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First Cardiff, now Cornwall as cash crisis hits Gaia Centre

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Edward Cullinan Architects' plans for a visitor centre to illustrate cutting-edge sustainable building techniques have been radically scaled back because key elements of its environmentally friendly design cost too much. The AJ has learnt that control of the Gaia Centre scheme in Cornwall has been handed over to a design and build contractor. Cullinan partner Robin Nicholson branded the move 'deeply frustrating' and even compared the decision to the rejection of Zaha Hadid's designs for the Cardiff Opera House in 1996.

Cullinan's designs for the Gaia Centre, on the site of a Cornish wind farm, were set to cost £4 million but a shortage of funds means that Midas Construction will now complete the project at half the cost. The practice is now in talks with Gaia CREED Ltd - the company established to oversee the project - over its final payment.

Features such as the centre's photovoltaic roof and high insulation stone walls have been replaced with cheaper solutions. The roof will still feature solar panels but they will not be integrated into its structure and the thick local stone walls will be replaced with stone cladding, allowing the centre to demonstrate what could be possible - without actually achieving it. Other sustainable features might be bolted on if extra cash can be found at a later date. 'It's not every day you get to design and fully detail a zero-energy building, ' Nicholson said.

'It is deeply frustrating that it was cancelled because we had done most of the hard work. It is now an unfinished research project. It's a bit like Zaha in Cardiff.Who lost out most, her or Cardiff?'

The London-based practice last year trumpeted the design as 'a ready-made demonstration project for the government's new interest in sustainability' (AJ 3.8.00) and trust director Jenny Thompson admitted it was 'tragic' that Cullinan's 'fabulous and beautiful' designs could not be used in full.

But although donors had been unwilling to finance the high level of sustainable design elements featured in the architect's plans, the client stressed that the broad basis of the Cullinan design is being used by Midas. 'I'm very keen to give them the credit they are entitled to, ' said Gaia CREED chief executive Chris Cook. 'Their building would have illustrated aspects of sustainable development that we are not now able to incorporate. The building is still very low energy but with the money we had available it was not cost effective to produce the Cullinan design.'

Gaia has been financed largely through European Union grants. Cook said the project stood to lose about £1.8 million in promised funds if it spent too long looking for extra cash to fund the design.

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