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on Saturday, 14 April 2012 in Design

A look at the Titanic


As we celebrate the 100 years centenary of the Titanic, we remember all those who perished and pay tribute to the naval design and manufacturing tradition that once was. Some may reflect on the titanic design today and say yes, this was bad design because it failed, it sank, killing so many. However saying this, its demise in to the deep was caused by human error and bad material selection that was not fit for purpose.

As we’re all aware, the titanic was made in Belfast by the Harland and Wolff’s shipbuilding company. It was originally Lord Pirrie (H&W) and Ismay (White Star Line) who came up with the idea to create three sister ships the Titanic, Olympic and the Gigantic (later to be renamed Britannic).The main purpose of theses huge steamships was to compete and capture the lucrative transatlantic business away from white stars rival, the Cunard. The most famous of the three sisters was the Titanic; she was the largest, and most luxurious ship ever built.



Originally, the design of the titanic and its sister ship’s the Olympic and the Gigantic lay in the hands of Alexander Charlisle the Chief Naval Designer at the time, but when he reportedly fell out with Lord Pirrie over a dispute about the number of lifeboats allocated to the Olympic, he stepped aside. (White star’s Ismay would continue to make the same mistake on the Titanic) Charlisle relative Tomas Andrews was seen as the correct and natural replacement for this job.

Andrews was born in 1873 to a prominent Ulster family, in Comber, County Down not far from Belfast. Having joined Harland and Wolff’s shipyard as a boy of sixteen he quickly worked his way through the ranks from apprentice to Draftsman. Andrews had gained much experience having worked on  “the big four”, The Celtic, Cedric, Baltic and Adriatic. All of which would be a training exercise compared to his next big project. He became the Chief Naval Designer and managing director of the design department at Harland and Wolff, designing, and overseeing the construction of the worlds largest moving object of its day “The Titanic”. He would later go on to play a heroic role on board the doomed ship, by helping people to the lifeboats whilst conceding his faith to the cold Atlantic.



In 1909, Harland and Wolff had to alter their shipyard before construction of the ships got under way. Specially designed gantries and large piers where needed to accommodate the enormous size of the Titanic and the Olympic, as they were being constructed side by side. During this period, Harland and Wolff had a workforce of 15,000 strong of which 3,000 went about to work on the construction of the Titanic. Working conditions were hard, dirty, noisy and dangerous. Men would work on high scaffold all day long with no regards for health and safety. The keel was laid and as ribs of steel began to form the ships hull, she stated to take shape. On April 2, 1912, the Titanic was finally ready for her sea trail.



Its name “Titanic” echoed and reflected its design intent; build solely for unrivalled size; comfort, luxury and safety, it aimed to be the worlds biggest and finest ship that would ever grace the water.Its exterior designs maintained a common design language of graceful and elegant profiles, long hulls and narrow beams. Originally, the Titanic was designed with only three smokestacks funnels. The fourth smokestack funnel was added for aesthetic value to maintain the ships elegant lines. (This would operate solely as an air vent). These smokestacks funnels were all slightly tilting backward, added to the overall aesthetic to perceive the ship as being powerful, fast and graceful.

Size wise she had an overall length of 889 feet 9 inches by breadth of 92 feet. It stood a massive 25 stories high and weighed an incredible tonnage of 46,328 GRT.  As she was a flat-bottomed hull, she wasn’t designed for speed, but when her 29 boilers were fired up, she could reach a top speed of 23 knots. (43km/h). Her Stern and rudder design was a copy of an 18th century sailing ship, which would prove fatal in the end.



She was compared to a floating hotel on the sea; the Titanic had the best amenities that were tailored towards the super rich. It provided a gym, Turkish Baths, squash court, Café Parisien and yes a swimming pool to those who could afford it.Its interior was divides into 11 decks and it had a capacity that could hold 2599 passengers and 903 crewmembers. The passenger decks would reflect the social structure of the day. First class quarters were located near the top, second class below them, and finally the third class was located at the bottom just above the boiler rooms. The top decks were kept open and clear allowing the passengers to promenade freely, so the least amount of lifeboats was aloud to obstruct the view.


Hull design

When titanic became known as the unsinkable ship, it was because White Star was taken out of context when they described the new design of her hulls watertight compartments to the media. The hull was split into 16 compartments that were divided by 15 bulkheads. These bulkheads had a special door that was designed to close automatically if the water levels inside a compartment rose dangerously. It was thought that if the hull got damaged the watertight compartments would keep her afloat. The hull also had a double bottom but this was located well below the waterline.


Design flaws

At 11.40pm on 14th April 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg and the design flaws were exposed to the world, the steel plates combined with failing rivets couldn’t withstand the impact, and as the doubled bottom hull was located below the point of impact it couldn’t offer any protection, allowing the water to enter the vessel. Her safety watertight compartment design was rendered useless because the bulkheads didn’t reach to top deck level, this allowed the water to move freely through the other compartments. With all five compartments filled, the ship could not be saved and Titanic sunk to the bottom of the ocean.


The aftermath

Following the aftermath of the disaster new maritime laws were passed, ordering all vessels to carry the correct amount of lifeboats per passenger. An ice patrol was also formed, to monitor iceberg drift and help guide ships pass dangerous obstacles.




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