The events that have been taking place in Belfast over the last couple of months to mark the centenary of the Titanic’s launch have been extensive. They culminated not just with the commemorative service held on the original slipway, but also with the opening of a new Titanica exhibition at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, with never-before-seen artifacts retrieved from the wreck.
That said, this is nothing compared to what will be happening in the city next year to mark the Titanic’s maiden voyage, begun on 10 April 1912, and its tragic conclusion a mere four days later. The most spectacular event, which I must admit I’m seriously excited about, will be the opening of the Titanic Belfast building, with a groundbreaking multi-media / interactive / jawdroppingly high-tech “Titanic Experience.”
I was taken aback on my visit to the construction site to find that a half-finished building could be quite so impressive. The architect, Eric Kuhne, has said that his work aims to “restore the storytelling quality of architecture,” and the Titanic Belfast building does just that, with its four ‘ship’s bows’ inspired by shipyard photographs from the period, and built to the exact same dimensions as the Titanic.
Inside, the story of the Titanic will be told from the context of 1910s industrial boomtown Belfast through the structure and fitting out of the ship to the disaster and subsequent inquiries, and the discovery of the wreck in 1985.
The form this content will take will include an interactive blueprint floor; cars suspended from the Arrol Gantry that travel up, down and around a scale-model of part of the ship during construction; images of the ship projected onto glass panels overlooking the actual slipway; an immersive, three-walled CGI experience of the interior; recreated cabins; an auditorium showing original footage from the discovery of the wreck; and even a full-scale replica of the Titanic’s banqueting suite, which will be hired out for events.
The public-private partnership is spending £1 million on each of the galleries, with the whole project coming to almost £100 million, so I think we can safely say the result will be spectacular.
And it’s all part and parcel of the regeneration of Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, which is being transformed by huge investment and job creation. The giant H&W cranes still looming overhead are, in a joking reference to the soaring visitor numbers in recent years, no longer considered to stand for Harland and Wolff, but for Hello and Welcome.