The HQ Building & Drawing Offices

The building is the most significant and oldest structure remaining of Belfast’s shipbuilding industry on Queen’s Island.

The former Harland and Wolff Headquarter Building and Drawing Offices built c. 1886 – 1917, is a B+ listed building. Once the control centre for the largest shipyard in the world, it was the centre of Harland and Wolff activities for more than a century, where men created, designed and built thousands of ships including the White Star Olympic Class Liners – Olympic, Titanic and Britannic and naval warships such as HMS Belfast.

The HQ Building & Drawing Offices were vacated by Harland & Wolff in 1989.  Unoccupied ever since, the building was listed in 2002, confirming its unique historical and architectural significance, though it has been considered ‘at risk’ for the last decade.  The southern wing, which was the former Administration block, was renovated in 2007 and is now Titanic House, home to the offices of Titanic Quarter Limited, Todd Architects and Titanic Foundation.

The remaining derelict blocks of the HQ building including the Drawing Offices were transferred to Titanic Foundation under a seven year lease in 2012. The Foundation undertook numerous additional works to allow the Drawing Offices to be opened to the public again for tours and pop-up events, while developing a long term plan for the building.

Referred to as the ‘Main Offices’ on many of the maps of the shipyard, there is a more comprehensive history of the HQ building & Drawing Offices available in our Resources section.

There is also a virtual exhibition of images of the building before restoration work began available here.

The Drawing Offices have hosted a range of events, from the Antiques Roadshow, to the Royal Ulster Academy’s annual show, to locations for movies such as Lost City of Z – a Hollywood film that starred Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson and Sienna Miller; City of Ember and Fifty Dead Men Walking. Since Titanic Foundation took over the lease for the HQ Building, the Drawing Offices have hosted fashion shows, theatrical performances, exhibitions and media launches, MTV performances as part of the MTV Europe Music Awards in Belfast, as well as guided tours with Titanic Belfast’s Discovery Tours, Titanic Walking Tours and Titanic Tours. Local families and visitors were able to enjoy the heritage and stunning architecture of the oldest remaining building in the Quarter during the Maritime Festival in 2014 and Tall Ships in 2015, as well as during European Heritage Open Days.  It was also the venue for the Belfast Titanic Society’s Annual Convention, and the location for the first ABVFest, which saw fifteen hundred local craft beer enthusiasts enjoy a range of local beers in “an inspirational venue with innovation and creativity at its heart.”

As plans for the building’s restoration progressed, we recreated the most famous image of the Drawing Offices, taken by Robert Welch in 1912. Taking part in the recreation were key people who contributed to our successful HLF application: Titanic Foundation’s board and staff, Titanic Quarter Limited, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Strategic Investment Board, Consarc and Deloitte, alongside supporters such as local chaplain Chris Bennett, the Dock Café and members of the Belfast Titanic Society. Former drawing office employees were also present to bridge the gap between the past and the future, and descendants of Samuel Donnelly who was in the original Welch image were there to mark the occasion.

One of the final events in the Drawing Offices was The Big Titanic Draw, where 60 little artists spent hours drawing the drawing offices, Samson & Goliath, SS Nomadic, Titanic, etc!

The building closed in late 2015, with more than 50,000 people having visited or attended an event in the Drawing Offices in the last few years.

The Future of the Drawing Offices

Titanic Foundation Ltd and Titanic Quarter Ltd are committed to preserving the Drawing Offices, and have begun work on the restoration of the building and development into a four star boutique hotel, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Heritage Enterprise programme. The grant is designed to help when the cost of repairing an historic building is so high that restoration simply is not commercially viable. Grants of £100k to £5 million bridge the financial gap, funding the vital repairs and conservation work needed to convert derelict, vacant buildings into new, usable commercial spaces that can have a positive impact on local economies.

The most historically important rooms such as the Drawing Offices will be developed as spaces for public use.  The building will tell the story of Belfast’s industrial heritage, focusing on the authentic spaces and fixtures and fittings that relate to the local shipbuilding industry, while providing much needed accommodation facilities within the Quarter and the potential to create over 100 local jobs.

You can read press releases on the project in our News & Resources section.

Historic image of the Drawing Offices D2805/PHT/B/23 with kind permission of Harland & Wolf & The Deputy Keeper of the Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.