Sunday, 24 April 2011

PLACE site visit to Titanic Belfast

By Gary Potter

On Tuesday 19th April 2011 PLACE caught up on the progress of the Titanic Belfast building at Titanic Quarter.

Titanic Belfast. Photo by Gary Potter.

Titanic Belfast is a mammoth project which located right beside the Drawing Offices in which the plans for Titanic where drawn up, the slipway where she was launched and the dry dock in which the Titanic tender - Nomadic - is currently being refurbished. Titanic Belfast will be the home of a "world-class" visitor attraction with nine interpretive galleries over four floors following the Titanic story from conception, through construction and launch, to the maiden voyage and tragic end. The 15,000sq m building also hosts a  banqueting suite, designed to reflect the interior of the Titanic, on the fifth and sixth floors with spectacular views of the surrounding area. As PLACE found out - This is not all the building has to offer! 

The evening started with a fantastic one hour presentation from the enthusiastic Noel Molloy (Harcourt Construction) who is Project Director of Titanic Belfast. Noel is passionate about this project and with his determination to create a world class project for Belfast we are surely in for a treat come April 2012. Our presentation covered the complex construction processes, which included Ireland's largest ever concrete pour, and the detailed and absorbing galleries which will whisk visitors back in time.

Eager to get out on site we quickly booted up - hi vis jackets and hard hats on and we were off across the construction compound to appreciate the scale of the project in person.

Starting our Hard Hat Tour of Titanic Belfast. Photo by Gary Potter.

Once inside the building the sheer scale of the structure hits you. The internal atrium of the £73m structure will host the longest escalator in Ireland when opened next year. On the ground floor will be ticketing booths, a souvenir shop, cafe and general visitor facilities.

Internal Atrium. Photo by Gary Potter.

Moving briskly along we ascended up through the first four floors as Noel pointed out what each area would eventually become when the nine interpretive galleries are opened to the public in one years time. Construction is progressing apace as plaster board and services are being installed before the building is fully water-tight. It was near 7pm and the building was still a very active building site - no one can allow for an over run on this construction project - April 2012 is a deadline that cannot be missed.

Photo by Gary Potter.
Each gallery is carefully thought out to provide an authentic experience for visitors. Replica life boats and cabins from the Titanic along with a massive replica of the ship itself will all take positions throughout the linear experience. 

And this is not just any ordinary exhibition! Visitors will move through one of the nine galleries on a six seater car which can spin 360 degrees and move up or down by eight feet as guests feel rivets fly past their head and sense the smells of the shipyard. As Noel provided more details on each gallery it was clear that this building would house something very unique for Northern Ireland.

Photo by Gary Potter.

In one corner of the building work has already begun on the theater which will take visitors to the bottom of the ocean where Robert Ballard is videoing new material of the Titanic wreckage exclusively for the Titanic Belfast exhibition. 

Titanic Belfast Theater. Photo by Gary Potter.

As we climb above the fourth floor and Noel reveals the fifth and sixth floors we realize yet again that this building is deceivingly more spacious as you ascend to higher levels due to the unique shape of the structure. The upper two floors will host a Titanic themed banqueting suite with fantastic glazed walls and roof. 

Titanic Belfast banqueting suite. Photo by Gary Potter.

On top of the building the views are spectacular across the city. The surrounding landscaping has yet to get underway but Noel promises that this will be as, if not more spectacular. The small concrete structure below the main building is one of four pavillion buildings which will provide access to the double level basement car park, servicing and commercial space.

The view from the sixth floor of Titanic Belfast. Photo by Gary Potter.
Once on the roof of the building Noel explained the landscaping around the Titanic Belfast project and the separate Slipways project which will see both slipways landscaped to provide a vast area of open space for public events.
Titanic Slipway. Photo by Gary Potter.
The views from the roof also provided yet more comparisons to highlight the scale of the building....

Harland & Wolff cranes seen from the roof of Titanic Belfast. Photo by Gary Potter.
As we finished our tour by Noel, who provided an informative and enthusiastic commentary, we exited the building and took in the view of the stunning zinc cladding. Thousands of unique pieces have been applied to the structure in recent months to provide the unique appearance of the building.

Titanic Belfast's unique zinc cladding. Photo by Gary Potter.
Titanic Belfast. Photo by Gary Potter.

The PLACE tour of Titanic Belfast concluded with everyone buzzing from a fantastic experience. Everyone was grateful to Noel for his time and the passionate manner in which he presented what is sure to be a world class venue. The scale and complexity of the project was now much more clear and everyone left with a sense of pride in what the Northern Ireland built environment profession can achieve when we aim for a 'world class' vision.

PLACE Chairman, Bill Morrison had this to say after the site visit...
A fascinating presentation given by project manager Noel Molloy of Harcourt Construction. I am rarely enthused by hype but make no mistake - this building with its four hulls and spectacular cladding is truly iconic. It gave me a huge lift to learn from the man in the hot seat about not just the structural challenges but the exciting exhibits and experiences that will be on offer in 12 months’ time. This project is really going to make a difference. It will be a visitor attraction of enormous significance to the city and to Northern Ireland in the next decade. Molloy is passionate in his belief in this turnkey project. His mission is not just to deliver it on time, but to create something that will be the best in the world.
 Never mind the London Olympics. 2012 will be a titanic year to remember - the turning point when things started looking up again in this part of the world.

All the pictures from the site visit will be online in the coming days - keep an eye out for these fascinating photos!

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