TITANIC BELFAST

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TITANIC BELFAST

Architecture for a New Age

“In the lives of cities, boldness and vision rarely follow catastrophe,” wrote

architectural critic Paul Goldberger. The city of Belfast may be the exception that

proves the rule. After a generation of Troubles, the citizens of the great port city have

grown accustomed to peace and economic growth. Innovation is surging. Titanic

Belfast rises as one of Europe’s largest waterfront structures. TURLOUGH MC CONNELL

examines the complex legacy of RMS Titanic and the impact of its compelling

maritime heritage on a citizenry poised for economic and cultural success.

A Special Supplement to Irish America Magazine in cooperation with Titanic Foundation.

Produced by Turlough McConnell and Kate Overbeck.


“Titanic Belfast will be

a flagship destination.

Iconic in design and

home to a world-class

exhibition on the site of

the Belfast shipyard

where the great ocean

liner was built. It will

inform, inspire and

entertain the thousands

of visitors every

year who walk through

its doors.”

Cover page: A nighttime rendering of the

exterior of Titanic Belfast designed by

the American-born architect Eric Kuhne.

Left, top: Titanic Quarter, with Titanic

Belfast at the center, is the most important

regeneration opportunity in Northern

Ireland for a generation.

Left, below: Shipyard workers swarm

down Queen’s Road in May 1911. At this

period about 14,000 men were employed

by Harland & Wolff at Queen’s Island.

Photograph by Peter Lavery.

Top: RMS Titanic, made in Belfast, sets sail

to Southampton, England for her tragic

maiden voyage. (Heritage photographs

supplied by The Ulster Folk and Transport

Museum Photographic Archive.)

As recently as last December,

amid a faltering world economy,

supporters of Titanic

Foundation wondered how the

ambitious mixed-use waterfront

project centered on the signature structure

Titanic Belfast would be completed. Many questioned

whether the ambitious visitor attraction

would be ready in 2012 to mark the 100th

anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic.

Plans for building Titanic Belfast, and for redeveloping

the historic shipyards, have stayed afloat

thanks to the unflagging commitment of public

and private stakeholders. In late 2008 Tourism

Minister Arlene Foster announced that the $140

million package needed to fund the building

would be shared equally by the Government,

through the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, 50%

and 50% from their partners in the private sector,

Titanic Quarter Ltd and Belfast Harbour Commissioners.

Belfast City Council contributed the balancing

$15 million. Overall this unique funding

partnership has but one single objective: to complete

and open the main attraction to visitors in

time for the 2012 centennial.

Today, the pace of construction is brisk. Activity

around the site conjures the tumultuous

images of 19th century Belfast, of workmen, vehicles

and objects moving swiftly in all directions.

Minister Foster recently confirmed that work

is advancing well. “Good progress is being

made to create a world-class tourist attraction

for Northern Ireland. We have a proud industrial

and maritime heritage, and only Belfast can tell

the complete story of the world famous RMS

Titanic. This project will give potential tourists a

compelling reason to visit.”

“The social and economic benefits will also

be very significant. We estimate that Titanic

Belfast will attract around 400,000 visitors annually,

of whom between 130,000 and 165,000 will

be from outside Northern Ireland.”

Titanic Foundation is a company limited by

guarantee with charitable objectives to educate

people on Belfast’s social, historical, industrial and

maritime heritage through the story of the Titanic.

The goal is to communicate through extensive

outreach programs that the innovation, engineering

and craftsmanship that flourished in Belfast

one hundred years ago continues today.

The Foundation plans to create a one-of-akind,

“must-see” visitor attraction. Jonathan

Hegan, Chairman of the Titanic Foundation,

points to the scale of the project and its capacity

for delivering an inspirational learning experience.

“Titanic Belfast will be a flagship destination,”

says Hegan. “Iconic in design and home to a

world-class exhibition on the site of the Belfast

shipyard where the great ocean liner was built. It

will inform, inspire and entertain the thousands of

visitors every year who walk through its doors.”

The aim of the Foundation is to

restore the pride associated with

the building of the Titanic. The

project will honor the technological

capability that produced

Titanic a century ago as an inspiration for establishing

Belfast and Northern Ireland as a leading

tourism destination, building on the global

recognition of the Titanic brand.

Strategic Investment Board, Northern Ireland

Ltd (SIB) is one of several groups supporting the

goals of the Foundation. Dr. Bryan Gregory,

SIB’s Strategic Advisor and Interim CEO of the

Foundation, speaks of the need to maintain

authenticity. “The overall design of the building

has been influenced by the shipbuilding her-


“Titanic Belfast will

be over five stories

high. It will house a

range of themed exhibition

galleries capable

of handling

around 900,000 visitors

annually. Visitors

will learn about

the construction of

RMS Titanic and the

wide and rich story of

Northern Ireland’s

industrial and maritime

heritage.”

Jonathan Hegan

Chairman, Titanic Foundation

Right, top: Titanic Belfast holds the

record for the largest concrete pour in

the history of modern construction on

the island of Ireland. (Photograph by

Chris Hill.)

Right, bottom: In 1911 the twin slipways

show actual side-by-side

construction of White Star passenger

ships, RMS Titanic and RMS Olympic.

itage of Belfast. The building in its line and form

incorporates elements of the Titanic bow, the

White Star Line insignia and the gantries used to

build the Titanic.”

“Titanic Belfast will be over five stories

high,” adds Hegan. “It will house a range of

themed exhibition galleries capable of handling

around 900,000 visitors annually. Visitors

will learn about the construction of RMS

Titanic and the wide and rich story of Northern

Ireland’s industrial and maritime heritage.”

As he sees it, “The mission of the Foundation

is to educate the public about Belfast’s

maritime heritage through the story of RMS

Titanic. This will be done mainly through

Titanic Belfast and outreach programs that will

inspire a new generation to become truly

‘titanic’ thinkers.”

“As one of the cornerstones of Titanic Belfast

and a symbol of the Northern Ireland’s vitality,”

says Gregory, “we plan to promote an understanding,

appreciation, and enjoyment of maritime

history and heritage and its values in this

authentic setting.”

The Titanic Belfast concept began to emerge

in 2005 as part of a revitalization plan for the city

docklands. Angus Waddinton, Project Manager

for Todd Architects, says with pride, “As soon as

Titanic Belfast opens its doors it will earn its

place as Northern Ireland’s centerpiece of modern

architecture. We are all very proud to be

working to make this happen.”

Howard Hastings, Chairman of the Northern

Ireland Tourist Board, says: “Titanic Belfast was

identified as one of five Signature Projects to

showcase what is unique about Northern Ireland.

This project will bring the story of RMS

Titanic back home to Belfast, where she and her

sister ships were designed and built. It will also

act as a massive pull for visitors to the rest of

Northern Ireland.”

Mike Smith, CEO of Titanic Quarter Ltd,

added: “Progress on the main building will

enable us to develop related plans for hotels,

retail units and additional leisure space, including

the development of Slipway Park – one of

the largest public spaces to be created in Belfast

in the past 50 years.”

“Belfast Harbor already attracts 60,000 cruise

passengers and crew every year and over 1.2

million ferry passengers,” says Len O’Hagan,

Chairman of Belfast Harbour. “Creating a focal

point for the only authentic Titanic heritage in

the world, just miles from where passengers

arrive today, will be a major attraction that will

enhance Belfast’s growing popularity as a

tourist destination.”

Just how significant is a great building to the

revival of a city? Rarely can a single building be

judged a transformational work. But one major

precedent inspires all charged with that mission

– Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao.

The latest issue of Vanity Fair reports on a

survey of 90 of the world’s leading architects,

teachers, and critics, who were asked to name

the most significant structure built in recent

memory. The majority of the 52 experts who

ultimately participated in the poll – including 11

Pritzker Prize winners and the deans of eight

major architecture schools – cited Gehry’s

Guggenheim Bilbao.

What Bilbao was in the 20th century for

Spain, Titanic Belfast plans to be in the 21st century

for Northern Ireland. The city of Bilbao –

today one of Europe’s top tourist destinations –

was such a backwater in the 1990s that, according

to Gehry, the 265,000-square-foot museum

went up almost unnoticed by the press.

In 2005 Eric Kuhne and Associates (also

known as Civic Arts) were appointed by

Titanic Quarter Ltd as lead concept

architects and Master Planners for

Titanic Quarter. Civic Arts began creating

the Development Framework, originally

designed by Turley Associates, into a Master

Plan for Titanic Quarter. The Master Plan created

a blueprint for the Titanic Quarter into a $5 billion

waterfront development expected to create

at least 25,000 new jobs over the next 15 years.

As envisioned by Kuhne and his associates,

Titanic Belfast will be a spectacularly visible

structure serving as a sculptural backdrop for

Queens Island, the Port of Belfast, the Lagan

River and the hills surrounding Belfast. Kuhne

describes the rationale for the design. “Other

cities’ waterfronts have nowhere near the legacy

of this site. During the latter stages of the Industrial

Revolution, Belfast attracted some of the

world’s best engineers, designers and artisans.

The city was the center of innovative naval

architecture and single-handedly invented lux-


“Bringing Titanic

Belfast to life isn’t

just about bricks and

mortar,” says Chairman

Hegan. “It’s

about fostering a

sense of community

and ensuring that

existing communities

can benefit from

and be part of the

structure. The Foundation’s

integrated

approach recognizes

the importance of the

economic, social and

regional aspects of

regeneration. Our

key responsibility is

to the community.”

Left, top: Far left, Wallace Lawson,

Interim COO of Titanic Foundation. (At

rear) Noel Molloy, Project Director, Harcourt

Construction. Far right, Dr. Bryan

Gregory, Interim CEO of Titanic Foundation

with workmen William Bennett,

Aiden McGarry and John Duffin.

Left, bottom: The oldest section of the

former Harland & Wolff headquarters,

located next to Titanic Belfast, will be

refurbished. This includes the Drawing

Offices where construction plans

for Titanic were made. (Photograph

by Peter Lavery, courtesy of Titanic

Quarter Ltd)

ury ocean travel. We have already seen the success

of the Northern Ireland Science Park at the

docklands in attracting major investors like

Microsoft and Citigroup. That is only the start of

the growth that will be achieved here.”

Historic precedents have driven the design

process. The final form of Titanic Belfast will

reflect the industrial legacy of Harland & Wolff

and the impact of shipbuilding and the sea on

Belfast’s development. The prow of the building’s

glass-walled atrium plots a course down

the centre of the listed Titanic and Olympic slipways

towards the lapping waters of the River

Lagan. The project’s close proximity to the site

where these two ships were forged lends exceptional

authenticity and immediacy.

The building’s form evokes a host of maritime

metaphors; its four projecting segments suggest

ships’ prows ploughing through the North

Atlantic swell. Almost the entire façade will be

clad in faceted, three-dimensional zinc plates in a

pattern resembling the construction of the great

ocean liners. The reflection pools that spread out

from its base multiply the nocturnal illuminations.

The lower portions of the four wedges tell the

evolution of shipbuilding technology with a series

of materials, including lapped timber planking,

riveted iron, welded steel, and finally, aluminum.

Within, the project provides

over 12,000 sqm

of space on 5 floors

whose combined height

is equivalent to that of a

10-storey building. Every element of the construction

and design has been executed with

close attention to detail. The generous ceiling

heights allow for large-scale exhibits, while the

lower levels are controlled environments suitable

for installations evocative of heavy industry

or the depths of a ship’s hull. Directly under

the sweeping roof will lie a banquet hall to seat

750, the largest in Belfast. Panoramic views can

be had from various entertaining areas. Strips of

under-lit glass will radiate from a compass rose

laid into the atrium floor to create a dramatic

“carpet” of light across the square. Like the lines

of antique nautical charts, these lines allow

pedestrians to navigate to other local landmarks

through connections between the exhibition's

displays and the topography of the site.

Acentury ago Belfast was a hub

of the Industrial Revolution,

thriving on heavy engineering

and shipbuilding, and the Port

of Belfast was one of the

world’s greatest docklands. When work began

on the RMS Titanic in1909, Belfast was at its

peak, but by 2000 shipbuilding was down to a

trickle and the Belfast docks lay almost idle.

Now, after more than a decade of peace and in

response to the demise of the great shipbuilding

days of yore, a new vision is taking hold on

the docklands within walking distance of

Belfast’s city center. Titanic Quarter is one of

Europe’s largest urban waterfront developments

– more than twice the size of London’s

Canary Wharf. “This will become a major symbol

of the economic regeneration of Belfast and

Northern Ireland,” says Hegan.

“Bringing Titanic Belfast to life isn’t just

about bricks and mortar,” he explains. “It’s

about fostering a sense of community and

ensuring that existing communities can benefit

from and be part of the structure. The Foundation’s

integrated approach recognizes the

importance of the economic, social and

regional aspects of regeneration.” Hegan continues,

“Our key responsibility is to the community.”

Although Titanic Quarter is creating a

new urban centre in the heart of Belfast, it is

also establishing a community that will be part

of day-to-day life in the city.

“We are committed to engaging with the

people of Belfast, particularly those from

socially disadvantaged communities, and

encouraging them to avail of opportunities in

Titanic Quarter.” says Hegan. “To this end, we

work with the public, private, and community

sector organizations. We are working closely

with relevant organizations throughout Belfast,

especially those in neighboring East Belfast.”

As Belfast’s Lord Mayor Pat Convery sees it,

“Titanic Quarter, with the exhibition structure at

the center, will bring new life to a part of the city

that is rich in both history and potential. It will

become a major social and business meeting

place with galleries, theatres, parklands and

water sports all easily connected to Belfast's

thriving city centre.”

“In the lives of cities, boldness and vision

rarely follow catastrophe,” wrote architectural


Top: Titanic Belfast, at the center of Titanic Quarter, will be home

to a world-class exhibition designed by renowned creative company

Event Communications.

Middle: The new headquarters of the Public Records of Northern

Ireland, recently completed by Todd Architects.

Bottom: Rendering of Belfast Metropolitan College, one of the

largest Further & Higher Education Colleges in the UK or Ireland.

The new campus will have direct links with businesses located

throughout Titanic Quarter.

critic Paul Goldberger. The city of Belfast may

be the exception that proves the rule. Innovation

is surging. Titanic Belfast rises as one of

Europe’s largest waterfront developments.

Architecture can play a major civic role in creating

symbols of local, regional or national pride.

Buildings have regenerated and energized cities

worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum

of Art, which was expanded in 1967 by the

architect Kevin Roche. Other examples include

architect Jorn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House in

Australia and I.M. Pei’s remarkable project at the

Louvre in Paris. Jacques Herzog and Pierre de

Meuron redesigned the Tate Modern in the

Bankside Power Station on the Thames River.

The original Tate Modern was designed for 1.8

million visitors a year. Ten years later, 45 million

have visited the galleries, more than twice the

number predicted.

Iconic structures do connect visitors with the

culture and the history of cities worldwide.

Titanic Foundation holds as its central mission to

develop educational programs that will help

inspire the next generation of leadership and

innovation. With the best visionary leaders, urban

planners, architects, builders, creative designers,

educators and community activists at the helm of

Titanic Foundation and Titanic Belfast, Northern

Ireland is poised to show how the architecture of

hope and the architecture of history are bound

together as never before.

We’ll be ready for you in 2012

We’d love to be part of your next vacation

For further information visit:

www.titanic-foundation.org

www.gotobelfast.com

www.discovernorthernireland.com

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