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Chapple, R. M. 2012 'Titanic Experience Belfast- Review'. Blogspot Post

Chapple, R. M. 2012 'Titanic Experience Belfast- Review'. Blogspot Post

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Published by Robert M Chapple

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Published by: Robert M Chapple on Nov 24, 2012
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12/04/2012

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Titanic Experience Belfast: Review Originally posted online on May 22nd 2012 at rmchapple.blogspot.com(http://rmchapple.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/titanic-experience-belfast-review.html) 
 
One of the things that yo
u’re always told about the act of writing is, before you sit downto do it, know what you’re going to say. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a novel or a
scholarly paper that you are engaged in, this is good advice. Unfortunately, I recentltook this advice a little too far.Let me explain.
Over the last couple of years I’ve seen the construction of the Titanic Experience
 building in Belfast. This ultra-modern structure was designed by  Civic Arts/Eric R.
 
Kuhne & Associates to emulate or recreate four ship's prows. The building itself isfinished in a textured metal skin that is intended to further reinforce the connection tothe original ships built on the site, while simultaneously giving the impression of lightplaying over moving water. At six stories tall, it may not be a massive addition to the
Belfast skyline, but it certainly cuts a dash. From the first time I saw an artist’s
rendering of what it would look like, I have known that I would simply adore this building. As I have seen it rise from the ground, I have become more and more certainin this opinion. However, as I also began to hear reports of what would be inside the building I was filled with a growing sense of dread. First of all, there were to be nooriginal artefacts from the wreck. Nor was there to be a focus on presentingcontemporary or related items. I heard a sound bite on the news from some public
 
relations bod, proudly proclaiming that ‘this isn’t going to be a museum, it’s going
to be
an ‘experience’’ (or words to that effect). For
-crying-out-loud, there were even plans tohave a rollercoaster type ride in this thing! Based on the evidence available to me, I waseasily able to deduce that this was going to be tasteless, exploitative, and of no real worth. Not long after it opened I had a wonderful idea. I would write a review of the
‘experience’ for this blog. I had some pretty firm ideas as to what I was going to say:fantastic building, pity it’s housing such a tawdry display –
that kind of thing. It was notgoing to be an overwhelmingly positive review. With these expectations firmly in mind, I took my two sons (ages 5 and 3) there on a
quiet Thursday afternoon a little while ago. Over the last year in particular, I’ve watchedthis building take shape, and I’ve been entranced –
 
it is just such a thing of beauty. I’ve
seen it from the train, from the windows of the Odyssey complex
;I’ve even seen it
 
(where I’m currently a part
-time
 
student). But I’d not been up close –
it is beautiful - it is inspiring - it is a truly  wonderful piece of modern architec
ture! I know that it’s not to everyone’s taste –
tough
luck! We’re in the 21
st
 
century; we should have buildings that look like they’re from the
21
st
century. It has been my long-held belief that an inability to appreciate modernarchitecture is a failing in any society. This form of aversion to the new and innovativeillustrates an underlying malaise and lack of confidence
 
 but that’s just my opinion!
However bad it was going to be inside, the folks behind this project deserved full praisefor creating a beautiful structure. Once inside the door, I was stopped in my tracks by the beauty and scale of the central atrium of the building
just fantastic! Not muchfurther on I was stopped in my tracks again
this time for a request for over £20 entry fee! The
 y wanted £13.50 for me, £6.75 for one child, but the youngest was free. There’s
no getting around it
this was expensive! With heavy heart, but lighter pockets, we headed up the escalators to the official
entrance of the exhibit. I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence as I saw one person make
their way back out, telling the staff-
member present that she wasn’t interested enough
in it to go forward through the galleries. Once through the doors, I could see why. Theinitial galleries tried to put Belfast into its context as a linen producer and a centre of 
 
shipbuilding. It was … fine … but only that. I’d go as far as to call it ‘OK’ … It was filled
 with lots of the stuff you would expect from this kind of exhibit
reproductions of historic paintings, brief text on the walls, and lots of stuff happening on TV screens. In2012 this is the bog-standard (love it or loathe it) of what one would expect to find inthis ty 
pe of ‘experience’ –
there was nothing here that showed any innovation at all. TheEdwardian-style silhouettes that were projected across various historic photography  were obviously intended to create the illusion of a living, vibrant city, but they (to me atleast) reinforced the artifice and failure of imagination of the whole affair. I was startingto see why that woman may have turned back, bored to desperation at the thought of multiple galleries of this
this looked like it was going to be a long afternoon!But then something changed
I saw a spark of originality that gave me hope. In themiddle of all this was a 3D map of Belfast. By touching panels along the edge variousportions of the map lit up to point out the locations around the city, such as theshipyards and the Harbour Commissioners
office
 
etc
. From there we went into theTitanic Drawing Room. Again, my heart just fell
this was a pokey little space that(even with the attempt to provide an arched ceiling) bore no real relationship to the beautiful, decaying masterpiece of Victoriana that lay just a few hundred yards from where we were standing. And then the floor lit up! The floor and one of the wallssuddenly became an interactive light-show that actually got to the heart of whathappened at the drawing office. Just to pick out a couple of examples: There was afantastic (and surprisingly interesting) piece on the importance of riveting
the voice-over explained about the process, while the floor showed photographs of what they looked like. Then it changed to a game where the children had to jump on the pictures of the right kind of rivets. Other portions showed how the engines worked and how thedraftsmen designed the whole ship. More important than any individual piece, I saw children asking their parents questions about what they were hearing and seeing
 families were interacting not just with the sounds and lights, but with each other.Everyone was learning and everyone was having fun
together. I was deeply impressed with this innovative and skilful melding of computer graphics and an enjoyableeducational atmosphere. My boys were so entranced by it that they had almost to beforcibly removed and promised that further delights awaited!They were not disappointed! The next section took us through a reconstructed portionof the  Arrol Gantry ,a gigantic system of cranes and lifts constructed in 1908, over
 
slipways 2 and 3. It was used in the construction of both Titanic and Olympic and was adominant element on the Belfast skyline until the 1960s. A wire-cage elevator takes youup the equivalent of only one third of the original gantry height, but looking over theedge was more than enough for me! Then we were in for a little walk round to the onepart of the experience I was honestly dreading
 
the ‘ride’. I’ll admit I was quickly 
revising my opinions about the experience, but
seriously 
how good could this be?
 Actually, very good indeed! You get into a guided ‘car’ a
nd are brought through various
phases of the Titanic’s construction, from laying the keel and bending the ribs, through
more riveting and on to launch night. As expected, the children simply adored it. For me
 
and I’ll be honest
- it was immensely cool! Of course, there are other ways of presenting this information, but the ride made you feel that you were actually part of theexperience. In particular, the one part where the car moves through a full-size replica of 

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