Competition design for Belfast City Hall

M132 Competition design for Belfast City Hall

Address: Donegall Square, Belfast BT1 5GS
Date: 1896
Authorship: Authorship category 4 (Office) (Office)

The architectural competition for this, one of the grandest British public buildings of the period, attracted entries from across the United Kingdom. The two-stage contest was announced in July 1896, with a closing date of 25 October, after which three entrants would be selected to refine their designs for the second stage. 1 John Honeyman & Keppie paid the required deposit of one guinea for the competition conditions on 23 July, and theirs was presumably among the 51 designs examined by the assessors, Alfred Waterhouse and the Belfast City Surveyor, J. C. Bretland, in early November. 2

An attempt to engineer a local victory by adding a Belfast architect to the shortlist caused controversy, but in the end Waterhouse's and Bretland's choice was upheld. 3 Two of the three designs they selected were by Glasgow architects: Malcolm Stark & Rowntree and James Miller. 4 The authors of the third were not identified in press reports at the time, but they must have been Thomas & Son (Alfred Brumwell Thomas), of London, who were finally named as overall winners on 1 April 1897. 5 The City Hall was built to their imposing domed baroque design and opened in 1906. The competition had laid down no conditions with regard to style, but the designs of three of the runners up – the only ones to be published – were also classical with domes. 6

No visual record of John Honeyman & Keppie's unsuccessful design appears to survive, but when they showed three elevations from it at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1898 (558), the Glasgow Herald described the drawings in these terms: 'In the south elevation, which we like best, a low proportion with simplicity of design prevails, recalling, or maybe suggested by, the quadrangles of such buildings as Heriot's [Hospital] or Holyrood [Palace]. The north elevation is taller, richer, and more Italian in feeling, while a dome of Italian character crowns the pile.' 7 Whether Mackintosh had any part in producing this design is not known.

Scan of Glasgow Herald review of RSA exhibition. 12, March 1898, p4



1: British Architect, 46, 17 July 1896, p. 38.

2: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: John Honeyman & Keppie's cashbook, GLAHA 53079, p. 37; Builder, 71, 7 November 1896, p. 387.

3: British Architect, 46, 4 December 1896, p. 396; Belfast News-Letter, 12 December 1896, p. 6.

4: Builder, 71, 5 December 1896, p. 470; 12 December 1896, pp. 491–2.

5: Builder, 72, 3 April 1897, p. 320.

6: Paul Larmour, Belfast City Hall: an architectural history, Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 2010, p. 19, p. 29.

7: Glasgow Herald, 12 March 1898, p. 4.