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Plot to save Manchester’s CUBE from closure

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A last-ditch bid to save the ground-breaking CUBE – Centre for the Urban Built Environment – is being made by a group of supporters hoping to prevent the gallery closing in April

The University of Salford, the principal funder of the much-praised architecture and arts centre, has said it can no longer support the gallery and, the AJ understands, could use the space in Portland Street as a venue for conferences.

A spokesperson said: ‘In view of financial losses incurred over the past three years, we have carefully considered its future. We have explored a variety of options including the possibility of alternative funding arrangements, but it is with regret that the CUBE Gallery will close from 25 April 2012.’

However, supporters including Stephen Hodder, a founding trustee of CUBE who supported the centre’s lottery bid in 1997 and whose practice designed the gallery space, is meeting next week to discuss a rescue plan.

He said: ‘The development of CUBE as Manchester’s architecture centre has paralleled the growth of the city over the last 13 years, and has been pivotal in promoting architecture [and] engaging the wider public. Its closure would mean the loss of this essential forum and I’m supporting any attempt that secures its survival.’

Among possible options that may be discussed are plans to expand the neighbouring RIBA Hub – the re-invented RIBA bookshop – into the 600m2 gallery.

Tom Jefferies, head of the Manchester School of Architecture and member of the Hub steering group, said: ‘We are all aware of the funding issues. [Cultural endeavours] are increasingly being asked to wash their face financially. But the benefit of CUBE goes beyond the monetary.’

He added: ‘We will see what we can do to relieve their travails.’

Set up by Graeme Russell in 1998, CUBE was the venue for the Office of Subversive Architecture’s homage to Kurt Schwitters, OSA/Merzen, which has been shortlisted for this year’s AJ Small Projects awards.

Maurice Shapero's original sketches for CUBE

Maurice Shapero’s original sketches for CUBE

Comment: Maurice Shapero, who worked on the project while at Hodder Associates

For both me and [curator] Graeme Russell, CUBE represents a very optimistic time. I had just come back from ten years away from Manchester, five in London. CUBE felt as important as anything I’d worked on in David Chipperfield’s office. How things are different 13 years on. I think Graeme and I where overly confident about Manchester’s readiness for a centre which disseminated high end conceptual culture. Students loved it, but the people in power, the people with the money to sustain it, weren’t really all that interested in true value of what Graeme was trying give.
He had to go to the other end of the cultural spectrum for the funding to keep it going - companies from the outskirts who perceived CUBE as a way to be associated with Manchester’s illusory cultural elite. Some of the galleriess had quite comical names as a result. It does say something about Manchester that it has let a gallery, which at one point had an international reputation, fall into obscurity. I still remember the good old days when Max Protetch brought his alternative, radical twin towers competition to CUBE from New York…..He didn’t take it to London. I remember standing outside in the summer watching hundreds of people shuffling around the white walls elevated above the orangey glow of Portland street. I remember drawing the plans with my yellowy orange HB pencil on detail paper on my drawing board in my mum’s kitchen. It was quite a moment when I realised I could draw a straight line from the Portland Street façade, through the bookshop, through the existing external light well, right to the back of the gallery. If anyone remembers what the space was like when it was the old Building Centre I think they will get a feel for the optimistic spirit in which those lines were drawn. 




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