With the celebrations barely over following the go-ahead for Libeskind's Imperial War Museum of the North, Manchester's new cube gallery - Centre for the Understanding of the Built Environment - has a timely exhibition on the re-use of brownfield sites, writes Julian Holder. Taking 12 projects as diverse as the Dome, Hopkins' Wildscreen at Bristol, Wilford's Lowry Centre in Salford, and Rotterdam's Kop van Zuid, the common thread is mixed-use urban development - hence the title, mud.
mud's the name and that's what's on the gallery floor as you enter - this sceptred isle made out of earth, with excavators running loose on it and also around the walls. Apart from a few obligatory diagrams, the exhibition design by fat gives a lightness of touch to a heavy subject. Very much a show in two halves - the 'science' upstairs, the architecture below - it does seem at times that the only thing connecting them is the staircase and not the process of turning sites into new use, for the concept of brownfield is stretched to breaking-point.
The exhibition plays with the outline of the country on the gallery floor - first as mud, then in bloom - to make the familiar seem less so. Only the presence of three old photographs of the former docks in Salford gives a plangent note. There is no such reminder of the former colliery and its buildings at Allerton Bywater near Leeds; in the presentation of the scheme for a 'millennium community' there, it has vanished without trace. So many of these projects (whatever their architectural potential), are little more than a mask to hide industrial decline, a brave face put on a worn-out place. Are they really an adequate response?
Julian Holder is an architectural historian