The Pierhead Building: celebrating Welsh Culture past and present

The Pierhead Building remains a central hub for Welsh innovation and advancement 126 years since its opening.

The colossal structure was once the headquarters for the most prosperous docks in the world.

The striking red brick draws the eye as it dominates the muted greys of an all-too-common rainy day.

Located on Cardiff Bay it stands tall and proud in a place that has otherwise moved on. Cardiff Bay is now filled to the brim with trendy shops, global cuisines and huge apartment blocks. Yet the Pierhead Building remains a testament to a by-gone time. 

Tour Guide Richard Gywn Jones emphasises how the Pierhead Building retains its relevance, acting as a space where people can “come together to have those conversations about the kind of Wales we want to see in the future.”

Richard Gywn Jones works as a tour guide for the Pierhead Building and the surrounding Senedd buildings.

Upon entering and walking up the grand staircase lined with bright turquoise tiles you are greeted by the Heritage and Cultural Exchange Exhibition. An exhibition dedicated to chronicling the multicultural communities that made up the Cardiff Docklands and pays tribute to those who have made significant contributions to Wales’s cultural identity.

Detailed walnut panelling and ornate ceiling plasterwork adorn every room.

Each room delves into the century long history of the site. The high ceilings and dark wooden walls propel you into the bustling, chaotic past described by Richard as “the air traffic control centre…for Cardiff docks.”

Richard has worked as a tour guide here for 18 years. When asked about the Pierhead’s global significance Richard describes “there is high school not far from here where over 50 different languages are still spoken today, so yes the Pierhead would have seen ships coming from all over the world”, demonstrating how these communities came to Cardiff and flourished.

Opening in 1897 as the headquarters of the Cardiff Railway Company and Bute Docks Company, the extravagant Gothic Revival building was designed by Welsh Architect William Frame.

Richard explains the Pierhead Building is now owned and occupied by the Senedd (Welsh Parliament). He explains how “we encourage community organisations, voluntary organisations and educational bodies to use spaces in the Pierhead to have that conversation between the people and the policy makers.”

The museum is free to enter and attracts visitors from all over the UK.

Serving as a monument to the past yet also as a crucial space to shape Wales’s future; the Pierhead Building is as influential as it was 126 years ago.