The Grade II* listed Grand Hotel in Birmingham has been restored to its former glory, following extensive renovation work by Arup, the leading architecture and engineering firm. Nearly two decades on from when it last closed its doors to customers, Arup’s award-winning work has transformed the city centre landmark.
Originally built in the 1870s and one of the best surviving examples of Victorian architecture in Birmingham, the Grand Hotel had fallen into a state of disrepair since ceasing trading in 2002. Listed in 2004, Arup was brought on board by Hortons’ Estate to explore cost-effective options to stabilise and restore its façade stonework, which was hidden behind years of inappropriate repairs.
Solving hidden problems and preserving historic fabric
A thick build-up of cement, paint, bitumen and resin, had trapped moisture within the stone behind and masked its decay. In places, the masonry was unstable and sometimes soft enough to tear by hand. Arup also uncovered issues with the original design, which included incorrect weathering details that were absorbing rainwater rather than pushing it away. The stone itself also appeared to be of poor quality, unsuitable for areas of heavy exposure.
Stripping away the coatings and stabilising the damaged stonework would significantly eat into the finished surface of the façade, altering its carved details and creating a misshapen appearance. To mitigate this effect and reinstate the original grandeur of the façade, Arup developed a set of conservation principles to carve into the surviving stone, effectively re-setting the entire building envelope backwards.
Recreating the finish and sourcing locally
Point-cloud surveys of the façade were taken before and after the coatings were stripped, allowing the team to specify where and how each individual flat area should be finished. This information was translated into a set of small elevations for use by the masons on site, showing how far each block should be dressed back to contribute correctly to the overall arrangement. Decorative details were also re-carved in-situ, as far as possible, to recreate the entire ornate finish of the building, while in turn keeping the quantity of new stone to an absolute minimum.
The project supported businesses and craftspeople from the region, sourcing both labour and materials locally. This included stonemasons from Midland Conservation Ltd, who carried out repairs using traditional tools and techniques, working by hand to conserve almost every piece of decorative as well as most of the plain ashlar stone. This work led to Historic England describing the scale and traditional nature of the stonemasonry repairs at the Grand Hotel as unique, at the time in 2015, for a non-ecclesiastical building.
Arup’s structural engineers were subsequently involved in redesigning the internal structure. This included the construction of a new full height central circulation area and a steel structure for penthouse suites.
Thomas Pearson, Associate at Arup, said:
“In our conservation architecture practice, we place particular importance on the original materials of a listed building. In this case the decay was so widespread that repairing the Grand Hotel’s façade demanded technical innovation, design creativity and painstaking craftsmanship.
“I am proud to have led Arup’s team, providing conservation architecture, stone consultancy and façade engineering services to save the building from demolition. It is hugely satisfying to see one of Birmingham’s most loved buildings open again as a landmark hotel for the city.”