Stepping through the entrance gates of the old Harland and Wolff drawing offices the new Titanic Belfast building looms impressively above me.
The shiny aluminium shards which clad each of the four 90ft ‘hulls’ of the building glint in the sunlight, and as you walk closer you can see the different shapes which make each of them individual and give the impression of water glistening off the side of a boat as it cuts through the icy North Atlantic sea.
I’ve arrived at Titanic House in the old drawing offices in east Belfast to get a sneak preview of the inside of the city’s newest iconic building.
With six floors, nine exhibition galleries equipped with state-of-the-art technology, and the city’s largest banqueting suite with views overlooking Belfast lough, it is tipped to become Northern Ireland’s must-see tourist attraction when it opens next April in time to mark the centenary of the doomed liner’s sinking.
The building has already become something of a landmark on the city’s skyline, and it is even more impressive up close.
But before I’m allowed inside I have to don the compulsory hard hat, high-visibility jacket and work boots (unfortunately for me they weren’t used to people with small feet being on site and I had to settle for boots two sizes too big).
So, feeling like a child who had put on her dad’s work boots, I set off across the site to get the first glimpse of the interior of the building.
Still very much a building site, we have to step across wires, weave through scaffolding and move out of the way of men carrying materials as we navigate our way around. There are wires sticking out of every wall, exposed bricks and rough concrete walls and floors. In one area there are sparks flying down past the window, men are sanding and painting, and you have to shout to be heard over the almost constant din of banging and scraping.
But despite all that, it’s not difficult to see that it will clearly be an awe-inspiring space when completed.
Every inch of the building has been carefully designed to reflect the famous liner and the shipyard where it was built.
In the atrium the ticket booths will be designed to look like the wooden keel blocks which the Titanic rested on, and one wall stretching the height of the building will be covered in 30ft x 6ft sections of steel to replicate the pieces which made up the side of the ship.
Even its location means visitors can view areas which represent parts of the ship’s history — where it was designed, where it was built, where it was launched and where the workers who built it lived.
Project manager Noel Malloy guides us though the building, bringing the vision to life: “This square cut into the floor will become a replica of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd class carriages,” he says.
“This hole in the side of the building will be fitted with state-of-the-art glass containing electrodes to switch from an image of the Titanic in the Thompson dock to a normal window to view the dock as it is today.
“This empty room will contain a replica of the Arrol Gantry to give the impression of walking through the shipyard.”
And so it goes on. With a budget of over £1m per gallery, each of the nine exhibition spaces will contain cutting edge technology and unique features to rival museums across the globe.
From complex 3D CGI technology found in only two other publicly accessible spaces in the world, to underwater video footage of the Titanic, to interactive exhibitions to trace your family name on the boat, no expense will be spared to tell both the engineering and the human story behind the world’s most famous ship.
And walking back across the sandy site to the office it’s difficult to see anything negative about the building.
If it all goes according to plan there’s little doubt it will be a success, and this time next year Titanic Belfast could be the number one stop on the tourist trail.
There will be nine interpretative and interactive galleries:
1. Boomtown Belfast
2. Arrol Gantry and |Shipyard Ride
3. The Launch
4. The Fit Out
5. The Maiden Voyage
6. The Sinking
7. The Aftermath
8. Myths and Legends
9. Titanic Beneath and Ocean Exploration Centre.
Additional space will have:
- Arts/education facilities
- Gallery for exhibitions, |performances and meetings
- Cafes, restaurants, shops
- Astor banqueting and |conference suite