Where once we built ships we can now build a future
With just 24 hours to go until it opens Titanic Belfast symbolises the grand old liner's return to her birthplace, says Pat Doherty
Throughout my life in construction and development, I have followed the mantra that 'Buildings speak for themselves'. I have said it so often I thought I invented it.
Years later, I discovered that it was the renowned American architect Julia Morgan who first said: "Architecture is like a visual art and the buildings will speak for themselves."
Titanic Belfast is a building that will speak for itself - not only for this generation, but for future generations, too.
Tomorrow Belfast takes ownership of a building, which says as much about its future as the building of the City Hall said about the city's arrival as a capital of industry.
Titanic Belfast is the culmination of the vision and collective efforts of many people. It represents the best of what can be achieved when we work together.
It also represents the true impact of political will, such as that expressed by the Office of First and deputy Minister, the entire Executive and Belfast City Council.
Titanic Belfast is a truly stunning building, joining a select elite of projects in terms of its concept, design and realisation. Eric Kuhne, concept designer from Civic Arts and the Belfast-based architects Todds, can be jointly - and justly - proud of their ingenuity, effort and execution of this project.
Bilbao may have the Guggenheim, but Belfast now has Titanic, put succinctly by one headline: 'Titanic has at last sailed home.'
As someone who has spent a lifetime in construction, I can appreciate craftsmanship. One only has to look at the detail in the magnificent stairway, recreated by Oldtown Joinery, a family firm from Bellaghy, to get a real sense of the excellence that exists in Irish craftsmanship.
Indeed, it reminded me of an old guide called Workshop Receipts, which issued advice to apprentice joiners and brickies. One such nugget was 'The novice would do well to remember that it is the individual skill of the workman in performing many apparently simple operations which renders those operations successful, and that this skill is only obtained from long practice or natural ability.'
I hope that, as people walk through Titanic Belfast, both from within and without, they appreciate the craftsmanship and skills of the many tradesmen and professionals who, by their collective abilities and skills, rendered this operation so successful.
Titanic Belfast is all about renewal. It's also about recapturing the ambition of those who built ships like RMS Titanic.
As a grandparent I cannot help but feel that Titanic Belfast is for and about the aspirations of our children and grandchildren.
The landscape of Belfast is changing and the city, through its array of beautiful architecture both old and new, stands on the cusp of a new era.
Titanic Quarter, where once the proud boast was that we built ships, we now build communities. Communities built on shared space, where young people are educated together at places like the new Metropolitan College, where people live together at the Arc, work together at the Science Park and, of course, where people play together at the Odyssey and now Titanic Belfast.
My decision to invest in Belfast was originally based on my belief that Belfast had a future and that its people were ready to reach beyond the walls that hemmed them in.
I also believed Belfast was a place to do business. I am more committed to that now than back then.
Titanic Belfast is something shaped by the desire of Belfast to regain its place in the world. Like Churchill, I also believe that we shape buildings, but thereafter our buildings shape us.
As the world starts to take notice of Belfast in 2012, I hope that buildings such as Titanic Belfast will tell them that Belfast is at the cutting-edge of design, technology and creativity and that its people are brimming with the ambition to take on the world. After all, buildings don't really speak.