As Titanic Quarter progresses, a number of major attractions are now reaching major milestones.
The largest of these is the £97M Titanic Belfast visitor attraction, completed ahead of schedule, for its official opening on 31st March, just in time for the centenary commemorations of Titanic’s maiden voyage and loss. Titanic Belfast, which holds the record for the island’s largest concrete pour, will attract up to 400,000 people per year.
Work began on the building in May 2009 and since then over 1,000 people have worked on site during construction.
The building’s iconic hulls are covered in 3,000 aluminium panels, of which two thirds are unique in design, and the hulls are the same height as Titanic from keel to deck.
Titanic Belfast also includes retail and restaurant facilities, as well as a 1,000-seater Titanic-themed banqueting/conference suite, plus a temporary exhibition space and an education suite.
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 become one of Northern Ireland’s best-known tourist destinations.
There are plenty of historical resonances as well. The state-of-the-art building forms a central part of the development of Titanic Quarter, designed by leading international architects and designers. Titanic Belfast includes nine galleries charting the rise of Belfast and every facet of the Titanic story, including a ride through a replica of part of Harland & Wolff shipyard, unique footage of Titanic’s final resting place and advanced technology to help bring the ship alive. There is also an Ocean Exploration Centre which tracks current missions being undertaken by Dr Robert Ballard, the oceanologist who discovered Titanic in 1985.
In addition to Titanic Belfast, the Titanic and Olympic slipways are being restored to create a new urban park and the former Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices are also being made ready for visitors.. Titanic Belfast, which is the world’s largest Titanic visitor attraction, 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.
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 Titanic Suite, banqueting hall and function rooms, with an additional mezzanine level above with views out over the slipways to Belfast Lough and beyond.
The facades lean out at angles of up to 25°, with complicated geometries that rely heavily on state-of-the-art computer aided analysis. The structural engineer, RPS, has 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.
Another Titanic Quarter milestone came in November 2011 with the official opening of Belfast Metropolitan College’s new campus by HRH The Princess Royal, who met with students and staff at the ultra-modern facility before marking her visit by unveiling the plaque to commemorate the official opening of the £44M flagship building.
Completed in August 2011, the College relocated from its existing buildings, namely Brunswick Street and College Square East, into the new Titanic Quarter building.
The new College is a modern facility, which has been adapted in response to changes in demand and will maximise the use of Information Technology to support learning.
The new campus for Belfast Metropolitan College has established a lively student village at the heart of Titanic Quarter.
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 offers 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, offers 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. 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 courtyard. 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 visitors 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 the Titanic Gateway Building, the campus has a strong presence at the convergence of Abercorn Crescent.
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 to be created on the site at a later date.
Work also continues apace at the Arc residential development (now including its first occupants), and the new £30M Public Record Office which has now been officially opened, 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.
Also planned is DCE’s Titanic Exchange, a purpose-built new facility designed using industry best practice. This highly efficient data centre campus will have a world leading PUE of sub 1.08.
It will be the first in a network of new data centres planned by DCE and will be a major boost to Titanic Quarter’s Phase II financial services centre.
The £80M project will provide data storage services for a range of high street banks, blue-chip financial services firms, media companies, software providers and Internet businesses.
The hard work and regeneration of the Titanic Quarter was recognised last year at the Belfast Business Awards, when the Queen’s Island site received an award for Best Regeneration Project.