, vaulted and many-windowed rooms positioned to make use of the northern (i.e. best diffused) light which swamps the spaces.
Putting that in context: other shipbuilders kept their draughtsmen in temporary sheds that they moved around their ship yards. By comparison, H&W's working conditions were literally second to none.
As part of the purchasing deal, the hotel operators were charged with being responsible for preserving the heritage of the building. And that's where we stepped in. We developed a bunch of 'light touch' interventions that highlight what working life within the building was like during H&W's glory days.
We referred to the plaques pictured above as 'Room Labels' – just one of the aforementioned interventions. They appear all over the original part of the building and tell visitors about each specific room, or original feature in some cases. They are my favourite part of the project.
A mahogany frame matches the timber work around the offices and an engraved brass surround (inspired by plaques found on H&W engines) frames a vitreous enamel text panel. The brass surround is based on the foolscap paper format which would have been used in the offices for admin docs. The H&W motif is the company's original motif.
Other interventions included routered Corian® wall panels that feature a floor tile pattern found in the building along with ships names or (as pictured) the job roles found within the walls of the Drawing Offices.
Here and there, super-discrete pieces give visitors little moments of delight – like the engraved lamp base below which features an amusing quote from the one of H&W's big cheeses, Mr Wolff himself.