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THE WATERFRONT HALL is one of the architectural icons along Lagan River in Belfast, just besides Hilton Hotel and few meters away from the central train station and St Georges Market (3rd best food market in the UK). It is an entertainment and cultural venue for the past ten years, and it has been visited by prominent people from around the world, including Prince Charles who inaugurated the building in January 1997.
One of the magazines published by the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau describes the Waterfront Hall as one of the ''must-see city attractions''. This ''contemporary theatrical venue'' dominates the Lagan skyline with its distinctive bronze dome. This 2,000-seater venue has a ''superbly designed'' concert hall and it is also considered as an ''expression of Belfasts confidence'' as a modern European city and it portrays the ''dramatic regeneration'' or redevelopment of the Laganside.
My first visit to the Hall was early last year when one of my colleagues invited me to join him as a guest companion in a one-day conference in Civil Engineering. It was an interesting event since the topic focused on conservation and renewal energy for buildings. The seminar was held in one of the small theatres at the second floor (right wing). As far I could remember the theatre has the state-of-the-art facilities, including comfortable seats, good sound-proofed walls, and well-lighted area.
Then my next visit was part of the 44th Belfast Festival (at Queens University) annual celebration, a 15-pound concert of Jose Cura a tenor/conductor. The concert was one of the highlights of the festival and also in the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Ulster Orchestra. The concert was held in the main auditorium the central entertainment area of the Hall with more than 2,000 seats, including a range of modern equipment for sound, lighting and special visual effects. I was not seated in front of the stage, but I had a good view of the member of the Orchestra and the performer at the choir area (Block W), just few meters below where I was seated. I also had a good perspective of the entire auditorium as well from the arena block areas to upper levels (terraces). It was a fine performance, however, there was a little problem with the microphone while the performer engaged himself with the audience which I could not hear clearly what he was saying.
In my recent visit to the entertainment Hall was a surprise. My friends invited me to attend the 10th year Anniversary Gala concert an aid event for Marie Curie Care. Without any hesitation, I agreed to join them since the program will be an evening of entertainment, including the performance of Shane Ward and Ray Quinn (X-factor winners), Riverdance, and other local singers. Not to be late in the occasion, my friends and I decided to be there early, an hour before the show - this gave us the opportunity to look at the interiors of the hall. We proceeded to the Ticket Office and collected our free tickets since my friends told me that they got it thru a radio promo contest. The ticket is 32.50 pounds for the seats we got at Arena Block B less than 3 meters away from the stage. While waiting, we went to the second level where a bar/restaurant is located and we had a glass of Guinness. The area is very cosy with a friendly environment, with clear glass wall at one side fronting the River Lagan. We heard the last minute call for the show to start and we headed to the toilets before we went to the main auditorium. The toilets location is quite accessible in every level of the auditorium especially at the floor level which is only besides the auditoriums entrance doors in both wings of the hall. The program lasted for two hours and there was a 20 minutes interval.
Not to feel idle or bored during the interval, I told my friends that I will do a quick tour of the hall while they having another sip of Guinness at the same restaurant that we had prior the show. I started at the halls shop where assorted greeting cards, books, jewelleries, collectables and other gift items could be found at reasonable prices. From there, I walked towards the third level where there is another restaurant, quite similar to the previous restaurant. But the difference is that the set-up is much of a pub with rounded table with high chairs with much a bigger space, overlooking the entire stretch of the River Lagan. I did some photographs with no flash to prevent the camera flash to bounces back from the glass wall and create a blurry image. I also found out that the Hall is also the venue for various photo exhibits as displayed in the second and third levels.
During the program, I observed that the management is not really strict in using cameras and mobile phones inside the auditorium. Surprisingly, I was able to record the initial part of the program, especially the Riverdance performances. There were members of the halls staff in black uniforms approached some guests (including myself) not to use the camera with flash on. Anyway, my friends and I were perfectly satisfied with the program and it was announced at the end that the event will be aired on TV (the following week) which I had a chance to watch it again (with some parts were already edited) and saw myself seated while holding a camera!
Parking is not a problem in the area but a little bit expensive. Patrons can either use the Hilton Hotel or Lanyon Place multi-storey parking areas at the normal rate of 5 pounds. Otherwise, you can come early between 530pm and 7pm and pre-pay just 4 pounds. It is free parking if you want to visit the Ticket Box office within 15 minutes duration. It is a 10- minute walk from the City Hall and 5-minute walk from the central train station. The surrounding areas of Waterfront are popular for people who want to enjoy the quietness of the River Lagan, away from the busy city centre.
The modern architectural design of the whole structure/facade is made of clear thick glass, and steel frames which provide an excellent lighting effect in the exteriors of the Hall. Standing outside near the Lagan River, people who are having good drinks in the restaurants could be seen, and vice-versa for patrons could have a clearer perspective of the Laganside area, including the Titanic Quarter. The frontage area of the Hall is spacious with areas where people could sit down and relax or even to smoke (smoking inside public buildings are banned in Northern Ireland since last month) while waiting for the programme to start.
The venue has also a good access service particularly for disability individuals and because of this, it received recognitions for customer service from the Employers Federation on Disability and the O2 Ability Awards. Its membership to the Northern Ireland Arts and Disability Equality Charter is on-process which in the long term responsibility the Hall is committed to provide good physical access to the community, including policies, practices and relationships will be evaluated.
FINALLY FOR THE RECORD, for the past 10 years the Waterfront has staged 3291 performances including 1080 conferences and meetings, and sold over 3 million tickets with over 4.5 million visitors. Summary: One of the architectural icons in Belfast, showcasing various cultural and arts events