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Magna debate: here's what the architects did

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Simon Danischewsky asks what the Magna architects actually did (AJ 6/13.12.01). The question is directed at Wilkinson Eyre, but as one of four architects who worked on Magna from its inception as a project by Rotherham council, and as the architects responsible for the successful submission to the Millennium Commission in 1997, we can offer a historical perspective.

We submitted a design to the Millennium Commission in November 1996, after an earlier scheme had been rejected. The project was longlisted, then developed up to a full Design Appraisal Review submission (RIBA Stage D).

The design addressed how such a large building could be successfully colonised by new use while respecting its unique qualities and former role as a steel plant.Working with a brief for visitor attraction, exhibition, education and conference facilities, in association with Arup as engineers, interventions were proposed which had separate architectural, structural and environmental identities from the existing building. These were linked with high-level walkways that allowed the archaeology of the former steel plant to be revealed.

The strategy of 'separateness' allowed greater flexibility of architectural form and response, reinforced by a rigorous analysis of the engineering advantages - including no additional structural and fire load to the existing structure, a fire strategy based on the concept of the interior of the shed as 'outside' to address its 400m x 100m dimensions, different environmental conditions for the pavilions and the acceptance of most of the interior as ambient - the whole respecting the character of the structure and skin of the building as found.

New pavilions within the shed included a copper-clad ribbon-wave conference building on stilts, structures ramping into the basements of the plant, and a suspended ovoid exhibition building, breaking the rules of separateness but taking advantage of the structural redundancy of the massive crane rails running longitudinally through the building to hang a large structure which appeared to float.

The submission was granted £18.6 million in principle by the Millennium Commission in November 1997, allowing for the application of additional funding from the ERDF and English Partnerships.

At this point, Rotherham dropped the design team, hired a third architect and designer who reassessed the brief and introduced the 'earth, air, fire and water' theme to the pavilions, then advertised for an architect in the European Journal.Wilkinson (architect number four) got the job, and 'started with a clean slate' (AJ 25.10.01).

Along with Simon Danischewsky, we look forward to reading the account of what the architects did next.

Peter Clash, Clash Associates Architects, London E3

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