Eric Kuhne’s design for the Titanic Belfast rises to the height of the deck of the long sunk ship and, inside, there is the grand first class staircase immortalized in James Cameron’s movie. Installing a ‘piece’ of the ship seems an obvious move. But it was no such thing, writes Eleanor Young.
Mark Muir was the man who proposed that a replica-like Titanic’s staircase could be made for the building. As project director for interior architects Kay Elliott, Muir’s role of interrogating the design showed that the banqueting suite at the top was not really working. The staircase was brought in as a focal point, a stage and a VIP route.
It was not simple. There were no drawings of the historic staircase and current accessibility and health and safety standards still had to be satisfied (yes the handrails are entirely modern). Not only that but the construction had to be millimeter-right so it fitted perfectly when craned in. 10,000 individual parts make up the staircase which weighs nearly four tonnes.
One team of conservation architects delved into the designs of Titanic’s sister ship while another team closely modeled the design on Revit. The County Londonderry joiners built the whole thing in red oak, which seemed to the original intent – although a search for the original timber dockets proved fruitless. To get the real feel of the original staircase near replicas of a cherub, pineapple pillars and the original ships clock were added.
The role of interior architects can easily be overlooked, but Torquay-based Kay Elliott brought together the competing concept of an arts building and the demand for a major international attraction on this £73 million building. They also attempted to pull it out towards the city, breaking with the conventions of black box attractions that is their bread and butter (recent projects include Madame Tussauds Hollywood and London Aquarium). Muir enjoyed getting close to the Titanic as built in the city and working up the language of the architecture with its feature walls of metal panels. And that close attention to the ship’s archives paid off with the staircase. Despite the maudlin nature of the subject the banqueting suite is booked up for weddings and events to 2014.