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A NEW SHAPE HAS APPEARED ON THE CITY CENTRE'S NORTHERN SKYLINE - It's Manchester's new and controversial Urbis Centre, the museum of the modern city. Today Thursday 11 March 2002 I had the privilege of attending the media preview of the Urbis Centre, organised by Manchester PR company Spin Media. The Urbis Centre is scheduled to open on 27 June 2002. Pictures taken today and in recent months give an impression of the exciting things to come.

THE URBIS CENTRE has transformed the view of the city centre from Cheetham - The north western corner of the city centre was up till recently one of the most run-down parts of Manchester. In this photograph, taken from just above Red Bank, off Cheetham Hill Road, we are looking into the city centre over the still grimy roof of Victoria Station - The bridge carrying Cheetham Hill Road can be seen in the centre. The main landmarks are from left to right - The Arndale Centre tower and below it, the rear facade of the former Co-op Society headquarters. Next is the Urbis Centre, Victoria Station and rising above it, the tower of the Royal Exchange. The other building with a sloping roof, seen in the centre of the photo is No1 Deansgate, like the Urbis Centre designed by Manchester-based celebrity architect Ian Simpson. The tower of the Cathedral is next, with the Ramada Hotel just to its right. On the far right, rising up above the MEN Arena car park is Highland House, now a hotel and apartments.

EWM says: One hundred years ago this district - Red Bank and the area round Victoria Station - was at the heart of Manchester's industrial development - there were two main railway stations, steam engines and factories all around poured smoke into the atmosphere, offices, warehouses, breweries, commercial buildings provided employment for thousands of people, many of whom lived, worked, played and died here too: There were schools, workhouses, churches, some now gone, cemeteries and burial grounds. Red Bank had some of Manchester's most notorious slum dwellings - demolished in the 1930's. A century later, The Urbis Centre, the Museum of the modern city, will describe and elucidate what happened here and in other cities around the world. This is indeed a fitting location for a museum of this type.

THE URBIS CENTRE SEEN FROM THE END OF CORPORATION STREET, rises up behind a surviving Victorian building. To the right is another building with a sloping roof, No1 Deansgate, also designed by Ian Simpson Architects. On the right is Victoria Station.

This is one of the oldest districts of Manchester, now renamed and rebranded as the Millennium Quarter, with the Urbis Centre close to its heart.

EWM says: Visible from all around this formerly neglected city quarter, the Urbis Centre will, I'm sure, draw in new visitors, investment and regeneration.

THE URBIS CENTRE east facade is a sheer wall of glass rising up along Corporation Street, like the hull of a ship. The contrast with the neighbouring Victorian building - as yet unrenovated - couldn't be more striking.

EWM says: Like it or loathe it, the face of Manchester today is a bold - some would say crass - juxtaposition of old and new. But what could you have put here instead? Better to have the Urbis Centre at the heart of the city - an extra reason for people to visit - than located further out.

THE URBIS CENTRE is one of the first things you see as you emerge from Victoria Station. The Lancaster Arcade stood here up till the 1960's, along with several other buildings which have been demolished. For many years, the site served as a car park until work started on construction of the Urbis Centre a couple of years ago.

Here we see the futuristic Urbis Centre as seen from underneath the ornate canopy of Victoria Station.

EWM says: Victoria Station was the gateway to Manchester for immigrants from Ireland and America to the west and central Europe via Hull to the east. It's fitting that the new museum, which has an area named "Arrival" is the first thing to greet present day train and tram travellers, though today few of them are arriving from overseas.

THE URBIS CENTRE is located on a former car park next to Chetham's School. It has the apperaance of a glass wedge pointing towards the centre of the city, in particular to the Arndale Centre office block. Next to Urbis is a new city centre park which leads down to the nearby Cathedral and River Irwell.

Here we see Urbis as it looked in January 2002 - construction workers are using an access platform to make adjustments to the glass exterior.

EWM says: The new park is a welcome addition, particularly as in other parts of the city ctnre, former green spaces are being built on.

URBIS STANDS CHEEK BY JOWL with a variety of older buildings all situated within the recently-named Millennium Quarter. On the left is the curved northern end of the Urbis Centre, and on the right, the facade of Chetham's School. This building was previously the home of Manchester Grammar School which in the 1930's moved to the present site in Fallowfield.

Sandwiched in between new and old facades is the tower of Manchester Cathedral, which dates from medieval times, though what we see today is largely the work of the Victorians.

EWM says: People have criticised the decision to place a glass-walled building of the future next to the brick and stone facades of the past. However I would ask: What would you have put here instead? A pastiche of an older style? Or perhaps left it as a car park? Manchester is a city scarred by wartime bombing, and often mediocre post-war development. There are many gaps, and how do you fill them? In my opinion it's better to build something striking and unique like this - No building was demolished to make way for the Urbis Centre. When people have experienced the museum of the future, they can walk a few steps to visit the buildings of the past.

THE URBIS CENTRE stands next to Victoria Station. We are outside the Urbis centre - The present station building is one of the last major railway termini of Manchester's Victorian period, and was built above and across the River Irk, burying whole buildings and streets which, I'm told, are still there.

EWM says: This is one of the oldest parts of Manchester and if you concentrate your attention on the facade, shutting out the present, you can imagine the sounds of Victorian times - steam trains and whistles, hoofs on cobble stones, the cry of a newspaper vendor.

Turn through 180 degrees and in a second you have travelled from the late Victorian era to the 21st century.

THE URBIS CENTRE ROOF is a point of interest in itself, and looks like the set of a science fiction film.

Roofs of modern buildings are not usually visibible from street level - This one is an essential element of the design. The ridge running up the centre is an extended skylight.

We can also see the double exterior glass skin which runs right the way round the building.

EWM says: Whilst the nearby Victoria Station was originally a terminus for steam trains, the Urbis Centre looks like a departure point for space ships - what a wonderful juxtaposition.

WE NOW ENTER THE URBIS CENTRE and see how Victoria Station looks when viewed through the Urbis Centre's glass skin. Go to the next page.

All photos and articles ©Aidan O'Rourke

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