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KATHERINE SHONFIELD

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A competition for the new Welsh Assembly, to be built in Cardiff and sited (probably) in the Bay, will be greeted with caution by architects. Few with any pretence to sensitivity can have memories so short that they will have forgotten the city's contemptuous treatment of a legitimate competition victor and a sincere, innovative design. It may be that the only hope for a happy and successful assembly project is to convert an existing building. At first sight a lost opportunity, this could be the most effective way to carry as many of the Welsh people as possible.

You don't have to be a nationalist to recognise that Wales has been a culture in occupation for a long time. As with the Jews, the primary expression of the Welsh has been literary; it does not reside in great architectural projects, and so consensus on a truly Welsh architecture is a problem from the word go. One architectural move, however, is instantly recognised by those oppressed, and that is appropriation. When the Red Army occupied the Czar's Winter Palace in St Petersburg, it instantly became the most effective architectural symbol of its diametric opposite: the triumph of a new nation. At an urban design scale, Libeskind's Jewish Museum ducks and weaves inside Berlin's grid and does much the same: it allows a reinterpretation of that which already exists, and a reclamation of a part of a race's denied cultural past.

A conversion in Cardiff need not necessarily be a cop-out; it has profoundly radical possibilities.

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