Titanic Belfast opens in time for 100th anniversary for ship's tragic sole journey
Almost one hundred years ago the RMS Titanic sank to the sea bed on its maiden voyage from Southampton on England’s south coast to the cosmopolitan city of New York, taking the lives of 1,514 passengers and crew. On Saturday 31 March, 2012, the largest museum dedicated to the design and sole journey of the RMS Titanic was opened to the public.
Designed by CivicArts/Eric Kuhne Associates, Todd Architects and Kay Elliott, the glittering form is reminiscent of four pointed hulls rising from the watery depths of the fluid landscaping at the building’s base. A series of reflective pools anchor Titanic Belfast to the riverside as the 90ft-high angled hulls lean towards the River Lagan where the RMS Titanic first set sail, the drawing office where naval architect Thomas Andrews sketched her classic lines and the Hamilton Graving Dock where the SS Nomadic (sister ship to the RMS Titanic and RMS Olympic) is berthed.
The £97m scheme was denied BIG Lottery funding but donated £43.5m by the Northern Ireland Government and £10m from Belfast City Council, enabling the realisation of this immense 150,700 sq ft museum. Experts in conceptualising public buildings, CivicArts/Eric Kuhne Associates worked closely with specialist façade contractors Metallbau Frueh to design 3,000 folded aluminium panels to catch the waterside light, 2,000 of which are completely unique in form. None of the remaining 1,000 plates has been repeated more than 20 times and the designers confess that they ‘always manage to catch the light, a bit like a cut diamond’.
Similar to the ship from which the museum takes its name, Titanic Belfast broke various records in its design and construction. It is officially the largest tourist attraction dedicated to the RMS Titanic, incorporates the longest freespan escalator on the island (Northern Ireland and Ireland) at over 25m long, and boasts the largest volume of concrete ever poured on the island for its foundations with one delivery every two minutes for almost 24 hours.
Internally the six storey volume incorporates nine interpretative and interactive galleries, retail space, a four-storey atrium, temporary exhibition galleries, an underground car park, education facilities and a 1,000-seat banqueting suite and conference centre (the largest in Belfast).
It is within this sumptuous banqueting suite that visitors will find a near replica of the famous Grand Staircase from the RMS Titanic. Constructed using similar materials and techniques to those used on the original, Kay Elliott created the staircase in six separate sections using the same Red Oak that Harland and Wolff selected, and used 10,000 individual parts to compose the 23ft high by 24ft wide, four tonne feature.
Kay Elliott’s Project Director, Mark Muir, explains: “A major challenge was the lack of complete drawings of the original staircase. We developed a detailed 3D technical model based on photographs of the original staircase onboard Titanic’s sister ship Olympic - a job which involved painstaking detective work over several months so we could be as true to the design as possible.”
Also decorating the interior is a 60ft-high wall coated in sheet metal panels which are similar in size to those used on the hull of the RMS Titanic, forming a glittering copper sheen which glistens in the natural light flooding the atrium. An array of glass escalators climb to the top of this atrium, past a wide bridge on the first floor which acts as the start of the RMS Titanic’s short story. Already immortal in its tragic tale, the RMS Titanic has been done justice in this sensitive and respectful design, open now in time for the 100th anniversary of her sole launch.