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Behnisch puts a shine on Bristol's Harbourside Centre


'For us, competitions are our laboratory work, our way of developing ideas,' Stefan Behnisch told a packed house at Bristol's Arnolfini arts centre in a lecture about his designs for the city's £75 million Harbourside Centre last week. He showed pictures of a series of models, culminating in one which shows the concert hall and dance theatre building under its shining, angled roof. This was not the complete solution, but halfway through the design development process, he said. Competition presentations represented 'the age of puberty. It's got a little more grown-up now'.

In fact, as the chairman of the client body Louis Sherwood pointed out, Behnisch Behnisch & Partner was chosen not by competition but competitive interview. 'I'm very glad it wasn't a competition,' said Sherwood. He was also glad that Behnisch had not given them a final design, but a concept (enthusiastically dubbed by Lord Gowrie 'the exploding greenhouse') which was to be developed. 'Several of the distinguished practices we interviewed had already made up their minds what the client required. No further dialogue was needed.'

Behnisch - introduced by Architecture Centre chairman David Mellor as an architect who had previously studied philosophy, then economics - said architects got their names on buildings 'because they tend to publish a lot'. In fact, buildings were the work of the whole design team - including structural engineers, m&e, cost consultants, acousticians, and the client. 'Our part is just a part - though I wouldn't say a minor part.'

Some people thought the site for the Harbourside Centre too small. 'It's not very generous, but it's adequate.' The building was, in its latest manifestation, smaller, but that was part of design development: 'You always have phases where you pump up the building, and then let the air out again, until you get what you need.' From the start, a key requirement was to keep open views of the water and the Arnolfini from the planned New World Square. That meant lifting up the actual concert hall. The foyers would run three-quarters of the way round the building with fine views of the Floating Harbour; terraces and stairs would also have views out and be generous enough to serve as more than simply circulation space. The roof was important because, given Bristol's topography, many people would see the building from above. It would be 'of metallic appearance' - which might mean metal, or cement, or glass. The building would shine during the day and be illuminated at night.

Models and design development drawings for the Harbourside Centre are on display at the Architecture Centre, Bristol, until 14 August. For details, tel: 0117 922 1540.

hlm Architects' £67.5 million hospital in Scotland's East Kilbride is for the first successful pfi team to win a major hospital contract in the country, says one of the partners, Oscar Faber engineers. The modular, four-storey building will include residential elements, a new energy centre, and parking space for 1000 cars. Hairmyers Hospital, built by the consortium leader Kier, is due to be finished in mid-2001.

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