Thursday, 26 November 2009

Goodbye Urbis?


Urbis is one of Manchester's modern landmarks, the Ian Simpson designed building being seen as many as starting the new 'tradition' of wedge-shaped structures in the city. Recently Urbis has been in the headlines over controversial plans to relocate the National Football Museum from Preston to Manchester and on November 18th the decision was taken to move the museum.

Originally opened in 2002, Urbis has a unique programme of temporary exhibitions that focus on popular culture and the culture of the modern city, essentially it is a place to showcase city life through art, music, photography, fashion and other creative industries that Manchester has become famous for. The National Football Museum could not be more different, a permanent showcase of the 'national game'. The museum already has roots in Manchester as it was designed by local practice OMI architects (opening in 2001).

There have been mixed reactions to news that the museum is to move with Preston councillor Ken Hudson reported to have said that the museum's trustees had "stuck two fingers up" at Preston by agreeing to the move. Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, said that the relocation could help make the museum an "internationally important destination" and attract up to 400,000 visitors a year. The move won't come cheap though with costs expected to reach £8million to relocate the exhibition contents and refurbish Urbis.

Speaking to Chanel M the Chief Executive of Urbis, Vaughn Allen, hinted that the National Football Museum would provide a "long term sustainable future" for Urbis, calling it an "interesting an challenging building" to run in its current guise. He explained that Urbis would close in February/early Spring 2010 and would hopefully open again as the National Football Museum in 201. But what happens to the exhibitions that currently call Urbis home?

As of yet there are no solid plans to find new homes for the 'creative industries' that could be found at Urbis, although preliminary discussions are said to be taking place - there are very few alternatives at present that engage the public with this type of attraction in Manchester. Yes Manchester has a proud ‘footballing’ tradition but it has a resonance with creative industries that could be lost or forced back under ground with out a public face.

The debate will more than likely rumble on right on up to the new museum's opening and beyond so for the final word for now we turn to Phil O’Dwyer, director of OMI Architects, a born and bred 'Manc' who had this to say to the Architect's Journal (before last week’s decision):

"The Urbis building is a great landmark and has contributed to Manchester’s evolving identity. I suspect it is flexible enough to absorb the Football Museum, like it could absorb many other exhibitions with varying degrees of success. But would it engage with this subject to the same extent? Would it have the ingredients that make the difference between a place that has spirit and one that feels soulless and detached from the people that use it? I have my doubts, but that would be the challenge."

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