Two huge yellow gantry cranes dominate the Belfast skyline.These imposing structures,known as Samson and Goliath,stand 106 and 96 metres tall and are scheduled as historic monuments under Article 3 of the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The yellow giants bearing the Harland and Wolff initials,rise above the city in testament to the fact that Belfast was,in the early 20th Century,the largest shipbuilding centre in the world.Employing up to 35,000 people, the Harland & Wolff yard on the River Lagan has been called the ‘Cape Canaveral of its time’,such were the creative feats of engineering carried out here in the construction of iron-hulled boats. Harland & Wolff enjoyed a reputation for having built some of the world’s finest ships,including ocean-going liners,cruisers, aircraft carriers and oil tankers. The list of ships is impressive and includes many well-known names – Titanic, Caledonia, HMS Belfast,(now a museum and moored on the River Thames in London, England) and the P&O Lines Canberra.
As the centenary of the launch and loss of the Titanic approaches,Belfast is to celebrate that long tradition of ship building excellence and to commemorate the Titanic with the opening of the Titanic Belfast building at the end of March 2012.
Located in the dry dock area next to Samson and Goliath, the Titanic Belfast building is a fabulous and dramatic structure. The building resembles 4 hulls of massive ships set around a glass atrium, each of which is clad with thousands of shimmering aluminium plates,resembling water and ice. From above the structure is reminiscent of the emblem of the White Star Line. The White Star Line and Harland & Wolff had a long-standing commercial arrangement, which resulted in some 70 White Star Line ships coming down the slipway in Belfast. All White Star Line ships had names ending in ‘-ic’ – Titanic, Britannic, Olympic, etc. It is reckoned that the White Star Line may have carried an astonishing 2 million emigrants from Europe to the United States and Canada.
This imposing 10 storey structure will house interactive exhibitions on the Belfast ship building heyday, the construction and luxurious fit-out of the Titanic,her ill-fated maiden voyage, and the discovery of the wreck on the sea bed some 25 years ago.
Titanic Belfast is a fitting tribute to some of the most innovative and complex engineering projects ever undertaken – A world-class visitor attraction, it will attract tens of thousands to the birthplace of some of the largest and most luxurious man-made objects ever built.
I can’t wait to see it !
Harland & Wolff