Building the future from the past
As Titanic Quarter progresses, a number of major developments continue to change Belfast's skyline. The largest of these is the £97M Titanic Signature Building which is progressing well and now holds the record for the island's largest concrete pour. When completed up to 400,000 people will annually visit the attraction which will be owned and run by a charitable foundation.
Work also continued apace at the Arc residential development (now including its first occupants), Belfast Metropolitan College's new campus and the new £30M Public Record Office which is on track to be open to the public on 30th March this year. While Citi has brought over 500 employees to the new Gateway Office. As the physical landscape changes, so too does the social environment. Titanic Quarter is coming to life and there are retail, public realm and hotel projects already in the pipeline.
Titanic Signature project
On Course For 2012 Completion
With physical on-site work now into its second year, the £97M Titanic Signature Building is well on course for completion in 2012, just in time for the centenary commemorations of Titanic's loss. Backed by the Northern Ireland Executive, Belfast Harbour, Belfast City Council and Titanic Quarter Ltd, the project will be owned and operated by Titanic Foundation Limited, an independent charitable trust. It is expected to attract up to 400,000 visitors annually and become one of Northern Ireland's best known tourist destinations.
There are plenty of historical resonances as well. Built in sight of the slipway where the Titanic was born, work on the building began 100 years after the construction on the Titanic started. It's also a similarly gargantuan effort; in 2009 the site witnessed the island's largest concrete pour, an 18-hour process which used 4,200cu m over an area of 3,800sq m. Over 100 men from five different companies worked in shifts throughout the night on the historic pour, which involved 50 concrete trucks delivering circa 250sq m of concrete per hour - or one load every two minutes. A low carbon concrete has been used which has a range of environmental benefits Mike Smith, CEO of Titanic Quarter, said: "We believe this concrete pour will be the largest the island of Ireland has ever seen and marks a major progression in the construction of the Titanic Signature Project, the largest tourist development ever undertaken in Northern Ireland.
"The concrete pour has a strong historical resonance, taking place in sight of the famous slipway on which construction work began on the Titanic in 1909. The Signature Project, when complete, will help bring the famous story of Titanic back to Belfast and help the city celebrate its proud maritime history and achievements. "The concrete used in the pour is of a low carbon nature which brings with it a range of environmental benefits. Up to 726 tonnes of CO2 will be saved by using this concrete, the equivalent saving of which would require taking 234 cars off the road for one year."
Noel Molloy from Harcourt Developments, said: "Overseeing the biggest concrete pour in Ireland is a major challenge and one which has required a lot of detailed preparation and effort from the entire team of people involved. It is a historic event and one in which Harcourt is extremely proud to be involved. "The benefits which the Titanic Signature Project will bring to Northern Ireland will go far beyond tourism, it will also provide a much needed shot in the arm for the local construction industry.
"At its height there is expected to be over 600 workers on site with over 200 people expected to be employed in the building when the facility opens."
The state-of-the-art building forms a central part of the development of Titanic Quarter, designed by leading international architects and designers, the project includes a 'Titanic Experience' exhibition, a 'Flying Theatre' which allows visitors a birds eye view across Northern Ireland, a Titanic-themed banqueting suite and a community arts facility for local exhibitions, performances and conferences.
In addition to the Signature Building the restoration of the Titanic and Olympic slipways and the former Harland and Wolff's former Headquarters building is also planned. The Titanic Signature project will bring alive the area's history, and will attract visitors from all over the world. The project will also enable Titanic Quarter 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. The building consists of the ground floor 'Welcome hall, plus three-storeys of exhibition spaces in which the famous story will be vividly re-told. The fifth floor consists of the Banqueting Hall and function rooms, with an additional mezzanine level above with views out over the slipways to Belfast Lough and beyond. The building will be stunning. The form has been inspired by photos of the shipyards in their heyday with great looming hulls under construction. The facades lean out at angles of to 25°, with complicated geometries that rely heavily on state-of-the-art computer aided analysis. The structural engineer, RPS, have commented that buildings of this structural complexity would not have been possible even a few years ago.
The facade has been designed to have a crystalline or shard-like appearance which has been created from dozens of different shaped panels each folded from silver anodised aluminium sheets into complicated asymmetrical geometries. Construction of this iconic £90M project commenced in June 2009 and is expected to be completed by the first quarter in 2012 in time for RMS Titanic's centenary.
Apartment homes come full Arc
Titanic Quarter welcomes first Residents
At the end of 2009 Titanic Quarter welcomed its first residents to the new Arc Development. Phase One was completed in December 2010 and eventually Phase Two will continue the flow of buildings rising around Abercorn basin to provide a further 2,000 apartments over 200,000sq m. Located beside Belfast's largest expanse of open water, Abercorn Basin, Arc will comprise 474 apartments as well as providing space for the new Premier Inn hotel and a selection of retail and restaurant outlets. The Arc is also home to 'Kit' Belfast's newest piece of public art which opens to the public at the end of this month (access via the rear of Odyssey or the Queen's Road). The nautical theme will also be reinforced by the development of Abercorn Basin into Belfast's first city centre marina. Feedback from the first residents has been highly positive with particular praise for the apartments' 'boutique hotel' ambience, generous floor space, stunning private gardens and individual outlook.
The Arc is dominated by six towers offering 475 one-, two- and three-bedroom properties plus six penthouse apartments. The buildings range from six to 12-storeys as they curve round the basin in two concentric arcs rising from one side. John Fitzgerald of Robinson McIIwaine Architects explains: "The different heights create architectural geometry and add to the dynamism of the building, as the towers appear to be growing out of the corner." On a practical level this ensures the apartments receive optimum daylight and also provides some degree of privacy as the end apartments are not directly opposite each other. All apartments have a glazed external wall in the living room with doors out to a balcony: properties at the front of the development will benefit from views across Belfast towards the Black Mountain, while those at the rear will enjoy vistas of the Craigantlet hills.
In a bid to encourage owner-occupiers rather than investors, to promote a lively and dynamic environment, the apartments are particularly spacious with ceiling heights of 2.55m. According to Fitzgerald the properties are 15-20% bigger than other apartments being built in Belfast. He says: "We're hoping to create a real community for people who want to be part of the new living sector at Titanic Quarter. The sophisticated bars and restaurants on the ground floor of the apartments are within easy reach and will provide a contrast to those available at the Odyssey."
Thomas O'Doherty of Eric Cairns Partnership, the selling agent for the apartments, says: "Demand has been phenomenal, thanks to both the high specification and spacious layouts of the apartments and the buoyant city centre residential market." Every facet of The Arc has been fashioned to create a unique and luxurious lifestyle, from the sense of space produced by the generous ceiling heights to the consummate quality of its materials and finishings.
A sense of elegance gently seduces you from the moment you enter the Arc. Natural light flows from the skylights and washes over the polished limestone floor and walnut feature panelling of the main entrance hallway.
The Arc experience is focused on style and quality, right down to details such as apartment numbering and recessed front doorways with brushed stainless steel ironmongery.
Whether homebuyers choose a one-, two- or three-bedroom apartment home, or one of the penthouses, they'll enjoy a sumptuous sense of space and light with generous ceiling heights and great views from living rooms, balconies and fully glazed extended corner suites.
The development comprises a cast insitu concrete frame with flat slab floor construction, with a steel frame area to the penthouse level. External facades comprise white precast concrete panels, blue engineering brick, timber cladding, zinc cladding and large areas of curtain walling/frameless glass.
The building also features frameless glass 'light box' pods to highlight the main entrance of the individual apartment blocks and also act as a beacon at the top of the stairwells.
The Arc has been specially designed to create an atmosphere of warmth, security and intimacy, with each floor serving only four apartments. The buildings are divided into two halves which are each serviced by an individual circulation core. Between the curving sides of the apartment buildings, the eye is greeted by the beautifully landscaped central private podium garden which provides views of tranquility and peace. With sweeping walkways and paths sheltered by the foliage of shrubbery and trees, the whole area is studded with seating, raised flower beds and open spaces to both relax and play.
Opening up the Gateway
First part of Financial Services Centre
Located at the entrance to Titanic Quarter, the Gateway building certainly lives up to its name. Opened in summer 2009, the 150,000sq ft facility is the first part of a planned financial services centre. The building is already two-thirds let to Citi, the global financial institution which now employs almost 1,000 workers across two sites within Titanic Quarter. This is Citi's fifth year in Belfast, with its operations in the city providing support to its Global Markets & Banking business.
Designed by Todd Architects, Gateway consists of three distinct blocks, linked together to enclose a central courtyard. Each block is five storeys high (including a penthouse level) and together they form a right angled triangle. It sits on a semi-basement with 113 car parking spaces and staff changing facilities.
Apart from internal design features which reflect aspects of Belfast's shipbuilding past, green issues were also to the fore and the building incorporates features such as grey water recycling, geo-thermal water heating, solar panels and heat recovery. Located at the entrance and forming the Gateway to the Historical Titanic Quarter area of Belfast, the project incorporated the construction of three linked elements, typically with five floors each including a lightweight penthouse level. All accommodation is grouped around and forms a landscaped courtyard with glazed feature link atrium at the main junctions. The plan form is essentially three simple shallow plan floor plates, which allow for flexibility of fit-out and tenant usage options, as well as affording generous natural lighting. Where the three block meets the stair cores and key entrances are sited, this enables shared or individual tenant occupation of these areas, in what are dramatic five-storey tall atria foyer spaces.
Some 148,000sq ft of office and associated accommodation is arranged over a semi basement structure providing approximately 113 car parking spaces. The building as a result, is set on a podium, accessed via feature steps and ramps.
Conceptually (and additionally to permit flexibility of letting) the project is designed as three 'linked yet defined' elements. The layout permits letting of the simple floor plates in various format, by block, by floor, or numerous combinations of these. The articulation of this concept is enhanced by the use of the glazed atria and furthermore by the introduction of glazed gable ends to each main block.
The project was progressed on a speculative basis and the flexibility to attract potential tenants of a range of letting requirements was a key component in the design. The success of the design proposal has been demonstrated by the scheme attracting a significant letting to a major financial services Client in two of the three blocks, which have been let and fitted-out to a Grade A specification for this one blue-chip tenant. The arrangement of the adjacent floor plates sitting either side of one atrium, linked by dramatic bridges, has meant that this space has become a dedicated foyer/entrance for this tenant.
Externally a palette of quality materials has been used with all the exposed public elevations receiving Portuguese White Limestone finish, with feature detailing echoing the Civic Building's of the City Centre, along with integrated aluminium curtain wall window systems. The courtyard, formed by the juxtaposition and enclosure of the three principal accommodation elements, is finished in red facing brick, with aluminium full height glazing incorporating feature timber infill panels, this being reminiscent of Belfast's Victorian buildings stock. Atrium elevations feature a high specification structural glazing system, the atrium glazing is also further articulated and visually lightened by use of a supporting boom glazing system supported on full height timber glulam columns that span the system supported on full height timber glulam columns that span the 25m height of the atria. At high level where the building's roof 'penthouse' terrace office accommodation is located, the external facade additionally incorporated lightweight feature wall elements with cedar panelling along with zinc standing seam cladding extended to form roof level plant enclosures.
High quality finish has been extended into the building, especially in the dramatic full height atria spaces. This extension of the exterior to the interior, in terms of both architectural design and in the quality of the materials is strengthened by virtue of the substantially glazed atria spaces that allow visual linkage. The common areas not only benefit from the spatial quality but this is reinforced by use of a carefully selected palette of complementary high quality finishes, including granite floor to the lobby and elevated link bridges, a feature open stainless steel and stone staircase and with the space being further enriched and softened by integration of full height timber panel cladding to the bank of lifts. The courtyard space that sits at the heart of the scheme, and is surrounded and defined by the building elements, carries the contemporary quality level of finish, the materials used include: on the ground, granite, feature timber clad raised planters containing soft landscaping, as well as feature lighting to accentuate the dynamic of the space.
The tenant fit-out has re-enforced the development's overall quality, with a contemporary scheme that includes a range of type and size of spaces, including both open-plan and cellular office and meeting spaces, as well as formal and informal areas including highly glazed penthouse accommodation to house meeting and board room as well as a restaurant/canteen space. The internal office fit-out combines high quality materials from the selection and range of floor finishes and wall types including frameless glazed internal partition walling.
This project since its inception has had as a key to the design progression, the awareness and response to green design, as well as the first principle architectural considerations, detail design and technical features strengthen the result. The basic plan for and building massing was considered and studies from a green design perspective; simple shallow floor plates were incorporated to enable benefit of natural light and potential natural ventilation of the spaces to occur. Additionally the project incorporates a number of other energy saving systems and devices. The inherent design and incorporation of the additional systems has resulted in the scheme obtaining a 'Gold LEED Accreditation'.
Gateway is a benchmark of high quality design for Titanic Quarter and provides an impressive entrance to the latest phase of Belfast's evolution.
Room at the Inn
Premier Inn opens 2010
First by name and first by nature, Premier Inn has become the first hotel to open at Titanic Quarter. Opened in November 2010, the 122 bedroom, £8M hotel is part of the Arc complex at Abercorn Basin. Situated adjacent to Titanic Quarter's entrance and nearby to the Gateway Office, Odyssey, Public Record Office and Belfast Metropolitan College, the hotel will be a valuable addition to the growing development. The hotel will be know as The Gateway Hotel, being created as part of Phase II of the Arc.
Construction comprised seven-storeys over basement of cast insitu concrete frame with flat slab floor. A penthouse level will be created from steel frame.
Externally the building is clad with white precast concrete, timber and zinc cladding panels, with large areas of capless shopfront glazing. A low profile standing seam Kingzip composite panel tops the building, while all windows are aluminium argon filled units. Premier Inn is the UK's largest hotel chain and is part of the Whitbread group which employs 33,000 people and includes brands such as Costa Coffee and Brewers Fayre restaurants. The Titanic Quarter hotel, which will be the sixth in Northern Ireland, is expected to particularly appeal to the tourist and business sectors.
Public Records Office Northern Ireland
Facility opens 2011
On 30 November 2010, Culture Minister Nelson McCausland announced that the new Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) will open to the public on 30th March 2011.
Speaking from the new state-of-the-art facility in Titanic Quarter, Belfast the Minister said: "In September 2009, we reported that the new PRONI headquarters was due to open in May or June 2011 following the removal and relocation of over 40km of unique, irreplaceable and some priceless, documents. It is therefore a fantastic achievement, through the careful planning, dedication and hard work of my staff and our partners, that the new PRONI is opening well ahead of schedule."
The new record office, which befits PRONI's position as one of the three National Archival Institutions in the United Kingdom, will provide larger and better facilities for the access of PRONI's records. Its location will also mean much easier access for local, national and international visitors and will formally put PRONI on the map as a 'must experience' tourist attraction.
The Minister added: "Through widening access to PRONI, all sections of the community will have the opportunity to experience a greater awareness and ownership of this part of their cultural heritage." The building boasts 9,228sq m, of which approximately 3,340sq m is archival storage, over four-storeys. Construction comprised primarily in-situ concrete frame, with a section of lightweight steel deck roof over the atrium and main entrance. Internally there are link bridges across an atrium space which connect the search rooms to the reading rooms, these are suspended from the steel roof structure over using steel cable connections.
The cladding to the building generally is Portuguese White Limestone with random coursing, The central repository which contains the archival storage space and around which the other blocks are 'wrapped' is clad in Corten steel panels. This has a distinctive rusty appearance which weathers for several year - the rust then protects the steel from further corrosion. Externally a large feature artwork consists of a seven metre cantilever steel structure which will be clad in printed glass.
Belfast Metropolitan College
Campus Opens 2011
This exciting project is planned to open in August 2011, when Belfast Metropolitan College will relocate from two of the College's existing buildings, namely Brunswick Street and College Square East, into the new Titanic Quarter building.
In 2011, the new College will be a modern facility which will be adapted in response to changes in demand and will maximise the use of Information Technology to support all learning.
The move to locate the BMC city centre campus in TQ has been welcomed by Pat Doherty, chairman of Harcourt Developments, overall developer of Titanic Quarter, who says: "This decision will provide the institute and Belfast with a state-of-the-art, purpose-built campus for the 21st century education and learning."
The new campus for Belfast Metropolitan College will establish a lively student village at the heart of Titanic Quarter. The philosophy behind Todd's design brief was for a new type of establishment, forging closer ties with surrounding communities and the business and commercial world in particular. As one of TQ's early occupants, BMC is viewed as a trailblazer, setting the precedent for other institutions. Kevin Chambers, Head of Capital Projects at BMC, comments: "The new state-of-the-art campus will be in what we believe will become one of the most exciting and vibrant areas in Belfast."
BMC has a historic link with Queen's Island, training most of the engineers who worked in the shipyard during its heyday. Today it is the largest provider of further and higher education in Belfast. The new campus will offer 2,500 students a wide range of courses on subjects from business or health studies to languages and computing.
The four-storey building, rising to five-storeys at the front, will offer 21,000sq m of space centred round a large courtyard. For an arresting first impression, the building's entrance is shaped like a ship's prow. "It is inevitable that the design will pay homage to the maritime heritage," acknowledges Emma Logan of Todd Architects. "It is an iconic image for Belfast College as the prow will be evident from across the basin, something which was taken into account at the design stage.
"The site's major advantage is that it has plenty of space, allowing for a user-friendly low-rise building. The canteen will spill out onto the central courtyard, which is not just for getting from one place to the next but offers an attractive recreation space where student events can take place." The concept for the development is founded on creating a strong Campus identity. Central to this theme is the notion of a sense of place, ownership and community, and this has informed the design part of a series of mid-rise buildings arranged around a landscaped courtyard.
The building mass primarily comprises an opposing pair of linear blocks facing a central landscaped courtyards. One straight block faces Queens Road, curving round to meet Abercorn Crescent, whilst the other is cranked into three segments which look onto what will ultimately be a new mixed-used quarter centred on a new square.
Vertical circulation, services and sanitary facilities are clustered around the joints of the blocks thereby freeing up orthogonal bays for teaching accommodation. The blocks contain four-storeys of training and teaching accommodation.
The teaching blocks are linked at the southern end of the site by a series of 'inhabited bridges' contained within a six-storey triangular shaped atrium. Dubbed 'The Prow', this part of the building contains the main foyer which rises six-storeys through the building culminating in a glazed lantern with surrounding balconies, bridges and terraces. This highly transparent linking element helps orientate visitor and identifies the public zones of interaction, whilst seeking to achieve visual continuity between the entrance forecourt and the interior domain or courtyard.
From the approach to the College from Titanic Gateway the building will have a strong presence at the convergence of Abercorn Crescent with Queens Road, the dynamic form of the oversailing curved facade, which is almost entirely glazed with a feature solar shading structure, provides an opportunity to communicate the College's role to the public. A green travel policy is being encouraged, with emphasis placed on the ease of access to Titanic Quarter by foot, bicycle or bus. However, a semi-basement car park will offer over 300 spaces. There is also scope for a sports centre on the site at a later date.
Titanic Quarter gets kitted out
First piece of Public Art
Titanic Quarter has revealed its first piece of public art, the 'Kit'. Launched as part of the Queen's Festival in October, Tony Stallard's Kit depicts elements of the Titanic in the style of an Airfix model.
The impressive 13.5m tall bronze sculpture faces Abercorn Basin and is part of the Arc residential development. It was commissioned by ArtSpark NI on behalf of Titanic Quarter Ltd and Arts & Business NI and in a nice historic twist was fabricated by Harland and Wolff, builders of the original Titanic. According to Tony, the piece is intended to: "symbolise Belfast as an industrial pioneer at the time of building the Titanic. "It references the industrial heritage of the area and can be seen as a reverie of the past, to create nostalgia of what was once heroic."