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Highlands art centre to boast ancient forms

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Pawson Williams has unveiled these competition-winning plans to create a major new multi-modal arts centre to be built in the Highlands of Scotland.

The Mercat Centre - Mercat being Gaelic for Market - is to be built in Dingwall in Ross and Cromarty, north of Inverness. A competition was staged for the project two years ago.

The £5.6 million, 2600m2 scheme was this week put forward for Scottish Arts Council capital funding and will shortly be submitted for planning permission.

Partner in charge of the project Keith Williams said it is intended to meet the area's keen demand for arts facilities, given its strong tradition of acoustic music and the spoken word, both drama and poetry. This demand is intensified by the fact that there is no equivalent purpose-built arts centre anywhere else in the Highlands - an area which is the size of Belgium.

Essentially, the building will house an adaptable auditorium space (able to seat audiences of 200 for drama, music and even conferences and cinema); an equivalent- sized rehearsal space; dressing rooms; an exhibition space and art/sculpture gallery, painting studio and workshop; a library and cafe bar. A large public foyer space will link all the spaces.

The architects have striven to achieve a strong contemporary design inspired by ancient forms of Scottish architecture (such as the standing stone and the broch) as well as to respond to the immediate area's skyline of towers, monuments and the surrounding hills. Ancient forms - such as the Sueno Stone, Grampian and the Iron Age broch - have influenced the apsidal form of the auditorium as its outer curved skin 'bursts' into the public foyer. The building is to be clad in render and stone and a tower feature echoes local monuments and other spires and pinnacles in the town. It also acts to sign the building and will be illuminated at night. Another light feature is an outside 'line of light' to connect with the town (see model above, right and top).

The practice hopes the scheme will assist in town-centre regeneration and says the project reflects principles being promoted by the country's new architecture minister, Rhona Brankin. Work may start in early 2001.

Pawson Williams' refurbishment of Birmingham Repertory Theatre is featured on pages 34-39

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