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Images of Welshness inspire PTP's cheaper Wales centre

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The Percy Thomas Partnership has radically redesigned and trimmed costs on its £70 million Wales Millennium Centre by using 'walls' made of slate reclaimed free from Welsh mines. It is also aiming to design the Welsh National Assembly building next door.

ptp chief executive John Rudge showed the aj its new plans for the centre this week after presenting to the Royal Fine Art Commission, but would not sanction publication of an image until after submission of a planning application in the autumn.

As its centrepiece the building features a huge steel auditorium, for the touring Welsh National Opera, inspired partly by function and partly by the shipbuilding industry, with 'rugged joints and glass rivets'. Rudge said, 'We want it to be ship-like because of the maritime connotations of Cardiff, which was once the largest port in the world.'

Seven arts occupants will take space in the building, including the Urdd Movement, a youth movement which will have a 100-bed residential centre for its 5000 residents per year. The Welsh National Opera, currently a touring company spending 19 weeks a year in the city, could have a residency in the building since it has been designed to be adaptable, or 'future- proofed', according to Rudge. Other elements include a 300-seat lecture theatre, a dedicated jazz bar, accommodation for Diversions Dance, a local company currently operating from an old church in the city, retail space, cafes, bars and space for the Welsh Academy, Welsh Museum and Information Centre and the Department of Advanced Celtic Studies from Aberystwyth.

A multi-storey car park, again faced on its 'public' side with four-coloured, horizontal, irregular thick bands of slate, has 850 spaces and is connected to the building by a first-floor covered walkway held up by two 'piers' intended to bring to mind the bridges of rural Wales.

The centre is expected to attract 1.5 million visitors per year to its site, at the end of Bute Avenue in the city.

Rudge said that the slate facing material is not structural but, since it is 200-400mm thick, will have a dramatic effect on cooling the internal environment: 'It'll be like a French wine cellar with a constant 19degreesC.'

The exterior of the main auditorium, the equivalent of 11 storeys high, will be inscribed with lettering devised by calligrapher artist David Jones. A competition, organised by the Welsh Academy, will settle on what exactly it will say.

Originally, when ptp made a tripartite application for Heritage, Millennium and Arts lottery money after controversially taking on the job from Zaha Hadid's Opera House project, the building was costed at £95 million. Now, without the Museum of Wales's involvement and after the Heritage Lottery Fund refused to give a grant, £25 million has been shaved off. There is still a shortfall between project cost and lottery grant, but donations such as the recent£2 million pledge from an unnamed trust are helping, said Rudge. Another element which may be a money-spinner is a putative plan for 3000m2 of speculative office development inside the building. Interested developers would have to fund the addition.

The scheme has outline planning permission and ptp hopes to submit a full planning application in September, make a start on it in January 1999 and open by the end of 2001. Rudge said he intended to enter the competition to design the Welsh Parliament building nearby, but expressed concerns that he may not be able to build a more 'Welsh' building than the Wales Millennium Centre he hopes will take shape on Cardiff Bay.

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