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Wraps off Wilford's 'Salford Guggenheim' Photographs by Richard Bryant/Arcaid

Michael Wilford and Partners' £96 million 'landmark' Lowry Project is set for a grand opening tomorrow on its swiftly regenerating canal- side site in Salford Quays, Manchester.

The Lowry building, described by Manchester mp Gerald Kaufman as 'Salford's Guggenheim', has been heavily supported by £64 million of Lottery money secured from the Arts Council, Millennium Commission and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and only £7 million from the private sector. But its backers argue it has already shown a payback, adding to a wider initiative to regenerate the area begun by Salford City Council with a £350 million cash injection during the mid-1980s.

The sculptural building - an assembly of glass and stainless steel forms - is described as a 'multi-functional centre', featuring two theatres for performing arts (1730 and 466 seats), two gallery spaces - one showing the work of L S Lowry and one for touring exhibitions - and Artworks, an 'interactive experience designed to encourage individual creativity'. The wider Lowry project, which also includes The Plaza, an outdoor performance space for an audience of up to 10,000, boasts a series of bars, cafes, a restaurant and conference facilities, and has also been the pull for a £70 million commercial retail and leisure development on an adjacent site. It is expected to attract 770,000 visitors per year, and a further magnet still for visitors will be Daniel Libeskind's Imperial War Museum - North, which will be built just the other side of a lifting footbridge from the Lowry, in 2002.

The building's two theatres form the central spine, flanked on either side by galleries. The theatres and distinctive flytower are clad with stainless steel panels to reflect the light, while the foyers and promenade facades are glazed to enable key views out. A large foyer extends south around the Lyric theatre. The building also features a glazed wall, curving round the entrance from one side of the building to the other, and a large, curving, tilted half-cylinder canopy structure at the building's entrance.

'The design is a fusion', said Wilford, 'between the monumental tradition of public buildings and the more informal character of today's places of culture and entertainment.'

Opening across the plaza from the Lowry in mid-2001 will be the Digital World Centre, a showcase for digital technologies and the next generation of the Internet, while the Lowry lifting footbridge spans the Manchester Ship Canal and links to Old Trafford and beyond.

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