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Titanic Belfast, Northern Ireland

Issue 67 Jun / Jul 2012 : Retail : Museum

Opened in time for the centenary of the launch of the ill-fated cruise liner, Titanic Belfast is a mammoth building with a bold, low level lighting scheme by Sutton Vane Associates. mondo*arc takes you on a guided tour.

All pics: James Newton

The story of Titanic Belfast is almost as epic as the tale of RMS Titanic itself. Having been unsuccessful in its bid for National Lottery Funding, Concept Design Architects CivicArts / Eric R. Kuhne & Associates’ landmark scheme for redeveloping the historic shipyards has stayed resolutely afloat thanks to the steadfast enthusiasm of developers and regional government.

Belfast City Council underlined local confidence in the regenerative powers of the Titanic Signature Project (as it was first known) in late 2008, with their unanimous vote to grant the scheme planning consent. On the 27th November 2008, First Minister Peter Robinson announced that the Northern Ireland Government had approved a £43.5 million funding package towards the £97 million development, to which the City Council added its own £10 million contribution.

With Todd Architects acting as lead consultants, developers Harcourt Construction began work in 2009 with the stated aim of opening the main attraction in time for the centenary of Titanic’s maiden voyage in April 2012. Predicted to attract up to 400,000 visitors each year, Titanic Belfast is firmly on course to become the principal leisure catalyst for the city’s new Titanic Quarter.

The building’s form conjures up a mass of maritime metaphors; its four projecting segments are instantly evocative of ships’ prows ploughing their way through the North Atlantic swell. Almost the entire façade is clad in faceted, three-dimensional plates in a pattern recalling of the construction methods of the great ocean liners.

Internally, the project provides over 12,000 sqm of floor space across five levels whose combined height is equivalent to a ten-storey building. These generous ceiling heights allow for suitably large-scale exhibits, the lower levels being controlled environments in which to create atmospheric installations evocative of heavy industry or the depths of a ship’s hull. This ‘Titanic Experience’ is designed by exhibition designers, Event, whose previous work includes the award-winning Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham and Imperial War Museum North in Manchester. CivicArts worked closely with Event to develop internal layouts and circulation patterns that would maximise the available exhibition space, dividing it into a logical sequence of ‘episodes’ within Titanic’s story. CivicArts’ concept design for the lofty central atrium deliberately evokes the towering forms and jagged, jostling angles of an early 20th century shipyard, creating a dynamic introduction to Event’s displays.

Sutton Vane Associates (SVA) was commissioned by Harcourt Construction to provide lighting designs for all public assessable spaces within and around Titanic Belfast following two separate tenders for the interior and exterior of the building. This included the main atrium, circulation spaces, banqueting and pre-function spaces, permanent exhibition spaces, the temporary gallery, the lifts, restrooms, external plaza and the building façades.

Michael Grubb, who was the project leader for SVA, comments: “The centenary of the launch of the Titanic meant that there was an immovable deadline for its completion. It was therefore essential to develop a lighting strategy for the whole building that would guide decisions throughout the design process.”

A set of general lighting principles was agreed to ensure that the lighting was coordinated both in terms of aesthetics and of lighting technologies. These were to:
• create atmosphere;
• reflect and support the narrative of the Titanic story;
• help develop a sense of identity for the building and its surrounding spaces;
•  be energy-efficient, sustainable and easy to maintain.

“Titanic Belfast offers incredible visual appeal and is already a hugely iconic piece of architecture for Belfast by day and by night,” Grubb continues. “A theatrical use of light and shadows and colour temperature emphasises the form and materials of the building.”

The lighting entices visitors through the building; it is playful and purposeful to ensure that there is always a direct link between the lit environment and the narrative of the Titanic story. Low levels of lighting and variations in colour temperature are used to vary the atmosphere and alter the visitors’ experience of feel and environment. For example, the basement levels are lit with cold white light while banqueting at the top is warmer and more welcoming.

The building’s glazed areas provide varying amounts of daylight supported by artificial lighting to create a sophisticated environment that allows clear vistas through the building and aids orientation. The building is transformed after dusk when the atrium and internal spaces rely solely on artificial light, with lit scenes that have been programmed to create the feeling of an active environment. The wide use of LED together with metal halide and fluorescent lamp types ensure that maintenance is reduced to a minimum.

The luminaires within the atrium, café, retail and the banqueting suite, where possible, are incorporated within the building fabric. Luminaires within the exhibition spaces were less problematic due to the black box environment that they inhabit but even so all luminaires are hidden among the structural beams at high level. The lighting is divided into zones (Galleries, Atrium and Circulations spaces, etc) with centralised control and additional local control in the Banqueting and Pre-Function spaces.

The journey through the Titanic building involves a number of key stages, each of which required specific methods of lighting to create the appropriate environment for the visitor. Lighting is used to create a consistent experience, which joins up all of these spaces, though each space always maintains its own unique feel. In addition to supporting the narrative of the exhibition, the lighting is designed to create a sense of arrival, anticipation and excitement and supports the wayfinding strategy developed by interior design consultant Kay Elliot.

Basement Levels -1 & -2
For most visitors, the basement foyers are the beginning of the journey into the building. The two main challenges were that the lighting within the car park is purely functional and flooding the space with light would have done little to create the feeling of intrigue and anticipation needed for the beginning of the journey up to the atrium. To make the entrance more enticing, light levels are slightly subdued to give the feeling that the visitor is at the very bottom of the ship. Light from the escalators above spills down into the space and the large graphic panels are lit by luminaires at high level. Lighting is incorporated within and around the ceiling details of Basement Level -1, hidden around the perimeter of the suspended wooden panels. This ambient light adds depth and form to the ceiling area helping provide a sense of arrival.

The Atrium is dramatically lit, drawing on the language of the shipyard. The scale of the building is emphasised to create a slightly intimidating and imposing feel at ground floor level, achieved by lighting the outer wall surfaces without lighting the structural supports and the underside of the escalators and walkways. The escalators are unlit, with only a small amount of light at each end of the travelator for safety purposes, to create a sense of intrigue and adventure for visitors as they pass through the building.

The ground floor uses low levels of reflected light with only a small amount of directional downlight for the bronze central ‘compass rose’ motif. Daylight creates clear vistas through the building and a connection with the natural surrounding environment. In general, light levels are below CIBSE lighting guides but this is considered to be both appropriate and helpful to prepare visitors for the darker environment within the exhibition spaces. In addition, dimming and subtle movement of light helps animate the space in a controlled and subtle way. This need to create dramatic lighting without compromising safety was built into the lighting strategy from the start. The general lighting approach for the ticketing and the retail spaces is for light to filter through the various ceiling slots and ‘rivet’ holes. This ambient light is sufficient for visitors to circulate through the space but also gives the area identity. XAL Frame 25 recessed linear LEDs create Morse Code dot/dash effects in the ceiling and over 100 Precision Lighting Evo 20 LED spotlights (with 4000K CREE LEDs) are used for circulation spaces and lighting graphic information.

The Atrium: Feature Wall
The Feature Wall is the largest and most dramatic feature within the Atrium. Rather than washing the wall with light, Mike Stoane Surf Type X (DMX) spotlights are discreetly located within the structure, with dimming up and down at various rates used to create the illusion of searchlights motioning along the wall and creating a dynamic effect that highlights both the form and the material of the wall.

Level 2
Consisting of two adjacent areas (Community and Education) with separate uses, each space is required to be flexible and functional, requiring ambient ‘working’ light with fully dimmable suspended fluorescent lamps. The Temporary Exhibition Space has linear track each side of the steel beam supports so that all areas of the gallery can be lit from more than one location.

Level 3
The Senior Officers’ Suite located within Level 3 consists of office accommodation, a meeting space and a small kitchen facility. Meeting Room task lighting is provided by a linear suspended pendant directly above the main meeting tables and there are additional wall mounted uplights on the walls. Fluorescent lighting provides general lighting for the kitchen.

LevelS 5 & 6
These levels are reserved for the Banqueting and Pre-Function spaces. The prestigious Banqueting Suite sits within a large double height space with décor that is sophisticated and contemporary while maintaining the ‘spirit’ of the First Class Dining Saloon aboard the Titanic. The large (4500mm diameter) domed recesses within the ceiling house large contemporary lit sculptures on the theme of the traditional chandelier.

Additional lighting hidden around the inner circumference of the dome creates a ‘Turrell’ lighting effect from within. Whilst normally warm white for every day use, 700m of RGB cold cathode from Belfast-based AM Light is incorporated within the decorative ceiling to ensure that all future events within the space can be branded as needed. Remote Control Lighting DR7 narrow beam spotlights (4 degree) precisely highlight the centre of each banqueting table. This was needed as it would be impossible to focus lighting once a function layout had taken place. 246 Concord Torus recessed spotlights and 159 Concord Myriad V 50 recessed downlights are also used in the Banqueting space.

Lighting around the perimeter walkways on Level 6 was needed for catering/waiters, however Sutton Vane Associates did not want this to impede views out across the city. SVA worked closely with Precision Lighting to develop 45 bespoke machined aluminium 140mm cylindrical fixed wall mounted downlights to ensure glare could be minimised. Daylight was maximised for day events with artificial light subtly layered where needed. Ecosense Linear LEDs illuminate the drapes.

The two Pre-Function spaces (Britannic and Olympic suites) are used for assembly, pre-dinner drinks, canapés, smaller meetings and conferences. They are lit purely with warm white light, including the decorative ceilings that incorporate 3000K cold cathode, again from AM Light who supplied 400 metres of warm white cold cathode to the suites. Recessed spotlights sit directly above the bar area using ‘dark light’ optics to ensure glare is kept to an absolute minimum.

The Exhibition
In general, a simple ‘white light’ scheme has been adopted throughout all of the gallery spaces. A variety of lighting techniques were used in each of the zones including lighting tabletop display cases with linear LEDs, integrating miniature LED spotlights (Precision Lighting Pico 1) inside showcases at high and low level and the use of fibre optics in wall-recessed display cases. The dimming of the track-mounted spotlights is determined by the brightness of the AV. Adjustable track mounted spotlights are also fitted within the structural ceiling beams. Sutton Vane Associates used spotlights housing tungsten halogen AR111 lamps chosen for their extremely narrow beam optics and excellent colour consistency. The majority of spotlights used are Light Projects’ Toucan 2 (444 fixtures in total). A track lighting system was implemented to allow for LED replacements in the future. All the luminaires are dimmed to help maximise lamp life

Gallery 1: The Arrol Gantry
The Arrol Gantry is a transitional space that links the ‘calmer’ environment of the Harland & Wolff drawing office with the ‘hustle and bustle’ located within the Shipyard (the Dark Ride). The proposal was to create the look and feel of a worker arriving at the shipyard first thing in the morning. The lighting is dramatic and theatrical with a theatrical hazer (Martin Jem K) installed at low level and a single 150W ETC Source Four projector hidden at high level (on Level 4) that creates the effect of early morning sunshine through mist and emphases the industrial nature of the tall and intimidating gantry rising up above. Matt black walls absorb any light spill and provide a black backdrop like a theatrical set. SVA also liaised with the lift designers and suppliers to ensure that spill was minimalised from within the carriages and that general levels were as low as safety would allow. The illumination of the graphics also creates ambient light. Floor-mounted objects (chains, timber blocks, steel plates) are lit by spotlights attached to the outer section of the Gantry. At high level, the lighting has more of an industrial feel with luminaires bolted to the gantry structure. The challenge was to keep light away from the projector screen to avoid bleaching it out and illuminate the graphics around the perimeter while providing a safe level of reflected light.
Gallery 2: The Dark Ride
Visitors experience the sights, sounds and smells of working life within the Shipyard as they move through the Arrol Gantry and join the queue line for the Dark Ride. It was important that the sense of anticipation created is maintained while visitors are standing in the queue. Low levels of light repeat the ambience that was created by the Gantry experience.

Sutton Vane Associates and Mike Stoane Lighting developed a DMX-controlled track mounted LED lighting system specially for the project that allows each spotlight to be individually pointed and controlled, based on a combination of Mike Stoane MN7, Surf Type N, Type S and Type X spotlights. The lighting is activated via AV show control (iDrive Quad by IST integrated System Technologies) determined by the exact position of the cars that move at a constant speed without stopping at all times. Each car has a scissor lower / raising mechanism to allow for the full double height space to be utilised. The cars also turn through 360 degrees so that it could be directed to each scene. Passengers can see the car in front and behind.

It was therefore imperative the lighting created drama without compromising the experience for others. A range of ‘tricks’ were used to keep eyes focused away from other scenes. Where this could not be achieved lighting was configured in such a way to be ambiguous enough so as not to ruin any effect for the next car of visitors. The ride involves ten scenes along with the loading and unloading areas. A mixture of 3000K and 4000K is used, depending on the scene and the story being told. Colour RGB spotlights add red / orange / yellow effects to areas where heat was evident, such as in the metal-bending workshop. Unusually, lighting was focused to deliberately cast shadows across various exhibits to reinforce the feeling of being within the industrial site.

Gallery 3: The Launch
The view out of the large window alternates between the slips as they are now and as they were in 1911 using an intelligent glazing system that cleverly switches a simple line graphic applied to the window from translucent to opaque.
Gallery 4: The Fit-out
Gallery 4 explores the work on Titanic after her launch, divided into ‘hard’ engineering and ‘soft’ fit-out. The gallery communicates the scale and complexity of the hard engineering work, and the intricacy and craftsmanship of the fit-out and includes replica lighting in the historic interiors.

Gallery 5: Maiden Voyage
Gallery 5 takes visitors from Titanic’s sea trials and her departure from Belfast, through the different ports of call of her maiden voyage - Southampton, Cherbourg and Queenstown - ending with the last view of her sailing westwards towards New York.  It contains a great deal of natural light but, in addition, the wall graphics are lit from high level spotlights (warm 3000K) with a subtle glow placed around the central exhibits at floor level. This simple approach is warm and welcoming, in stark contrast to Gallery 6 that follows.

Gallery 6: The Sinking
This explores the sinking of Titanic and the immediate aftermath, how the news reached the outside world, the experiences of survivors and dealing with, and memorialising, the dead. A cold white / ice blue ambience continues throughout the space intensifying as the story unfolds. The walls are angled and the lighting is low. Lighting within the main section of the gallery comes from AV monitors and specially designed light boxes. SVA created chilling, three-dimensional water effects using gobos under DMX control with Rosco X24 long-life high-intensity medical grade metal halide sources. The Marconi Messages wall has LEDs discreetly incorporated within the structure displaying Morse code. A Universal Fibre Optics Starcloth was used above the projection.

Gallery 7: Aftermath
Aftermath explores the impact of the loss of Titanic in the years immediately after 1912. Clean and simple 3000K lighting with track-mounted spotlights provides a soft ambience and supports the AV projections within the space.

Gallery 8
This takes visitors into the realm of myth and legend that surrounds Titanic. The small space has a contemporary and bold feel that highlights the structural beams and provides a visual indication of what is awaiting within Gallery 9.

Gallery 9: Immersive Theatre
The Immersive Theatre represents the culmination of the visitor experience covering three levels and incorporating high definition footage of the Titanic wreck. Lighting within this space is bold and theatrical without compromising the footage displayed. All surfaces are lit in blues and greens with a combination of colour changing floodlights and gobo projectors creating the sensation of being deep within the ocean. Rosco X24 gobo projectors with motion wheels create moving water and ripples effects on the ceiling to recreate the surface of the ocean. Track lighting above the seating can be raised for events such as seminars and there is acdc Ultra linear LED lighting under the seats and under steps to help visitors navigate.

Titanic Belfast is destined to become an iconic piece of architecture both within the city of Belfast and internationally. The visitor experience begins outside the building in the plaza where there are no lighting columns and no direct lighting on the ground, as part of the lighting strategy. The space is welcoming and safe, bathed in light reflected off the façade using individually focused, recessed uplights. These pick out individual elements of the façade rather than delivering a blanket, even light by using a mix of narrow and wide beams and wattages from 70W to 150W to reveal its texture.

The use of colour temperature also extends to the exterior with cool whites above and warmer whites at the base of the building provided by iGuzzini in-ground Linealuce fluorescents and through the use of shadow with Louis Poulsen IPR12 ground-recessed uplights. Lighting the vertical surfaces rather than the ground also helps create atmospheric reflections in the plaza’s water pool. Careful focusing has also ensured that there is no light pollution or energy wasted despite the façade being lit from below.

Public Realm
The polar lines that cut through the plaza chase through the space animating the exterior while providing a clear visual link to the building itself. Ambient light is created by lighting surrounding features, such as trees, structures and special features. Lighting is incorporated within the hard landscape features to create a clutter free environment both by day and by night.The journey line showing the route of the Titanic on the map of the world on the ground is described using Crescent CLF2210 one-dot LEDs.

Sutton Vane Associates’ lighting concept and the final results are remarkably similar thanks to a well thought through and applied lighting strategy for the whole project which meant that the theme and the end-result was always kept in focus even though there were inevitable adjustments along the way.

Grubb is delighted with results: “This has been a great project and two things in particular have worked in our favour. First we were able to define a strategy for the whole project that everyone could refer back to. That meant that we stuck to key ideas like the unusually low lighting levels in some areas and the narrative use of colour temperature throughout the project, so the end result was was what everyone wanted. The other good thing was that this included both the interior and exterior lighting although they were subjects of separate tenders. That made it so much easier to make the visitor experience start as people see the building.”


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