Regional accents

Emma O Kelly rounds-up some of the landmark projects that escaped the funding cuts to receive millennium cash and charts the progress of their design

With the Government’s recent decision to siphon off 200m from the Millennium Commission for health and education, many of its projects, including the Millennium Arts Centre in Cardiff and The Deep aqua museum in Hull, are under the axe. Stonehenge, too, has been denied the 22m required to build a visitor centre and millennium park at the site – much to the fury of English Heritage. But with more than 100 projects, following general themes of community, environment, science, technology and learning, there are plenty of opportunities for designers on both small, out-of-town schemes and large urban regeneration projects. And to date, 13 “landmark” projects have been given the go-ahead.

Many of these schemes are at an embryonic stage and, while architects are on board, designers have not yet been appointed. Architects are selected via a competitive interview, and must be in place before a project goes to the Millennium Commission to seek funds. While some projects advertise for designers and architects simultaneously, for many, designers don’t get a look in until a late stage and architects are largely responsible for the scheme. There is also no guarantee under the millennium umbrella that pitches will be paid. Since the nature of such projects involves a pitch at every stage for designers, being appointed at one stage does not guarantee appointment until the project is completed. Here, five national landmark projects are assessed and their design potential examined.

Lowry Centre, Salford Quays

As a complex for the visual and performing arts, the Lowry Centre will consist of a lyric theatre, a smaller flexible theatre and galleries to house the world’s largest collection of works by the famous painter, as well as temporary exhibitions. Architect Michael Wilford & Partners is masterminding these aspects of the scheme, while Land Design has been appointed to design the children’s gallery. After winning a five-way paid pitch, the consultancy plans to emphasise interactivity rather than hi-tech within the gallery. “It will be an open landscape, the idea being that children realise that there is a huge crossover between the arts,” says Peter Higgins, a director at Land Design. Having been appointed at a very early stage in the project, Land has been able to work closely with the architect from the outset, and can ensure that its design will not merely have to fit into a shell that may not be relevant. “We were lucky,” says Higgins, “as many millennium projects do not call in designers early enough.”

Hampden Park Stadium, Glasgow

On a per capita basis, Scotland has received more funding for millennium projects than any other UK region, according to a spokeswoman from the Millennium Commission. And while Hampden Park Stadium is its only landmark project, there are plans for a further 11 projects in the region. Work at the stadium began on site in 1994 and the south and west stands are being refurbished by Edinburgh architect Percy Johnson-Marshall & Partners. Along with the stadium comes a media centre, sports medical research and rehabilitation centre, and the UK’s first Museum of Football. The Scottish Football Association will move from central Glasgow to the stadium, which will also be used to host international matches, rugby and American football. Its project developers are working with the Glasgow 1999 team, and are looking to incorporate Glasgow design groups to come up with new seating and lighting possibilities. Work for designers is going out to tender imminently, so watch this space.

New Technopolis, Norwich

Architect Michael Hopkins & Partners is involved in the construction of this 61m project to position Norwich as the capital of the east. A new square opposite Norwich Cathedral will consist of a horseshoe-shaped building featuring a millennium library, a business and learning centre, a multimedia auditorium and a visitor centre. At this stage, no designers have been appointed, but a Millennium Commission spokeswoman confirms that it will be advertising for a design team to work on the multimedia centre shortly.

Odyssey Project, Belfast

As the largest millennium programme in Northern Ireland, the 90m Odyssey Project received 45m from the Millennium Commission. As well as being a sporting, science and entertainment project, it is seen as a regeneration scheme on the east side of the River Lagan. It will contain Northern Ireland’s first IMAX cinema, a science centre, an indoor arena and pavilion and a retail area with quayside walkways. Work is set to begin on site in spring 1998. To date, a team of design consultants has been led by Belfast architect Consarc Design Group, while Surrey architect Marshall Haines & Barrow is to work on the indoor stadium. The Ulster Museum will operate the science centre, which will be “the Epcot Centre idea taken further”, says a spokeswoman for the museum. At present, five unnamed designers are free-pitching to win the science centre job. With the emphasis on accessibility rather than hi-tech, it will consist of interactive displays where the public can learn about magnets, lasers and computers. Once the designers are on board, the museum estimates that the centre will take two years to complete.

Millennium Point, Birmingham

At 110m, this is one of the most costly of the UK’s landmark projects, for which the Millennium Commission donated its maximum grant of 50m. Located in Digbeth, Birmingham, work began on site in January this year, with Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners appointed as architect. The practice has drawn up masterplans for three elements of the site, one of which is believed to have been approved. The University of the First Age, with a young people’s parliament and hi-tech learning centre, a technology innovation centre and the hub – the point’s social centre with retail outlets and an IMAX cinema – have been in the hands of the architect. However, the discovery centre – which will contain artefacts from Birmingham’s existing Museum of Science and Industry as well as interactive elements – is in the hands of design consultancies. Event Communications supplied initial concepts and, a month ago, Met Studio was appointed after a credentials pitch to develop a masterplan for the centre. “We are currently developing storylines. But simply because we have won this stage, does not mean we will necessarily work on the next stage,” says a Met Studio spokeswoman. Once the consultancies’ plans have been finalised, there will be a pitch for around six design groups to come on board and take the centre’s development further.

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