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The curse of the Millennium Project strikes again

Will Hurst

The National Wildflower Centre in Merseyside is the latest in a long line of Y2K failures. But the good news is that many of these landmarks have been repurposed, says Will Hurst

The long list of failed Millennium projects just got a little longer, the AJ reveals today.

Like pretty much every other Millennium project client, the Landlife charity wanted a radical, bespoke piece of architecture for a new age. What they ended up with was a National Wildflower Centre building beset with multiple technical failings which they could barely afford to maintain and operate. 

AJ news editor Richard Waite has investigated the sad fate of the landmark Hodder and Partners-designed centre near Liverpool, which has spent years quietly limping along before finally shutting up shop, thanks to the financial collapse of Landlife this month.

Around the time of its opening in 2001, the centre’s then chief executive, Grant Luscombe, described the scheme in the pages of the AJ as a ‘courageous, highly complex building’, a choice of words which presumably sounded positive at the time but, with the benefit of hindsight, now seems almost like a veiled criticism. After all, we now know that Landlife quickly found itself struggling with the costs associated with its new base and considered taking legal action against the architect and contractor Moss Construction just a year later.

Wherever blame lies in this case – and Hodder and Partners has robustly defended its performance and its award-winning design – there is context here, namely the well-established pattern of Millennium projects coming a cropper, especially those in more deprived parts of Britain.

These include Will Alsop’s arts centre The Public in West Bromwich, which closed in 2013, and Nigel Coates’ National Museum of Popular Music in Sheffield, which didn’t even survive the year 2000 after attracting just a quarter of its projected annual visitors.

Many of these projects combined the all-pervading hubris in which they were conceived with inexperienced clients and ‘iconic’ architecture – a toxic cocktail

In retrospect, many of these projects combined the all-pervading hubris in which they were conceived with inexperienced clients and ‘iconic’ architecture – a toxic cocktail which eventually proved fatal. 

Where there is cause for hope is in another long list – that of Millennium projects repurposed for other uses. The Public was turned into a school and the National Museum of Popular Music became a live music venue in 2001 and now serves as Sheffield Hallam university’s student union building. Most famous of all, Richard Rogers’ Millennium Dome was adapted to become London’s O2 Arena, one of the world’s most popular entertainment venues.

The National Wildflower Centre is a solid and striking building in need of a jet wash. It could apparently be repaired for just half a million quid. Let’s hope it gets its own second incarnation.

Img 0076 edited

Img 0076 edited

The National Wildflower Centre today


Readers' comments (2)

  • Let's not pretend this is simply a matter of maintenance. If your obsession with abstraction is such that you refuse to have copings over walls, and cappings over timber, this is the kind of mess you get.

    Simon Gill

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  • Perhaps if the Millenium projects had focused more on decent housing, instead of the rabbit hutch stuff we get so often today, they might have proved to be of more enduring value.

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